Cochinita Pibil Tacos | Authentic Recipe

Those cochinita pibil tacos are juicy, packed with authentic Mexican flavors, and one of the most delicious dishes from Mexico.

If you think you know traditional Mexican cuisine but you haven’t tried tacos de cochinita pibil, you’re missing out and I’m happy to introduce you to this wonderful recipe.

Cochinita pibil tacos with xnipec salsa.

What Is Cochinita Pibil?

Cochinita Pibil is a traditional Yucatecan dish that consists of marinated pork meat with annatto seeds (achiote), spices, and bitter orange. The meat is wrapped in banana leaves and slow-cooked in a píib, which is an earth oven. 

Pibil, which comes from píib, is a Yucatecan Mayan cooking technique of pre-Hispanic origin that consists of digging a hole in the ground, making a stove with firewood and stones to place the banana-leaf-wrapped meat, covering it with soil, and letting it cook slowly over several hours.

The result is incredibly tender and flavorful meat that can be shredded very easily to make tacos or other traditional dishes. Cochinita pibil has an earthy and slightly sour taste with a depth of flavor from the spices.

One of the signature things about this dish is the bright red-ish color achieved by marinating the meat with a paste called recado rojo. This seasoning is made using annatto seeds (more of this below).

The tender meat is then shredded and used to make tacos, panuchos, or just served on a plate along with xnipec salsa, which consists of red onion, habanero peppers, and bitter orange juice.

Cochinita pibil over banana leaves on a Mexican clay serving plate.

The Origin

The origin of cochinita pibil goes back to pre-Hispanic times when the Mayan people used to cook a similar dish with deer, pheasant, wild turkey, or peccary meat in an underground oven.

It wasn’t until colonial times that people started using pork meat for this dish, along with other new ingredients such as Seville oranges.

Eventually, traditional píib was replaced by normal ovens and steam cookers for convenience. However, people in Yucatan still maintain the tradition of making an earth oven on special occasions.

For example, in Kantunilkín city, they make a píib on December 8 to celebrate the date of the Immaculate Conception.

And just as in colonial times, this recipe is particularly appreciated during Hanal Pixan (meal of the souls) from October 31 to November 2.

As you can see, these cochinita pibil tacos are more than just a delicious meal. There’s a lot of history and tradition in every bite and it’s a very special recipe for Mexicans. 

Cochinita Pibil Tacos served on a clay plate with xnipec salsa and various toppings around.

The Ingredients

For the pibil pork:

  • Pork: Use a cut with fat such as pork shoulder or pork leg.
  • Achiote: You will need some achiote paste which can be easily found at Mexican food groceries or on Amazon (more about achiote below).
  • Bitter orange: The traditional recipe for pork pibil is made with a type of sour orange, if you can’t find where you live you can make a 1:1 mixture of regular orange + lemon juice.
  • Onion: To give some texture to the paste. You can use yellow, white, or red onions.
  • Spices: You will need garlic cloves, cumin seeds, peppercorns, oregano, allspice (optional), cinnamon stick, and whole cloves.
  • Salt: Any type you prefer.

To make the cochinita pibil tacos you will need corn tortillas, we strongly suggest making your own with our easy recipe for homemade tortillas, otherwise, use your favorite brand of store-bought tortillas.

For the Xnipec salsa, you will need red onions, habanero peppers, bitter orange juice (or lemon), oregano, and salt. If you want only the flavor but not the spiciness, try our Mexican pickled onions recipe instead.

What Is Achiote?

Achiote, also known as annatto, is an orange-red condiment made from achiote seeds, which come from the Bixa Orellana tree.

This tree grows in South America and Central America, so achiote is a common ingredient in many recipes from this part of the world.

You can find whole seeds, ground achiote, achiote paste, and achiote oil.

Achiote has a mild peppery flavor and a hint of bitterness, smokiness, and earthiness and it gives cochinita its signature orange-red color!

You can buy achiote at Latin American stores and online, it usually comes in small packets (about 3.5oz/100g). Once opened, you can store it wrapped with cling film in the fridge for months.

A pack of store-bought Mexican achiote paste opened on a kitchen countertop.
Store-bought Achiote Paste

What Is Bitter Orange?

Also known as Seville orange or sour orange, this lovely citrus fruit is known for its incredibly bitter flavor.

It has a higher acidic content than regular oranges and it’s usually used for essential oils, to flavor liquors, and its scent can be found in perfumes and cosmetics.

When it comes to cooking, bitter orange juice is often used in marinades and salsas because it has a unique citrus flavor and it’s an amazing breakdown agent for tenderizing meats. 

How To Make Cochinita Pibil Tacos

Make the marinade (recado rojo)

Place achiote paste, onion, garlic cloves, oregano, cumin seeds, allspice, peppercorns, whole cloves, and cinnamon in a food processor.

Ingredients for achiote marinade in a food processor.

Add the bitter orange juice, salt, and pulse until you will have a paste.

Note: You can also make this paste using a molcajete or a mortar. Working in batches, grind the spices with the achiote and onion adding the orange juice as needed to make a paste.

Showing texture of achiote pasta with a spatula.

Marinate the meat:

Place pork meat in a large bowl and add the recado rojo paste. Turn to coat nicely all meat.

A collage with 2 photos of marinating pork meat with achiote paste to make cochinita pibil.

Cover the bowl and place it in the refrigerator. Allow the meat to marinate for at least 8 hours, preferably overnight.

Cook the cochinita

The next day, fold an oven-proof pot with banana leaves or aluminum foil.

Lining a dutch oven pot with banana leaves to make cochinita pibil.

Place the marinated pork along with any remaining achiote marinade.

Uncooked cochinita pibil in a dutch oven.

Now, close with more banana leaves or foil to nicely wrap the meat inside and pour 1/2 cup of water into the pot so it will create some steam to cook the pork meat.

Pouring water into the pot with wrapped uncooked cochinita pibil.

Cook in the oven at 330°F/165°C for 4 hours or until the meat is nicely fork-tender.

Half into the cooking time, taste the dish and adjust salt if needed.

Cooked cochinita pibil in a pot with banana leaves.

If you making your tacos right away, shred the meat inside the pot using two forks

If you want to make your tacos for later or want to store your cochinita, allow it to cool down, shred it, and transfer it to a container, juices included, then cover until needed.

Make the Xnipec salsa:

  • Peel the onions and slice them.
  • Remove the stem of the habanero peppers and cut them in half.
  • Remove the seeds and then cut the habanero chilies into thin strips.
  • Place all in a bowl.
  • Add bitter orange juice, oregano, and salt to taste.
  • Toss for 1 minute, adjust salt to taste, and set aside.
A collage with two photos of xnipec salsa preparation.

Make the tacos:

  1. Warm the corn tortillas in a comal or skillet for half a minute per side or until soft and pliable.
  2. Place tortillas flat on a plate and add some cochinita in the middle of each tortilla.
  3. Top with pickled onions and enjoy with a squeeze of lime.
Tortillas topped with cochinita pibil and xnipec pickled onions.

Recipe Notes

  • Meat needs to marinate. For hours, there are no shortcuts for this, the longer marinates, the more tender and flavorful the pork will be.
  • Slow cook. It can be tempting to just throw everything in your Instant Pot but believe me, this recipe requires a slow-cooking process for a reason, long cooking yields not only tender meat but also the most succulent and juicier texture.
  • Make it easier: Want a hassle-free recipe? Use your slow cooker and cook for 8 hours at low or 6 hours at high.
  • Double the recipe. This is a long process recipe, make sure you double it if you want to have leftovers for other meals.

How To Serve

Cochinita pibil tacos are usually served only topped with the traditional salsa with red onions and habanero, and a squeeze of lime. No cilantro, no cheese, and no cream!

Sometimes a salsa with tomatoes and habaneros is made, but that’s optional as the traditional Xnipec is already super spicy. But if you want to try some salsa, we recommend this salsa roja.

And since you’ll need something fresh and sweet to wash down the spiciness, try one of our recipes for agua fresca:

Close-up of tacos de cochinita pibil.

Even though those tacos de cochinita pibil are sold all year round in Mexico, during the celebration of Día de los Muertos they become one of the most iconic dishes not only in Yucatán but in the whole country.

How To Store And Reheat

This recipe freezes wonderfully and can be used for many other preparations, not only tacos. But you should assemble only the tacos you intend to eat as on their own, tacos don’t store well.

Our recommendation is to store ingredients like tortillas, pibil meat, and salsas separately.

To store the meat in the fridge, allow it to cool down then transfer it to an airtight container and place it in the refrigerator. It will last up to 4 days.

To freeze, we recommend you divide the leftovers into resaleable bags and then freeze them for up to 3-4 months.

When you are ready to make your cochinita pibil tacos, just thaw and reheat the meat on the stovetop or the microwave.

Similar Recipes

Cochinita Pibil Tacos Recipe.

Authentic Cochinita Pibil Tacos

author Maricruz
8 servings
Those cochinita pibil tacos are juicy, packed with authentic Mexican flavors, and one of the most delicious dishes from Mexico. Learn how to make them at home with this super easy recipe.
prep 25 minutes
cook 4 hours
Resting time 8 hours
total 12 hours 25 minutes

Ingredients 

  • 4 ½ lb pork shoulder (cut into chunks)
  • corn tortillas (read note 3)
  • 6 sheets banana leaves (or foil)
  • limes (for serving)

For recado rojo

  • 2 Tbsp achiote paste (read notes)
  • cup bitter Seville orange juice (read notes)
  • ¼ medium onion
  • 8 garlic cloves
  • ½ tsp oregano
  • ½ tsp cumin seeds
  • ½ tsp allspice
  • ¼ tsp black peppercorn
  • ½ small stick cinnamon
  • 2 whole cloves
  • 4 tsp salt

For Xnipec salsa

  • 3 habanero peppers (seeded and cut into thin strips)
  • 2 large red onions
  • ½ Tbsp oregano
  • ½ cup bitter Seville orange juice (read notes)
  • salt (to taste)

Instructions
 

Marinate the meat:

  • In a food processor, place the achiote paste, onion, garlic cloves, oregano, cumin seeds, allspice, peppercorns, whole cloves, and cinnamon.
  • Pour the bitter orange juice, salt, and pulse until you will have a paste (read notes 1 & 2).
  • Place pork meat in a large bowl and add the achiote paste. Turn to coat well.
  • Cover and allow the meat to marinate in the fridge for at least 8 hours.

Cook the cochinita pibil:

  • Fold an oven-proof pot with banana leaves or aluminum foil.
  • Place the marinated meat inside and cover with more banana leaves.
  • Pour ½ cup of water into the pot so it will create some steam to cook the meat.
  • Cook in the oven at 330°F/165°C for 4 hours or until the meat is nicely fork-tender.
  • *Important! Half into the cooking time, taste the stew and adjust salt if needed.

Make the Xnipec salsa:

  • Place sliced red onions, habanero pepper, oregano, and salt in a medium bowl.
  • Add bitter orange juice, and mix for 1 minute.
  • Let the mixture sit for 30 minutes before serving.

Make the tacos:

  • Warm the corn tortillas in a comal or skillet for half a minute per side or until soft and pliable.
  • Place tortillas flat on a plate and add some shredded cochinita in the middle of each tortilla.
  • Top with the xnipec salsa and enjoy with a squeeze of lime.

Notes

  1. You can make the paste using a molcajete or a mortar too. Working in batches, grind the spices with the achiote and onion adding the orange juice as needed.
  2. If you can’t find bitter oranges, you can substitute with a 1:1 mixture of fresh orange juice + lemon juice.
  3. You can use small or large tortillas, depending on which ones you decide to use is the number of tacos you can make per serving.
  4. After washing well the banana leaves, you will need to soften them in hot water to make the pliable.
 
Nutrition Information
Serving: 4tacos | Calories: 620kcal | Carbohydrates: 75g | Protein: 35g | Fat: 21g | Saturated Fat: 4g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g | Monounsaturated Fat: 5g | Cholesterol: 104mg | Sodium: 2334mg | Potassium: 647mg | Fiber: 21g | Sugar: 7g | Vitamin A: 99IU | Vitamin C: 20mg | Calcium: 55mg | Iron: 2mg
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One Comment

  1. 5 stars
    Thank you for taking the time to explain what is cochinita pibil, it makes all the difference! I often prepare tacos de cochinita with the chochinita pibil I can buy at a Mexican supermarket here in Long Beach, I know it will never be the same as homemade cochinita but now I can make the recipe from scratch thanks to you.