Is it cochinita pibil? No, but the flavors in these Instant Pot Yucatán-Style Pork Tacos, emulate the flavors in the traditional pit-cooked pork dish, cochinita pibil. The achiote/annatto, herbs, and a mix of citrus, give the tender pulled pork a distinct Yucatecan flavor… Make a large batch, and #TacoTuesday is set for weeks!
👩🏻🍳 Tamara Talks – Yucatecan Cuisine
Yucatán has not always been a part of Mexico. One of the most advanced indigenous cultures of the ancient Americas, the Mayans migrated to the area now known as Yucatán around 2500 B.C. Centuries later, the land became part of colonial Spain.
When Mexico gained its independence from Spain in February 1821, Yucatán became part of the Independent Mexican Empire but remained a remote province until 1824. This area was isolated from the rest of Mexico, and its only contact with the outside world was by sea, until the mid-twentieth century when rail and highway connected Mexico and Yucatán. It remains distinct from Mexico in its cuisine and culture even today.
Yucatán is home to rich and varied gastronomy that features well-known ingredients such as corn, chiles, tomatoes, turkeys, pumpkins, and beans, with many less common ingredients that are unique to the state such as habaneros, sour oranges, and the popular achiote that gives color and flavor to so many Yucatecan dishes. Because of its culturally rich traditions that bring together Maya, Spanish, and Lebanese influences, Yucatecan cooking has taken its rightful place on the global food scene.
Typical Yucatan Ingredients
- habanero chiles
- achiote/annatto – the signature red seed that can be found whole, ground, and in paste form
- pickled red onions
- squash – including pumpkins and their seeds
- “recados” – spice blends/pastes
- sour or Seville oranges
- Mexican oregano, cumin, epazote
- banana leaves
- chaya (Mexican tree spinach)
- cloves and cinnamon
Recados, marinating spice blends or pastes, are the foundation for many Yucatecan traditional dishes like the traditional cochinita pibil. They range from the common recado rojo used in cochinita pibil to pumpkin seed recado (pipián) to black recado (anchos) and white recado (aromatic herbs).
As I include more Yucatecan-inspired dishes in my culinary adventures, I have found that once the recados are made, most recipes come together easily and relatively quickly.
Keep in mind that it is not my goal to recreate traditional recipes. Rather, I use flavor profiles and typical ingredients to create new recipes that work well in the home kitchen setting. I hope you’ll give this Instant Pot Yucatecan-style pork a try!
What is ‘Cochinita Pibil’?
One of Yucatán’s most famous dishes is this pork marinated in achiote paste, herbs, and spice (recado rojo), and sour orange juice. Traditionally, it is a whole pig! It is then wrapped in banana leaves and cooked slowly in a Pib-style oven (underground). You eat it in tacos, Tortas, or by itself with red onion.
Obviously, the traditional method is not practical for most home cooks! However, we can enjoy the flavor (on a much smaller scale) and cook it at home. An Instant Pot speeds up the process, but you can certainly cook it on the stove, in the oven, or a slow cooker as well.
📋 Ingredients Notes
Here is a quick look at the ingredients in the recipe – it’s handy to use at the grocery store or as a summary of what you need. Skip to the recipe for quantities.
Pork and Recado Rojo Marinade
- achiote paste – An authentic recado rojo is typically made with annatto seeds. I keep achiote paste on hand, and I think it’s easier to work with.
- cumin seeds
- whole cloves
- ground cinnamon
- Mexican oregano leaves – I find Mexican oregano leaves in the Latino foods section of my market. You can find them on Amazon as well.
- fresh citrus juice – I use a mix of citrus – orange, lemon, lime – in an attempt to get somewhat close to a Seville orange. Seville oranges are common in the Yucatan. Their flavor is sour, acidic, and somewhat bitter. The combination of juices gets close enough. I haven’t seen Seville oranges in the US, but by all means use them if you can find them!
- pork – I first tried this recipe with pork loin, and while the results were quite tasty, the meat was a bit dry. I threw caution to the wind, and used fattier pork shoulder, and the juicy, tender results are worth the extra calories. You’re looking at approximately 160 calories per 4 ounce serving of lean pork loin versus 328 calories per 4 ounce serving of pork shoulder roast. The choice is yours.
- prepared shredded pork –
- quick pickled onions – When I have time, I like this pickled onion recipe. If time is short, I just soak thin-sliced red onions in good vinegar (white wine, sherry, champagne) and season with agave nectar and sea salt.
- corn tortillas – PLEASE don’t use flour tortillas!
- shredded cabbage – Pre-packaged shredded cabbage is a great time-saver. However, I make tacos often, and feel like I waste less cabbage if I keep a head of cabbage in the refrigerator and shred just enough for 1 meal.
- cotija –
- lime wedges and cilantro to garnish
1. Prepare the recado rojo marinade and soak the pork – Add the recado ingredients to a small food processor. Pulse until very well combined. Add the citrus juices and the recado rojo to the processor. Purée until smooth. Pour into a zip bag, and add the pork. Marinate 2 hours and up to overnight.
2. Cook the pork – After the pork is marinated, place it in the Instant Pot in a steamer basket. Add 1 cup of water. Lock the lid in place. Cook at full pressure for 45 minutes. Allow at least 10 minutes to depressurize.
3. Shred the pork – Remove the pork from it’s juices. Use a potato masher or fork to shred the pork. Add additional meat juices as needed to moisten. At this point, you may want to allow the pork to cool, and package for freezing. I usually enjoy tacos on the day I cook it, and have 3-4 more packages in the freezer.
What kind of pork should I use? Pork shoulder yields juicier and more tender shredded pork. I have also used pork loin which is equally delicious, but a little bit dry. You can also use boneless pork chops. If you are okay with removing the bones, bone-in meat is always a flavorful option!
Can I freeze the shredded pork? YES! This is a perfect freezer meal! I make about 5 pounds, and freeze 4 pounds in 1 pound packages.
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Instant Pot Yucatan-Style Pork Tacos
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- 1.5 ounces achiote/annatto paste
- 1 tablespoons peppercorns
- 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 1 tablespoon dried Mexican oregano leaves
- 8 whole cloves
- 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
- 2 teaspoons garlic - minced
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup mixed citrus juice – fresh lime - lemon, orange, grapefruit
- 4 to 5 pounds pork shoulder*
- corn tortillas
- pickled onions - see Notes below for more information
- shredded cabbage
- crumbled cotija
- Prepare the recado rojo marinade and soak the pork – Add the recado ingredients (achiote paste through salt) to a small food processor. Pulse until very well combined. Add the citrus juices to the recado rojo in the processor. Purée until smooth. Pour into a zip bag, and add the pork. Marinate 2 hours and up to overnight.
- Cook the pork – After the pork is marinated, cut it into large chunks, and place it in the Instant Pot in a steamer basket. Add 1 cup of water. Lock the lid in place. Cook at full pressure for 45 minutes. Allow at least 10 minutes to depressurize.
- Shred the pork – Remove the pork from its juices. Use a potato masher or fork to shred the pork. Add additional meat juices as needed to moisten. At this point, you may want to allow the pork to cool, and package for freezing. I usually enjoy tacos on the day I cook it, and have 3-4 more packages in the freezer.
NOTE: Macronutrients are an approximation only using unbranded ingredients and MyFitnessPal.com. Please do your own research with the products you’re using if you have a serious health issue or are following a specific diet.