Yucatan-Style Slow-Roasted Pork

Of all the recipes in the cookbook I cowrote with Boston chef Andy Husbands, The Fearless Chef, the one for slow-roasted pork is the one I’m asked for the most. Sometimes I serve it simply, with salsa, sour cream, and tortillas on the side, but trust me, this meat can go into all sorts of recipes, including Cochinita Pibil Tacos, AKA pulled pork tacos.

I’ve simplified this recipe a little from Andy’s original version, cutting out a 24-hour marinating step, replacing the traditional banana leaves with good old aluminum foil, and using one of my favorite smoke stand-ins, Spanish pimentón (smoked Spanish paprika), instead of oregano. The pork is spicy and deeply flavored and colored, thanks in no small part to the large quantity of annatto seeds (also called achiote) that goes into the paste. (These little brick-colored pebbles are worth seeking out at good Latin markets or online through such sources as Penzeys.com.)–Joe Yonan

LC Annatto Annotation

Too lazy or hungry to hold out for finding annatto before making this slow-roasted pork recipe? That didn’t stop some of us from turning out a still quite South-of-the-border-inflected pulled pork, even sans the traditional ingredient. We heard no complaints.

Yucatan-Style Slow Roasted Pork Recipe

  • Quick Glance
  • 20 M
  • 6 H
  • Makes 4 tacos

Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons whole black peppercorns
  • 3 tablespoons annatto seeds
  • 1 tablespoon toasted cumin seeds
  • 3/4 cup peeled garlic cloves
  • 3/4 cup loosely packed fresh cilantro leaves and stems
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons kosher or coarse sea salt
  • 1 seedless orange, peeled and cut into large chunks
  • 1/4 cup beer (any type)
  • 2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1 teaspoon pimenton (smoked Spanish paprika)
  • 1 teaspoon ground ancho chili
  • 3 pounds fresh pork shoulder (Boston butt or picnic shoulder)

Directions

  • 1. Preheat the oven to 275°F (135°C).
  • 2. Using a spice grinder or a coffee grinder reserved for spices, grind the peppercorns, annatto seeds, and cumin seeds to a fine powder.
  • 3. In the bowl of a food processor, combine the garlic, cilantro, and salt and process until finely chopped. Add the orange, beer, red pepper flakes, allspice, pimenton, ground ancho, and the ground peppercorn mixture and process until a fairly smooth paste forms.
  • 4. Place a 2-foot sheet of aluminum foil on your work surface. Place the pork in the middle of it. Spread the paste over the pork, coating it on all sides. It may seem as though there’s an obscene amount of paste, but go ahead and use it all. Then tightly seal the pork inside the foil, tucking in the foil all around as you go. Use another long sheet of foil to create a second layer around the pork, being sure to seal it tightly so no steam can escape. Place the pork packet in a roasting pan, add enough water to come a couple inches up the side of the foil-wrapped pork, then use a third piece of aluminum foil to cover and seal the whole pan.
  • 5. Roast the pork until it is falling apart tender inside its package. You can tell this by inserting a skewer through the top of the foil and into the meat and it encounters no resistance or, with practice, by pushing on it and discerning the level of falling apartness, 4 to 5 hours. (If you’re not sure, err on the side of longer cooking, as you really can’t overcook this.)
  • 6. Remove the foil-wrapped roast pork from the pan, transfer to a baking dish and let it cool for at least 30 minutes before slashing open the foil. Discard any large, visible pieces of fat. Then use two forks to shred the meat. Combine the meat with enough of its juices so that the meat is very juicy but not swimming in sauce. If desired, reserve the rest of this sauce for other uses, such as spooning it onto a pulled pork sandwich.
  • 7. Consume the pulled pork however you like—as is, as tacos, as a pulled pork sandwich—and let any leftovers cool to room temperature. Refrigerate the leftovers for up to 1 week or divide them into 4 to 6 portions, seal in heavy-duty plastic freezer bags, and freeze for up to 6 months.
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Testers Choice

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Testers Choice
Carol Anne Grady

May 14, 2011

This recipe delivers fork-tender pork that’s full of flavours that, at least to me, are unusual and exciting. It’s easy to put together, and is very low-maintenance— once it’s in the oven, it doesn’t need any interference, and once it comes out it’s so easy to shred that it takes only minutes. I’d point out that the pork is very strongly flavoured, and has a slightly bitter edge to it, so pair it with something that will complement this and you’re on to a winner.

Testers Choice
Kim Graham

May 14, 2011

I love Sunday dinners like this one. Put a spice-rubbed hunk of meat in the oven for the day while doing other things around the house, and finish the day with a fabulous meal that takes very little effort. The meat came out exactly as promised: lusciously tender. With so much pepper in the rub, I thought the meat might be spicy, but it wasn’t at all, and it went very nicely with the heat of the habanero salsa. Based on the fumes coming from my food processor, I was concerned about whether we’d actually be able to eat the salsa, but the citrusy flavor of the lime juice and the mellowness of the scallions balanced the heat perfectly. For those who are more sensitive to spicy foods, we found that a small dollop of sour cream and a few slices of guacamole helped temper the heat. We loved this meal and would definitely make it again.

Testers Choice
Judy O.

May 14, 2011

The pork was so moist and tender, and the cooking method was perfect for a lazy Sunday afternoon. I might cut down on the annatto seeds next time, and add more chili powder or cumin seed, but otherwise, I was quite happy with the outcome of the recipe.

Testers Choice
Sofia Reino

May 14, 2011

This is a spicy one, but we loved it! We decided to serve it with Amish egg noodles, and it was a perfect choice. I had to be careful and not add too much of the sauce for my daughters, due to its spiciness. The pork was fantastic, though—very aromatic, moist, and tasty. Cannot wait to eat the rest in sandwiches tomorrow. This recipe will be one to repeat. Very easy to make, and the house smelled wonderfully throughout the day.

Testers Choice
Amy Iacopi

May 14, 2011

I used the annatto seeds and prepared the spice paste exactly as written in the recipe. It smelled amazing. Sadly, I realized that I didn’t have the 4-5 hours for the pork to cook, so I cooked it at 285°F for the first hour, 290°F for the second hour, 300°F for the second hour, and 290°F for the fourth hour. (Thanks to fellow L.C. tester Beth for the advice!) I took it out and ended up slicing it into pieces, as it wasn’t soft enough to tear apart with a fork. The meat was still pink, very tender, and absolutely delicious. I’m excited to make this again in a slow cooker so that I can shred it and make tacos. Very flavorful recipe and a total crowd pleaser. Highly recommended!

Testers Choice
Jackie G.

May 14, 2011

This is chock-full of flavor! The ingredients are amazing; they really pop out and sing. The annatto seeds should be mandatory instead of optional—they’re an important part of this recipe. At first, I thought that there was too much of the paste for a three-pound piece of pork. But do use it all—after the pork is done, and you’ll shred the meat and mix it with all of that paste. After it rested for 30 minutes, I transferred the pork to a large platter, separating the pork from the drippings, and shredded it. I served the pork and the drippings/sauce separately, so we could add as much or as little as we wanted for our tacos. After reading about Pibil, I made marinated purple onions to have with the tacos. The onion was amazing with the pork. These tacos will make it difficult for local tacos to compete in any way.

Testers Choice
Joan Osborne

May 14, 2011

I chose to make this recipe because I wanted to use it for the Cochinita Pibil Tacos with Habanero Salsa. I like the intense flavor that all the spices, cilantro, and orange gave to the meat. It gave off amazing smells while it was roasting in the oven. I did take a couple of bites when it came out of the oven, and even though it was good, it was better the next day. I think this recipe is even better after being given time for the flavors to marry with some of the cooking juices. I saved some of the juices in case I needed them when I reheated the meat for the tacos, and this came in handy. I used a bone-in picnic shoulder and it weighed a little more than the 3 pounds called for. It took 5 hours to cook. I like the fact that this can't be overcooked, since you want it to be falling apart tender.

Testers Choice
Cindy Zaiffdeen

May 14, 2011

This will be one of the best pork recipes you'll ever make. I decided to double the recipe, as I wanted to know if marinating the meat overnight with the seasoning would make a difference. It did. Both roasts were delicious, but the one that sat seasoned overnight in the fridge was more flavourful and tender. I cooked them for 5 hours, and the meat was very juicy. I used the pork to make the Cochinita Pibil Tacos with Habanero Salsa. I’d definitely make this one again for a crowd. Easy and delicious!

Testers Choice
Tricia Seibold

May 14, 2011

This was fantastic from start to finish. The pork came together easily and made the whole office smell amazing (we have a full catering kitchen at work, so I brought this in and made it for my co-workers). I was a bit nervous handling the habanero, but made it through unscathed. The recipe for the salsa works as written, and even though I had a harder time roasting the garlic over the open flame of a gas burner (kept slipping from tongs), it made sense to me and worked perfectly. The recipe makes four tacos (you’ll likely have extra salsa since a little goes a long way), but 1/4 cup of pork per tortilla was about right. Definitely not 4 servings, though: most of my friends ate at least two tacos. This is definitely a keeper.

Testers Choice
Rachel P.

May 14, 2011

Tons of flavor for little effort. The hardest part was trying to seal the pork within the foil so that no steam would escape. We've eaten Cochinita Pibil Tacos a number of times, and were both really happy with how this compared. The unusual flavors of the sauce were fantastic and intriguing. I ended up cooking the meat for 5-1/2 hours, as my oven was running cool and the meat was a bit dry—but wonderful even so.

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