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Posted on Mon, Sep 2, 2013 : 4:50 a.m.

Yucatan Pulled Pork Tacos with Pickled Red Onions (Cochinita Pibil)

By Peggy Lampman


Yucatan Pulled Pork Tacos with Pickled Red Onions (Cochinita Pibil)

Peggy Lampman | Contributor

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Happy Labor Day! With this icky weather, it's nice to have a recipe made in a crock pot. Cochinita Pibil, a slow-cooked pork dish seasoned with acidic juices and served with pickled red onions, is often part of Yucatan family celebrations, so why not ours? And if not today, consider making this a part of Saturday's tailgate when we crush Notre Dame -  it can be made ahead and serves 8-10 hungry revelers. 

In Spanish, “cochinita” translates to “baby pig” and “pibil” is the Mayan word for buried, and traditionally a pig is wrapped in banana leaves then slow cooked over burning embers buried in the sand.

I understand that many readers may found this procedure off-putting, so here's an easy crock-pot method that delivers admirable results.

The pickled red onions (Cebollas Encurtidas), tomato sauce (Chiltomate) and Achiote seasoning may be made a couple of days in advance. I slow-simmered the pulled pork the day before serving, and let the shredded meat stew in the cooking liquid overnight for added flavor.

Yield: 16 tacos (8-10 servings)
Make aheads: 2-3 days in advance
Slow cook time: 8-10 hours


2 red onions
1/4 cup plus 1/2 cup grapefruit juice
2 tablespoons plus 1/4 cup orange juice
2 tablespoons plus 1/4 cups lime juice, plus extra wedges for garnish
1 teaspoon plus 2 tablespoons minced garlic
2 teaspoons dried Mexican oregano* or regular oregano, crushed and divided
3 tablespoons ground annatto*
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1 3-pound boneless pork shoulder roast, excess fat trimmed
1 bay leaf
1 (14 ounce) can tomatoes
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1 can (4 ounces) chopped green chilies, mild to hot, according to desired level of heat
16 6-inch corn tortillas
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
Crumbled queso fresca


1. To make the Cebollas Encurtidas (pickled onions), position rack in oven 4-5 inches from heat and preheat broiler. Cut one of the onions into 1/2-inch slices, reserving the other.
2. Arrange onion slices on a foil-lined baking sheet and broil about 4 to 5 minutes on each side, or until tender and just charred. When cool enough to handle, separate into rings, discarding any blackened pieces.
3. In a medium-sized bowl, combine 1/4 cup grapefruit juice, 2 tablespoons orange juice, 2 tablespoons lime juice, 1 teaspoon garlic and 1 teaspoon crushed oregano. Season to taste with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper. Place onion rings in liquid, cover, and refrigerate 4 to 48 hours.
4. To make an Achiote seasoning, in a small bowl add 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt and 1 teaspoon ground black pepper. Then stir in annatto, remaining teaspoon oregano, cumin, cinnamon and allspice. Rub mixture into entire pork. Place pork in a large dish or a large resealable plastic bag. Chill, refrigerated, 4 to 24 hours.
5. Thinly slice remaining red onion, and place in a 4-to 5-quart slow cooker. Add remaining grapefruit juice, orange juice and lime juice. Stir in remaining garlic and bay leaf and place roast in mixture, on top of the onions. Cover and cook on low-heat setting for 8 to 10 hours or on high-heat setting 4 to 5 hours, or until meat may be easily pulled apart with forks.
6. Meanwhile, make the Chiltomate Sauce by placing tomatoes, vinegar and chili peppers in a blender or food processor. Cover and process until smooth. Season to taste with kosher salt. Transfer mixture to a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil; reduce heat. Simmer, uncovered, for 10 minutes or until sauce is desired consistency. (This step may be done up to 48 hours in advance.)
7. Just before meat is cooked and ready to be shredded, heat an 8-inch skillet over medium-high heat. Brush tortillas lightly with oil. Heat each tortilla, one at a time, in skillet on both sides until softened. Wrap in foil to keep warm.
8. Remove pork from slow cooker. Discard bay leaf and let pork rest until cool enough to handle. Using two forks, pull meat apart into shreds and toss with a bit of juice to moisten but not saturate. (Note: At this point, shredded pork may be returned to cooking liquid and refrigerated 24 hours. Drain and reheat when ready to serve.)
9. To assemble tacos, place shredded meat on center of warm tortilla, top with pickled onions, tomato sauce and queso fresco. Serve.

*I purchased these ingredients at Kerrytown’s Spice Merchants, but these spices, common to Mexican cuisine, are available anywhere authentic Mexican food stuffs are sold.

Peggy Lampman is a real-time food writer and photographer posting daily feeds on her website and in the Food & Grocery section of You may also e-mail her at


Rod Johnson

Tue, Sep 3, 2013 : 4:05 a.m.

I look forward to trying this. Good cochinita pibil is one of the most delicious things on earth.