Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Puerco Pibil with Caramelized Peppers

Alan had this a couple of years ago and has been telling me ever since how great it is. The recipe his coworker gave him got lost somewhere in the shuffle, but I found this one online that closely approximated it. One of the ingredients is annato seeds (or achiote paste, depending on which you can find), and he stumbled across some in the Mexican food area at a grocery store a few weeks ago. Score! We finally got around to making this over the weekend and it was very good. He says it wasn't quite exactly how he remembered it, but that was due in part to us using a much leaner cut of meat, and also struggling a bit with getting the annato crushed finely enough and then winding up fishing out about half of it because the chunks were too large. So read my notes at the end before you try your batch and hopefully it'll be easier for you. I am posting this the way we made it, which is modified from the original recipe because we didn't have whole spices for some of them, and we also added sugar and used limes instead of lemons. The flavors were a bit different from my standard mexican seasoning blend, and the caramelized peppers (a last minute addition) turned out to be an excellent flavor counterpoint.

Puerco Pibil

4-5 pounds of pork butt, cut into 2 inch cubes (we used 4 pounds of lean pork loin because that's what we had on hand, and it was oodles and oodles of meat - enough to feed a dozen adults)
5 T. annato seeds (or achiote paste)
2 t. cumin seeds (or 1 1/2 t. ground cumin)
1 T. whole black pepper (or 2 t. freshly ground pepper)
1/2 t. whole cloves (or 1/2 t. ground cloves)
8 whole allspice berries (or 1/4 t. ground allspice)
2 habanero peppers, fresh or dried, minced (optional!!) - we substituted 1/2 t. chipotle chili powder instead
1/2 cup orange juice
1/2 cup white wine vinegar
8 garlic cloves
1 T. salt
5 lemons or limes, juiced (we used limes, which seemed to be favored by most of the people reviewing the recipe)
1/2 cup brown sugar

Grind the dry spices together in a mortar and pestle if you have one. Otherwise, add them to the garlic cloves in a small food processor and pulse several times until the spices are ground into a relatively smooth paste. Add the liquids and brown sugar and pulse a few more times until everything is well combined. Place the pork cubes into a large ziploc bag and pour the marinade over the meat. Rotate several times until all of the meat is well covered, then refrigerate for several hours or overnight.

In the morning, pour the pork into a large crock pot and cook on low for 6-8 hours. One hour before serving, break up the cubes with a fork. It should just fall apart. If the liquid doesn't readily absorb into the shredded meat, you can slurp the excess out with a turkey baster and simmer it down on the stove until it is reduced by about 50% then add it back in.

Caramelized Peppers and Shallots

1 large yellow, red or orange bell pepper
1 large green bell pepper
3 large shallots
2-3 T. olive oil
2-3 T. coarse raw sugar
dash of salt

Slice the peppers into strips that are about 1/4" by 1 1/2". Peel and slice the shallots into 1/4" rings. Heat a large lidded non stick frying pan over medium heat, then add the olive oil. Toss the veggies into the pan and stir to coat. Put the lid on and reduce the heat to medium low, and let it cook for 15 or so minutes, stirring occasionally. Once the vegetables are very soft, sprinkle the sugar and salt on and stir again. Take the lid off and continue to cook over medium low heat for a few more minutes until the veggies are all nicely caramelized.


Serving suggestion: set out the puerco pibil with the caramelized peppers and shallots, fresh diced tomatoes, fresh guacamole or avocado slices with lime drizzled over them, freshly minced cilantro, shredded pepper jack and cheddar cheese, sour cream, black beans and warmed tortillas. Everyone can assemble theirs to suit their taste. Heaven!


Other thoughts. Alan actually has a molcajete (Mexican mortar and pestle), but we didn't dig it out for this. I wish we would have. We thought that the spices were pretty well ground up in the garlic paste, but were unpleasantly surprised when we dumped the marinade in to the meat to find many remaining chunks. A basic flavor principle is that you will always get way more bang for your buck from freshly ground spices, and you can even mash pre-ground spices to give them a little nudge. Crock potting tends to mellow flavors out substantially, so this is one recipe that can really benefit from whole, freshly ground spices, or you can add a little bit more seasoning at the end of the cook time. Again, this is one recipe that you ought to use the fattier cut of meat with. I look forward to trying it again with pork butt, or even chicken thighs.

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