Though my seven year stint as a vegetarian ended over a year ago now, I still feel inexperienced and unwise in the ways of cooking meat. So much of cooking is learned through experience (and a fair amount of trial and error), and I just haven’t had enough opportunities to try different cooking methods for meat to really feel like I have any idea what I’m talking about. It’s a strange feeling, for someone who cooks as often as I do.
However, as I discovered when making this recipe, throwing a hunk of meat in the slow cooker is about as simple as it gets, and at the end, you are richly rewarded for your non-effort with the most tender, delicious stuff imaginable. It kind of feels like cheating. This recipe is extra-great as far as slow cooker recipes go (though my experience up until now has been limited to veg dishes) because the long cooking time gives the dish’s many spices and flavorings a chance to fuse into one seamless, incredible taste. Plus, it will make your house smell amazing! The first time I cooked this, I left it in the slow cooker while I went out to run some errands, and when I came home, I could smell the stuff from my apartment building’s front lobby.
This recipe is adapted from this crazy old Mexican cookbook from 1989 that a friend gave me – Mexican Cookery by Barbara Hansen. The book is full of hilarious, 80s-style, grandiosely-staged photos of Mexican dishes set on a table alongside elaborate candle holders bigger than a human head, and things like that, but everything I’ve cooked from it has been FANTASTIC. It’s out of print, but I highly recommend picking up a used copy on Amazon, if you’re into Mexican food.
This slow-cooker version of cochinita pibil yields a falling-apart tender meat that’s ideal for shredded pork tacos, though you can also serve it over rice, as shown in the photo. Either way, it’s ridiculously delicious, especially considering how little effort goes into making it!
Slow-Cooker Cochinita Pibil (adapted from Mexican Cookery by Barbara Hansen)
- 2 lbs. pork shoulder or leg (pork shoulder is also known, for some bizarre reason, as “Boston Butt”)
- 1 onion, halved and sliced into thin strips
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 good-sized, juicy orange, juiced, or 1/2 c. OJ from a carton (look for an orange that’s pliable when you squeeze it – it will likely be juicier and have less skin)
- 1 lime, juiced, or 2 Tbsp. bottled lime juice (same)
- 2 tsp. ground annatto (also known as “achiote” – look for this spice in Mexican grocery stores)
- 1 tsp. ground cumin
- 1 tsp. dried oregano
- 1/2 tsp. ground allspice
- 1 tsp. garlic powder
- 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp. ground cloves
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1/2 tsp. black pepper
- 2 tsp. white vinegar
- 2 tsp. water
- Tortillas, taco shells, or rice, plus taco garnishes, for serving
Remove any bones from the pork, along with any large pieces of fat. Plop it in the slow cooker, followed by the onion slices and garlic. Mix the OJ, lime juice, all spices, vinegar, and water, and pour this mixture over the pork.
Slow cook on high for about 4 hours, or low for 7-8 hours. I recommend checking on it after about 3 hours (6 on low) to make sure that the liquid hasn’t all burned off, but if you’re not going to be home, add 1/4 c. water so that the pork doesn’t dry out.
It’s done when you poke the pork with a spoon and it falls apart. Lightly mash the pork to break it up into small pieces, and serve with tortillas or over rice, along with whatever typical taco garnishes you feel like.
Cost of core ingredients: Naturally-raised pork is quite a bit cheaper at my co-op than grass-fed beef and the pricier chicken parts, so this does not make for an especially expensive meat dish.
- 2 lbs. pork shoulder @ $3.49/lb.: $6.98
- 1 onion: ~$1
- 1 large orange: $1.72 (for a single orange, seriously? Yeow)
- 1 lime: $0.40
- ~1 lb. brown basmati rice, for serving, @ $2.59/lb.: ~$2.59
Total cost for four servings: $12.69, plus the cost of all spices, vinegar, and garnishes, if you have them. Not too shabby.