Sunday, 29 September 2013

Spicy KANKUN Cochinita Pibil

Lookin' for some hot stuff, baby, this evening?

As a fan of Mexican salsas, extremely hot chile sauces, and KANKUN in particular, I was excited to get a couple bottles of their 85% Habanero sauce in the post.

I repeat, "a couple bottles".

85% habanero is, as they say, muy picante, so this supply will last me a while.

While I'm a big fan of pouring hot chile sauces on everything I eat, I have also been trying to think of ways to use this salsa as an ingredient. And because habaneros are typical of the Yucatán, this seemed like the perfect opportunity to make cochinita pibil.

I last wrote about Yucatecan pit-cooked (pibil) dishes when I made pollo pibil (pibil-style chicken). And ever since I've been looking forward to making the equally popular pork version: cochinita pibil.

To recap, the pibil dishes are meant to be cooked in a Yucatecan cooking pit called a pib (it's a Mayan word). You dig a hole, line it with hot stones and ashes, lay your food in the pit (wrapped in a protective covering like a banana leaf), and bury the lot.

Then let it slow-cook to perfection!

Well, I don't expect you to dig a hole in your back garden (if I tried this at home, Mrs MexiGeek would pit-roasting me in it).

Instead, you can compromise by slow-cooking cochinita pibil in the oven.

What you CAN'T compromise on, though, is the seasoning, which here means achiote paste.

Achiote paste or recado rojo is made with the hard red seeds of a tree native to the Americas. It is quite easy to make, lasts months in the fridge, freezes well, and is useful for other Yucatecan dishes (so don't be afraid to make a big batch).

Even better, recado rojo is made of easy-to-find ingredients, except for the achiote itself, which is available from specialist shops and on-line suppliers (it is often sold as "annatto", the Brazilian name).

Homemade achiote paste and the molcajete it was made in.
These same suppliers often sell ready-made recado rojo, so you can use that and save yourself a step.

The other thing a pibil dish requires is the juice of Seville (or bitter) orange. These are available year-round in the Yucatán but are restricted to January in Europe.

I bought a big bag last year and froze the juice, so I'm sorted, but you can also make mock bitter orange juice by combining two parts grapefruit juice with one part orange juice, then adding a dash of lime juice.

You can get the orange and grapefruit juices out of a carton but I would definitely recommend using fresh lime.

All pibil dishes, whether cooked in an actual pib or not, are traditionally wrapped in a banana leaf, which not only keeps the meat soft and moist but also imparts a characteristic flavour.

Banana leaves are available from some Asian grocers (look for ones with Thai ingredients), but if you can't find any, just wrap the pork in parchment (en papillotte, as the French would say).

If you have a good quality casserole dish, you could even do without the parchment.

Or you could make this dish in a slow-cooker (whether you use banana leaves or not).

KANKUN Cochinita Pibil


1 recipe recado rojo (about 50 g)
90 - 100 mL Seville orange juice (or bitter orange substitute)
1 - 2 teaspoons KANKUN Habanero Sauce (or to taste)

1 - 1.5 kg pork shoulder or loin
A banana leaf or cooking parchment (optional)


First I made the marinade.

In a bowl, I combined the achiote paste (recado rojo) and Kan-Kun with enough Seville orange juice to loosen it to a pourable consistency. This turned out to be about 100 mL, which covered the pork nicely.

Then I added the KANKUN Habanero sauce. I used just about two teaspoons. Normally I would taste in between to get the balance right, but I'm not sure if you should eat raw achiote paste, so I had to test it using sense of smell.

If the mainade is gritty (which is likely if you made it in a molcajete), blend it with a hand-blender until it's smooth.

The three amigos of the Yucatan: achiote, bitter orange, and habanero!.
Then I prepped the pork.

My partner in crime Wee Sadie had bought me banana leaves from a shop on Leith Walk ages ago. I started trying to unfold the leaves (they are HUGE) and cut two pieces large enough to line my casserole dish and wrap around the pork.

Please resist the temptation to steal banana leaves from the Royal Botanic Gardens.
You will have to wipe the leaves clean and cut off any edges that are starting to go brown or curly. Some people also recommend you pass the leaves briefly though a flame so they soften a bit, but I found the ones I used were malleable enough without this step.

Handle them carefully, though, because they do like to rip at the seams!

I lined a casserole dish with one of the leaves, laid the pork in the dish, and poured over the marinade. 

But don't just pour the marinade. Massage it in with your hands. Work that flavour!

After I washed my hands (do this frequently: achiote is also a powerful dye!), I covered the pork with the other leaf and tucked it down on all sides so the pork was wrapped fairly tightly.

Snug as a bug!
I put the lid on and left it to marinate in the fridge overnight. If you're not into waiting 24 hours to cook something, at least give it an hour or two. But the more time, the better.

When you're ready to cook (which is hopefully the next day), preheat the oven to 180° C (160° fan) and cook for 3 to 4 hours.

I had to leave this to the ever-capable Mrs MexiGeek, because I was at work. The pork went in at 17.30, as per my instructions.

I checked it at 20.00 (after 2 and a half hours). I was looking for the pork to be soft, moist, and tender, so I even peaked under the banana leave and gave it a bit of a "test shred". I deemed it should go back in until at least 21.00.
Now it's ready.

You'll need to use your judgement here, but your pork may need as much as five hours, depending on your oven and the size of your cut of pork. If you're doing the slow-cooker method, my estimate would be 10 hours on low or 2 hours on high followed by 3 hours on low. (This is based on successfully doing carnitas in a slow-cooker.)

When the pork is done, remove it and shred it like pulled pork or carnitas: it should fall apart easily. 

I then poured the remaining marinade and cooking juices from the dish over the shredded pork and gave it a good mix.

Like the greatest ever carnitas. The serving dish is hecho en Mexico too!
You can serve the shredded pork with warm tortillas and make tacos, or serve with a traditional Mexican rice dish.

I chose Mexican red rice, but I didn't use enough tomato, so it didn't come out very red. Also, I used diced chiles poblanos instead of peas. 

Still, it looked and tasted awesome:

And of course I added some extra KANKUN. Because some like it hot!
Another classic way to serve cochinita pibil is shredded on top of panuchos, which are Yucatecan tortillas stuffed with refried beans.

But whatever you choose, make sure you top the pork with Yucatecan pink picked onions (cebollas en escabeche) and serve some more Kan-Kun Habanero sauce for those who really want to crank up the heat!

The thing I love about the pibil dishes, and really all Yucatecan food, is that it's a million miles away from the stodgy Tex-Mex cuisine that people sometimes assume is real Mexican food. 

These flavours are vibrant, fresh, and yet deep and complex. 

In particular, the pibil pork (as opposed to the chicken dish) is rich, but the citrus of the bitter orange (and the cebollas en escabeche) cuts through it nicely, which the achiote paste adds deep, complex undertones. 

And of course, the KANKUN. I used just about two teaspoons in my marinade, and the flavour (and heat) of the habanero sauce was present throughout the whole dish. It was not too spicy, though. I'd say I hit upon just the right amount. 

(Mrs MexiGeek found it scrumptious as well.)

And again, habaneros, with their characteristic fruity flavour, are the perfect chile to complement this dish. 

And this is a serious habanero sauce. KANKUN use true habaneros for this sauce, not Scotch bonnets (which are related to habaneros, but not really the same thing). This commitment to using the authentic chile is important, because you need that true habanero flavour in a dish like this.
Of course, habaneros are one of the hottest chiles; some of them can reach 350,000 Scoville Heat Units, I think. They're certainly over 100,000. So for readers who think they might not be able to cope with that, I have some final advice. 

I added KANKUN's new habanero salsa to the marinade, but many cooks make the marinade without any chile, instead serving some chile salsa on the side.

This approach works well if you or the people you're serving people don't like too much chile heat, as each diner can take as much or little extra salsa as they choose.

So if you or any of your guests are a bit wary of the fiery habaneros, feel free to halve the quantity of KANKUN, or even leave it out of the marinade and just have a bottle of KANKUN on the table, for the hardcore chileheads.

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Recado rojo (Yucatecan achiote paste)

One thing I love about Yucatecan food is the achiote seasoning paste (recado rojo), which is, among other things the basis of the marinade used in the famous pibil dishes.

Achiote paste is made from the hard, red seeds of a native tree.

You can buy birth the whole seeds and pre-ground achiote from on-line suppliers and specialist shops (like Lupe Pintos). It's often sold as "annatto", which is the Brazilian name for it.

These same shops and suppliers usually sell a pre-made recado rojo (El Yucateco is a good brand), in case you wanna save yourself some work.

But being MexiGeek, I actually enjoy doing it the hard way, which is grind it yourself in a molcajete (mortar and pestle).

However, I do but pre-ground achiote, because those seeds are so hard even a spice-grinder needs a few minutes to cope.

(And you can, of course, do the whole thing in a food processor.)


There is no one set recipe, but there are a few essential ingredients plus a few likely "extras". And there is a typical ratio of amounts to get the flavour balance right.

The essentials are:

1 tbsp achiote
1 tsp Mexican oregano
1 tsp black peppercorns
1 tsp allspice berries
1 tsp cinnamon (canela)
1/2 tsp cumin
5 cloves garlic
1-2 tbsp cider vinegar

You can also embellish this with:

1/2 tsp cloves
1/2 tsp coriander seeds

You may also need to add an extra tablespoon or two of plain flour at the end if the paste is too loose.


Keeping in mind that I use pre-ground achiote, I'm writing this in "grinding order".

(If you're using while achiote seeds, grind them separately in a spice-grinder.)

Peel the garlic and grind it down to a paste in your molcajete.

Crumble a one-inch stick of (preferably) Mexican cinnamon into the molcajete and grind it down.

(In Mexico they use canela or "true cinnamon", as opposed to the cassia bark we use in Europe.)

Add the allspice (and clove, if using) and continue grinding.

(The cinnamon won't break down completely until the end.)

Add the peppercorns and continue grinding. When they have broken down add the cumin.

Add the coriander seeds (if using) once the cumin has broken down; add the oregano and "mix" it in with the pestle.

Now add the achiote and grind it in until it looks well incorporated.

Now add the vinegar a little at a time and continue "mixing" with the pestle. If the paste is too loose, add some flour.

You should let this paste stand in the fridge overnight if you want it to really rock.

Then you can make cochinita pibil!

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

How I spent my summer vacation

So despite not having posted much in the last three or four months, my pageviews have rocketed up from 6,000 to over 8,000!

¡Muchas gracias!

But though I haven't been writing, I have actually been cooking. In fact, I cooked so much I'm worried I'm going to forget some of it before I have a chance to post.

Over the next several weeks I plan to post as much of this "backlog" as possible. Most of it involves cooking with my mom, who visited in July to see the new baby.

You may remember she was meant to bring my (Mexican) great grandmother's recipe for mole rojo for us to cook. I even bought some real Mexican chocolate from Lupe Pintos for the occasion.

Well, she didn't bring it.

Her excuse was that the recipe was hand-written and Grandma Eva is no longer with us, so she didn't want to risk bringing it in a plane.

Fair enough.

So we cooked my recipes instead.

The other thing going on is that we've entered mes de la patria, "patriotic month", which is September, the month of Mexico's Independence Day.

(September is also my birthday month.)

On 15 September the streets of Mexico will ring out with people shouting el grito ("the cry") of "Viva Mexico!"

This commemorates the priest Hidalgo's grito, which kicked off the war of independence.

Twelve months ago I had some serious cooking plans for this month, but parenthood comes before cooking, so I'm officially running late on the chiles en nogada, but that, and possibly pozole verde, will happen at some point, along with cochinita pibil.

And I'm considering pato en pipián (duck in pumpkinseed sauce) before the year is out, because I've always wanted to cook this elegant dish.

And finally I have a restaurant review to publish.

So between catching up and doing new things, the next few months will be quite busy. Honestly, I'll be lucky if I can finish all this before el día de los muertos.

Clearly, I am still insane. I won't even talk about my plans to make Oaxacan black mole at Christmas.

Now, because this is an info/update post it has no food. But I have been receiving a lot of food from my various Mexican Food Heroes out there, including some incredible salsas from Kan-Kun.

These came with some clothing, so I thought I'd put them on and take my first ever selfie.

If this doesn't "unleash your inner luchador", nothing will!

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Mini tortillas from the Cool Chile Company

Mis amigos at the Cool Chile Company have introduced a new size of corn tortilla, 10 cm (a standard size is 15 cm), and they were nice enough to send me some to try.

I'm always stoked about Cool Chile tortillas; as my regular readers know, they are the only tortillas in the UK I endorse.

Small but effective!
When I saw these little beauties, I instantly thought of making mini tostadas ("tostaditas" if you will).

Tostadas (literally "toasted tortillas": essentially tortillas fried until crisp and then topped with any number of delicious things) are something I've overlooked in this blog, despite the fact that they a popular and very satisfying Mexican snack.

I guess I often focus on more complicated recipes. But this year, what with the new baby and all, I've been rediscovering some of the less daunting, more doable dishes.

And tostadas are definitively doable, especially as you can top them with just about anything.

I had a "test-drive" tostada for breakfast to check the frying time. As you may have gathered from my method of making homemade tortilla chips, I don't always go for frying, but that is the most typical way to make tostadas.

Whereas for enchiladas (or just to revive a tortilla that has gone stale) you want to fry the tortilla for about ten seconds on each side, tostadas need a full minute on one side and somewhat less than a minute in the other.

I topped this little guy with a fried egg and some Cholula. Simple but delicious.

The fried egg is the same size as the tortilla!
However, for the main event, I reverted to my baking method.

Partly this was to save time. Even a full-sized tostada is really just an antojito (snack), so I figured we'd all need several of these mini ones to make a proper lunch. Therefore it was quicker to do six at a time in the oven instead of one at a time in the pan.

To make these "tostaditas": Grease a baking tray with olive oil, lay out your tortillas, and brush with more olive oil (I use a pastry brush).

Look how many fit on one baking tray!
Bake at 200° C for ten minutes.

Now you're ready for the toppings.

But first a note: while the baking method has the advantage of letting you do several at once, they tend to curl up more than if you do one at a time in a frying pan - where you can use your spatula to keep them flat(ter).

But no tostada is completely flat, so it's not a big deal.

Now, to top these bad boys I made some frijoles colados (Yucatecan style "sieved" beans) by frying some homemade frijoles negros de olla ("black beans cooked in a pot") and blending them until smooth with a hand-blender.

(I promise I have a post on frijoles de olla coming soon!)

I also had a jar of pickled cactus paddles on hand, so I used some of that.

(The cactus was surprisingly spicy; I later found a couple chiles serranos in the jar! Awesome!)

And finally I made a homemade smoked chile and tomato salsa by charring three tomatoes and two cloves of garlic on a hot dry frying pan until they all came up in black spots.

I then peeled the garlic and put it into the blender along with the tomatoes, a chopped white onion, a teaspoon of Mexican oregano, and a heaped teaspoon of Gran Luchito and blended it all to a textured sauce.

Then I heated a tablespoon and a half of olive oil in a pan and fried the sauce until it reduced and thickened.

The "silk-screen" effect is because one of these tostaditas is actually Cybill Shepherd
These "tostaditas" were  so delicious we had to make another batch right away.

Obviously the toppings were awesome, but I can't stress enough how delicious a good quality tortilla fried (or baked) crisp is. It is truly one of life's great pleasures.

Considering the size of these tortillas, you could almost think of these as garnachas, which some say are the true precursor to American nachos (others, like Thomasina Miers, award that title to chilaquiles).

Either way, you cannot go wrong with this dish.

Another top quality tortilla product from the Cool Chile Company.

Now a note on the photos...

I recently upgraded my phone. For the first couple weeks I noticed the camera had a peculiar bluish tint, and the image quality was somewhat blurry.

Then, after I took the photos for this post, I realized there was a piece of blue protective plastic covering the camera lens


In my defence the reviews of this phone indicated the camera would be quite a disappointment.

Next time the photos should be back to normal.