Sunday, January 19, 2014

Once Upon a Time in Laura's Kitchen: Puerco (and Veggie) Pibil

Back in my young and impressionable college days, there was always one person I could count on to stock me up with free candy and pop culture, Laura the RA. Her guacamole was the stuff of legend, and her impressive DVD collection rivaled my own. In the 7 years since I finished college, she may have moved on from her RAdom, but she hasn't stopped buying our friendship with food and booze. This past weekend, she let me in on her most famous meal- Puerco Pibil a la Once Upon a Time in Mexico (a meal so good that Johnny Depp's character killed the chef who made the most perfect version of it ever).

Was Laura just using me to make the massive amounts of prep manageable? Would I be attacked by surprise banana leaf spiders? Could I butcher 5 lbs of raw pork butt without getting completely grossed out? or Would I have a delightful day of cooking, eating and Cards Against Humanity?

Puerco (or Arroz or Veggie) Pibil
From Once Upon a Time in Mexico
Servings: 8-10 (per type)
Time: 6+ hours (4 inactive)
Oh so many spices in one now destroyed coffee grinder

5 tbsp achiote seeds
2 tsp cumin seeds
8 whole allspice
1 tbsp whole black pepper
1/2 tsp cloves
3-4 habanero peppers (deveined and deseeded with gloves)
1/2 cup orange juice
1/2 cup white vinegar
2 tbsp salt
10 garlic cloves
Juice of 5 lemons
2-3 splashes of good tequila
5 lbs pork butt or chicken breast, cut into 1-2" cubes
or assorted veggies (parsnips, purple potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots and mushrooms), chopped
Banana leaves, rinsed with the stems cut off.
Tortillas and/or rice
My aversion to touching raw meat, Laura's dull knives and 5 lbs of bone-in pork butt were about to put my butchering skills to the test.

Watch for spiders!
Pretty veggies!
  1. Put on awesome Mexican music.
  2. Preheat the oven to 325 F.
  3. Grind the achiote seeds, cumin, allspice, whole black pepper and cloves together in a coffee grinder (and then never use for coffee again).
  4. Combine the habanero peppers, orange juice, vinegar, salt, garlic with the ground spice mix in a blender until very smooth.
  5. Add in the lemon juice and tequila (you can keep adding more to balance out the spice).
  6. Start hating your friend Laura for her poor knives while attempting to butcher the meat and/or veggies.
  7. Marinade the meat and/or veggies in large bowls for at least half an hour.
  8. Cover the bottom of a 9"x13" glass baking pan with a banana leaf. Place another, extra long banana leaf going across the width of the pan (it should probably be about three times the width of the pan so you can later fold it over (like you would a letter). 
  9. Pour the meat or veggies on top of the banana leaves. Fold the leaves over to cover.
  10. Wrap tightly in aluminum foil so no steam can escape then cook for at least 4 hours.
  11. Lazily lay on the couch and let the amazing smell take over your house while you try to fight the pibil-lust and successfully wait the 4 hours.
  12. Spoon the amazingly tender, seasoned goodness on top of tortillas or rice and enjoy.
I've gotta admit, a little part of me that believes in a magic was really hoping I'd find whole bananas had grown when I opened it up.
Getting this dish to the oven may have taken a lot of hard work, but it was absolutely worth it. The finished product was perfection. Opening up those banana leaves was like Christmas for our senses of smell. The pork and chicken were masterfully spiced and beautifully tender. Whether on rice or inside of a warm tortilla, you couldn't go wrong.
Get in close to really smell the awesome.
The real surprise, though, might have been that the veggies were actually the best part. They drank up the spicy tequila mix much like our former college selves, and became super soft and tasty (special props to the potato members of the dish). Ideally, I'd say the best way to go about this meal would be to make two batches of the marinade, one for the pork and one for the veggies. My third and final taco (I would've had at least 12 if not for saving room for dessert) consisted of a pork and veggie combo that was far and away the best of the night.  Waiting paid off in the end as we were treated to a truly great dinner. In the future, I'd definitely like to fully test my patience by letting these cook for an entire day and then seeing if the taste-time continuum folded in on itself from becoming super saturated with deliciousness.
Notice the lack of juice because these awesome veggies absorbed all that amazing flavor (they really love tequila).
Stay tuned for the conclusion of Once Upon a Time in Laura's Kitchen: Amaretto Lime Tres Leches.

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