I love my slow cooker right now. Especially now that school is going to be getting back in swing after the holidays and it’s getting dark SO early! The slow cooker saves us a LOT of time and stress. Rarely do I do anything “normal” in there either. I mean, I’ve been know to cook a pot roast but generally, I’m cooking something that I’d typically do all day on the stovetop or in the oven if I could. My absolute favorite thing to make with my slow cooker is Mexican food. Our family loves Mexican food and could eat it almost daily. Millions of Mexicans do it; why not us, right?
I’ve been to the Mexican grocery by our house enough now that I’m recognized and the clerks assume I can actually converse with them. And I try, I swear! But my Spanish is soooooo rusty. The poor cashier always rattles out my total in super-fast Spanish and my reply is typically something like “I don’t speak numbers. Sorry!” I’m pretty pathetic. I am however learning how to ask how to find specific things there.
Last time I went in, I had to have help to find the big industrial size box of achiote paste. It’s a blend of annatto seeds, garlic, bitter orange and other spices. I suppose I could make it myself but why would I when I can buy a big industrial size box of it at the Mexican grocery – duh! I’ve been buying the small boxes but I use the entire thing when I cook a single recipe and then I have to make a second trip to the supermercado next time I want to cook. So nope, bought the giant box of achiote AND the ginormous package of frozen banana leaves. I’ve tried buying fresh leaves but they are HUGE (the last batch I bought had about ten leaves at more than 7 feet long each) and I can’t use them quickly enough. With the frozen ones, you just pull out what you need and unfold it and then pop the rest back in the freezer. Super convenient.
And why did I need industrial sized achiote paste and lots of banana leaves you ask? Well because we’ve become a bit obsessed with Carne Pibil. As with Carnitas, Carne Pibil is pretty simple. You toast up some cumin seeds and combine them with achiote, garlic, onions, chiles and some liquids. You can puree it all in a blender or use your immersion blender (What? Didn’t you get one yet? Go now!) to make everything into a soupy paste. Toss your chunks of pork with the paste and cook in banana leaves all day. It’s one of the best things to come home to. I usually serve with some rice and black beans for a wonderful Mexican feast. This is another recipe I’ve adapted from The Mexican Slow Cooker (Schneider, Deborah, Ten Speed Press, 2012) which remains one of my very favorite cook books.
Cut pork into one inch chunks. Coat completely with achiote mixture. Line slow cooker with banana leaves. As you can see, my first leaf was JUST a bit large so I had to cut it to fit. Place pork in slow cooker and pour a little water over it. Cover with another banana leaf or two, close lid and set on low for 8-10 hours.
I hope you enjoy this as much as we do!
Carne Pibil (Achiote Pork in Banana Leaves)
- 2 T whole cumin seeds
- 3-4 oz achiote paste (big box is 15 oz, small box is usually 4 oz)
- 6 or 7 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
- 3 jalapeno peppers, stemmed (and seeded if you don’t want to go too spicy) and rough chopped
- 1/2 large onion, rough chopped
- 2 t coarse kosher salt
- 2 T white vinegar
- 2 T orange juice
- 2 1/2 to 3 lb pork butt or shoulder, cut into 1 inch chunks (you could use beef if you prefer)
- banana leaves (about four 12 inch or slightly larger squares should work)
- 1/2 C water
- Chopped cilantro and sweet onion for garnish
- Fresh corn or flour tortillas
Toast cumin seeds in a small skillet until fragrant. This should only take a couple of minutes. You want to be able to smell them but not burn them. Trust me, it’ll take days to get the smell out of your house if you let them go too long.
Combine cumin seeds, achiote paste, garlic, peppers, onions, salt, vinegar and orange juice in a blender (I always use my immersion blender). Process until a smooth paste.
Put pork pieces in a medium bowl and thoroughly coat with the achiote mixture. Yes, it’s supposed to be that color. It’s really great to mix it with your hands but you may look like you left a crime scene for a while after. And resist the temptation to wipe your hands on your pants. This is a good time for an apron, y’all!
Line the bottom of your slow cooker with one of your banana leaves. If it doesn’t go up about halfway up the sides, line with a second leaf in the opposite direction. Fill leaf liner with pork. Use 1/2 C water to rinse all the goodness from your blender. Pour the watered down achiote over the top of the pork and cover with another banana leaf. Try to make sure it’s pretty well sealed up as you are basically steaming the meat. Lid and cook for about 8 hours on low (I have a smart slow cooker that allows me to tell it what time we want to eat so mine went much longer than 8 hours this time).
Garnish with chopped cilantro and onions and serve in tortillas, if desired (I always desire). Great with a side of rice and beans. If you have leftovers, this is an excellent filling for tamales or breakfast burritos.