Pibil-Style Pork Ribs

Pibil-style pork ribs takes the traditional flavors of the Yucatan dish, cochinita pibil, and scales it down to use a few racks of ribs instead of a suckling pig. Cooked in the oven, they’re marinated with orange and lime juice, habanero chiles, garlic, Mexican oregano, and achiote paste, before being slathered with spicy salsa.

Pibil-style pork ribs on sheets of parchment paper with a bowl of habanero salsa next to it.

Adapted from Edson Diaz Fuentes | Cuidad de Mexico | Hardie Grant, 2021

Cochinita pibil is the emblematic dish of Yucatan. Cochinita, the whole suckling pig, is doused in achiote marinade, wrapped in banana leaves, and slow-roasted in a pit. Annatto seeds are used as a natural coloring in the food industry. Achiote paste, a mix of crushed annatto seeds and spices, has a deep, vibrant red color and a unique peppery, musky flavor which pairs beautifully with pork.

A word of warning: the habanero chiles used in the marinade and the salsa give these spare ribs a good kick.–Edson Diaz Fuentes

Pibil-Style Pork Ribs

Pibil-style pork ribs on sheets of parchment paper with a bowl of habanero salsa next to it.
In Yucatan, sour oranges are used for the marinade. Try this with the bitter juices of Seville oranges, or mix together orange and lime juice. This marinade works particularly well with spare ribs. If you can get hold of banana leaves, they will add extra flavor, but the ribs can still be slow-cooked to succulence simply wrapped in baking parchment and foil. 
Edson Diaz Fuentes

Prep 30 mins
Cook 2 hrs 30 mins
Total 23 hrs
Mains
Mexican
4 servings
717 kcal
5 from 1 vote
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Ingredients 

For the pibil marinade

  • 5 ounces achiote paste* crumbled
  • Scant 1 cup fresh orange juice
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 1 1/2 ounces (about 10 cloves) garlic cloves
  • 1 habanero chile trimmed
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons Mexican oregano
  • 3/4 teaspoon sea salt

For the ribs

  • Two racks (2 lbs 4 oz) pork spare ribs
  • 1 scant cup water
  • Mild vegetable oil for brushing

For the habanero salsa

  • 1 large (9 oz) red onion finely chopped
  • 2 to 4 habanero or Scotch bonnet chiles finely chopped
  • 2 ounces store-bought or homemade pickled red onions plus 2 tablespoons pickling juice
  • Scant 1/2 cup fresh orange juice
  • 3/4 teaspoon sea salt plus more if needed
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 3/4 ounce fresh cilantro chopped

For serving

  • Black beans (optional)

Directions
 

Make the pibil marinade

  • Place all the ingredients for the marinade in a blender and blend until smooth.

Marinate the ribs

  • Place ribs in a large non-reactive container, such as a glass or porcelain dish. Cover with the marinade and refrigerate overnight.
  • Remove ribs from the refrigerator about 1 hour before cooking. Preheat oven to 325°F (160°C) and line a roasting pan with a large piece of aluminum foil, big enough to enclose the ribs.
  • Place a large sheet of baking parchment on top of the foil, then place the ribs on the baking parchment. Scrape out any marinade left in the dish and pour it over the top of the ribs, along with the water. Cover with a second piece of baking parchment and wrap the ribs in the paper and foil. Crumple the edges of the foil to seal.
  • Place in the oven and bake until the meat is well cooked and falling off the bone, 2 to 2 1/2 hours.
  • Increase oven temperature to 350°F (180°C). Lightly brush ribs with oil and bake, in the open parcel, until the top of the meat begins to form a crust, about 20 minutes.

Make the habanero salsa

  • While the ribs are cooking, in a bowl, combine red onion, chiles, pickled red onions, pickling juice, orange juice, and salt. Mix well until the salt has dissolved.
  • Whisk in the olive oil and leave the salsa to infuse for 10 minutes. Taste to check seasoning and balance, and adjust accordingly with more juice, chiles, or salt if needed. This salsa should be spicy but with a fragrant and citrusy flavor. Add the cilantro just before serving.
  • Serve ribs straight from the oven, with habanero salsa, and black beans, if desired, on the side.
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Notes

*What is achiote paste?

Achiote (or annatto) seeds are what give cochinita pibil its distinctive coloring. On their own, they don’t have much taste aside from a slight woody pepperiness. In general, the seeds are mixed into a blend of garlic, orange zest, cumin, sea salt, and habanero peppers which come in powdered, paste, or oil forms. 
If you can’t find paste but do have powdered achiote seasoning, add water (a little at a time) until you have a paste. 

Show Nutrition

Serving: 1servingCalories: 717kcal (36%)Carbohydrates: 22g (7%)Protein: 32g (64%)Fat: 55g (85%)Saturated Fat: 16g (100%)Polyunsaturated Fat: 9gMonounsaturated Fat: 24gTrans Fat: 1gCholesterol: 152mg (51%)Sodium: 1039mg (45%)Potassium: 864mg (25%)Fiber: 2g (8%)Sugar: 12g (13%)Vitamin A: 594IU (12%)Vitamin C: 65mg (79%)Calcium: 96mg (10%)Iron: 3mg (17%)

Recipe Testers’ Reviews

We really enjoyed these Pibil-style pork ribs. The aroma in the house was amazing and the finished product didn’t disappoint. I’ve never used achiote paste so I was very excited to try this recipe. It has an aroma similar to a smoky paprika but milder. My habaneros were small so I probably should have used two since it wasn’t noticeable at all in the raw marinade.

I used back ribs, which were tender in 2.5 hours. The finished flavour is mild but definitely present. It pairs perfectly with the salsa. It’s nice to have ribs that don’t have that distinct dry rub texture.

Cochinita pibil is one of my go-to recipes for large groups so I was excited to try these Pibil-style pork ribs. It’s good, really good flavor, but I think the texture could be better. The marinade was more watery (orange juicy) than I was expecting and there was no “scraping” any extra marinade out of the pan as suggested, it just poured right out. I feel like it would have had a better final result if they were finished on the grill or out of the marinade. That would be my only suggestion.

The habanero salsa is a whole different story. It is fantastic as it is. WARNING: It is HOT, but it is also very flavorful. The initial fruity flavor of the habanero complements the marinade on the ribs. I will be using this on chicken and chops as well for sure.

Originally published October 29, 2021

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Comments

  1. How interesting!

    I love pibil and I’ve often considered giving it a try but all the recipes I’ve ever found included a banana leaf. That’s what always brought me to a standstill.

    And can I ask why the habañero salsa? The restaurant pibil I’ve had has never been spicy. Rich in complex flavors, but hardly piquante.

    1. We hope you give it a try, Rainey. It’s not crucial to serve the salsa with the ribs, but all of our testers did find that it was an excellent addition.

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