This exceptional dish is from a region that is quite possibly the center of leaf-wrapped foods and is what makes Yucatan foods so appealing. Achiote or annatto seed characterizes the color and flavor of the marinade. This succulent baked pork is worth trying even without banana leaves although the taste will not exactly be the same. Omit the leaves and cover the baking dish with aluminum foil if you have to or use cleaned large collard leaves.
Cochinita Pibil ~ Baked Marinated Pork
Serves 8 to 10
2 banana leaves, passed over a flame to soften
4 lbs. pork leg
200 grams (2 bricks, about 4 ounces each) achiote paste
1 cup bitter orange juice, or use half sweet orange juice and half vinegar
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon crumbled, dried oregano
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
4 large allspice berries, coarsely ground
4 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
2 tablespoons melted lard or corn oil
Line the bottom of a large baking dish with banana leaves, one lengthwise and one widthwise, letting them hang over the sides of the dish so that they may be folded over the pork. Place the pork on the leaves.
Dissolve the achiote paste in the orange juice, add the remaining ingredients except the lard or oil, and mix well.
Pour the marinade over the pork, fold the banana leaves over all and place in the refrigerator to marinate, at least 8 hours and preferably overnight, turning once.
Fold back the banana leaves, drizzle the melted lard or corn oil over the pork, fold the leaves back over the pork and cover all tightly with aluminum foil. (Do not drain the marinade; this dish gets cooked in it, making it steamed rather than roasted.)
Place in a preheated 350º oven for 1½ hours, or until the meat is falling-apart tender. Remove the foil, fold back the banana leaves, and use two forks to pull the meat apart into shreds.
Serve with red onion rings marinated in orange juice vinaigrette and plenty of hot corn tortillas to make tacos.
Note: Achiote paste is available in most supermarkets or in Mexican and Latino grocers.