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For a few years, I was lucky enough to have a small Hispanic market open up near my house. Many of the products were familiar to me, but some were ingredients I had never cooked with. One in particular were the sheets of banana leaves I found in the freezer section. I was intrigued, so I purchased some that day not knowing what I would use them for at that time. In my quest to learn about the most popular Mexican dishes, cochinita pibil came to mind. My parents cooked pork all of the time in the oven, but it was simply seasoned and never wrapped in banana leaves. I have been cooking with achiote (annatto) for a few years now and I love the bright red color it adds, it's earthy and a bit smokey. To add a little more flavor to the pork, I rubbed it with a homemade spice rub, easy to create with the spices in your pantry.
5-pound pork butt or shoulder
4 to 5 large banana leaves
1. Start by preheating oven to 250ºF. Trim extra fat away from pork. Mix all the ingredients for the spice rub, set aside. Using your hands, rub the pork with spice mix to coat evenly.
2. Prepare your annatto-achiote marinade, transfer all the ingredients to the blender and blend until smooth. Taste for salt. Soak the banana leaves in a large bowl of warm water for a few minutes. Drain water after 20 minutes.
3. In a heavy roasting pan, lay the banana leaves, so they overlap each other. You want to add enough water to cover the bottom of pan, about 2 cups. Place the pork in the pan and pour the annatto marinade over the top and down the sides to cover evenly. Cover the pork with more banana leaves, then foil paper. Cover pan with lid and transfer to oven. The pork should cook for a good 5 hours or more, checking for the water level every hour and half or so. If you have more time, I would cook it for at least 7 hours.
4. This recipe yields up to 12 servings. I like to store it in smaller portions in the freezer, then take out what I need. Serve with rice, beans, salsa, and warm tortillas for a complete meal. This is a great dish for big crowds, like football parties or any time you want to have a special taco night.
Note: The pork will cook down, so 5 pounds may seem like a lot, but if it also has the bone in, there will not be as much meat at you think.
Other recipes by Sonia:
Mexican Red Rice
Chile Relleno with Serrano Shrimp
Cheesy Chorizo Bread
Flank Steak Tacos
Queso Fundido with Barbeque Shrimp
Annatto-Citrus Marinated Chicken
Chile Garlic Shrimp Kabobs
Chicken Enchilada Soup with Chayotes
Dulce de Leche and Chocolate Chip Chimichangas
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