INSTANT POT COCHINITA PIBIL
Sometimes, there are moments where you try a new dish for the first time and it floors you with just how good it is. In most cases, when that happens for me, I also become inspired to try and take on the dish myself in the kitchen. This recently happened for me with the cochinita pibil tacos from Frontera Cocina.
My admiration for these tacos are pretty well documented in my blog post about the restaurant, but it was actually a side conversation that I had with my friend Carlos at work where we speculated about how we could make cochinita pibil at home. Trying the tacos at Frontera was actually my first exposure to that dish, so it made the research into the food even more intriguing for me.
Cochinita pibil is a traditional Mexican slow-roasted pork recipe, where the pork is marinated with citrus juices to help tenderize the meat as well as a dynamic spice blend to impart additional layers of flavor. At the heart of that spice blend is achiote (known as annatto in the U.S.), which provides a peppery and earthy flavor and gives the meat that vibrant red-orange color.
Typically, a recipe would call for the pork to get marinated over an extended period of time. From what we found, however, the advantage of using the Instant Pot is that the pressure cooking process infuses the flavor into the meat without the need for marinating.
Instant Pot Cochinita Pibil
Makes 15 – 20 servings
~ 5 lbs. pork shoulder
~ 1 cup orange juice
~ 1/2 cup lime juice
~ 1 tsp. salt
~ 3 oz. red achiote paste (packaged in Latin markets as achiote condimentado)
~ 1/3 cup water
~ 4 cloves garlic
~ Chopped cilantro (garnish)
~ Cotija cheese (garnish)
~ Lime wedges (garnish)
Special Kitchen Tools:
~ Instant Pot
~ Citrus press (optional)
~ Handheld strainer or slotted spoon
- Take your slabs of pork shoulder and cut them into 1″ x 1″ cubes. No need to trim off the fat, as that will help impart some additional flavor during the cooking process. Feel free to drop the chunks of pork right into the Instant Pot bowl.
- Peel your cloves of garlic and set them off to the side.
- Using a citrus press, squeeze out the juice amounts for both the orange and lime juices. If you’d like to use bottled juices, however, those would be suitable substitutes as well.
- Pour your juices into a blender, while also adding in the water, garlic cloves, salt, and achiote paste. Set it on low power for maybe five seconds before pulsing the mixture a few more times until the mixture is a uniform red-orange color throughout.
- Pour the mixture directly into the Instant Pot bowl, using a circular motion to distribute it around the various pieces of pork. Using a kitchen spoon or if you have some food-safe gloves, mix the pork around in the bowl even more to ensure all of the meat gets coated with the juice mixture.
- (I would be wary about using your bare hands to combine the meat and juice mixture, as they might inherit some of that red-orange color for quite some time afterwards.)
- Set the Instant Pot to manual high pressure for 50 minutes, ensuring that the pressure valve is turned to “Sealing.” On my Instant Pot Duo, the manual setting was activated with the “Pressure Cook” button on the bottom right of the control pad.
- Once the Instant Pot has finished its cooking cycle, allow for a natural pressure release of approximately five minutes before quick releasing the remaining pressure.
- Transfer the cooked pork chunks using a handheld strainer or slotted spoon over to a glass bowl. Once all of the pieces have been transferred, use two forks to begin shredding up the meat.
- This is where it’s your choice of how you want to serve up the cochinita pibil. It tastes great when eaten on its own, but you could also either serve it over rice or in the form of tacos.
- Tacos were the method of choice when my friends and I made the cochinita pibil. We used corn tortillas and garnished with freshly chopped cilantro, Cotija cheese, and a squeeze of lime juice. If you feel like getting fancier, you can also drop some sour cream and salsa on there as well.
This is where I was most impressed with the fact that we had not marinated the pork at all before cooking it. The pork was just so full of flavor that each time you took a bite, you might get a different flavor note. The orange and lime juices impart those slightly sweet and tangy flavors into the meat, while the achiote paste and corn tortillas really brought in the earthy elements to the palate.
Consisting of a mix of achiote, cumin, oregano, black pepper, cloves, and cinnamon, the paste itself really provides the core of where the earthy flavors in the meat come from. The cilantro and fresh-squeezed lime juice on top make great condiments for the taco, since it both balances with the flavors in the meat and also provide a bit of an edge to each bite as well.
From a cooking standpoint, I think this was a first-time home run. I told my friends that we were wandering into “experimental kitchen” territory with this one, since the recipe itself was a blend of elements from three different ones. But I couldn’t have been happier with how it turned out. I’m sure that my friends who downed five or six tacos each after we finished cooking would also attest to that.