Inside InStyle's April issue, N.Y.C. chef Alex Stupak, of the uber popular Empellon restaurants, showed us how to create this mouthwatering dish, the ideal foundation for a delicious -- and stylish -- Cinco de Mayo party. Pork shoulder rubbed with spices, then cooked low and slow, yields a main dish that promises to thrill. (Vegetarians can swap in potatoes or squash and rub them in achiote paste.) When it's time to serve guests, Stupak says, "I put the pot in the center of the table with a stack of tortillas. It always tastes better when you're part of the process." He makes his own achiote paste, but if you'd prefer the ease of a store-bought marinade, try El Yucateco Achiote Liquid, and skip steps 1-4 below.
Cochinita Pibil Tacos
¼ cup plus 2 tbsp achiote seeds
2 tbsp dried oregano, preferably Mexican
½ tbsp whole allspice berries
Hass avocados, halved and pitted
½ tbsp whole black peppercorns
1 3-inch cinnamon stick
30 garlic cloves (2 heads), unpeeled
1 cup apple cider vinegar
2 banana leaves (or parchment paper)
2 lb. boneless pork shoulder
16 corn tortillas
Pickled red onions
Salsa habañero, homemade or store-bought
1 lime, cut into wedges
1. Heat a medium cast-iron skillet over moderate heat for 5 minutes. Add achiote seeds, oregano, allspice, peppercorns, and cinnamon stick to the skillet and lightly toast, stirring, until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Transfer spices to a small bowl and let cool completely.
2. Working in batches using a spice grinder (designate a coffee grinder, or use a mortar and pestle), grind spices to a fine powder.
3. Return skillet to moderate heat. Add garlic cloves and cook, turning occasionally, until blackened in spots, 6 minutes. Remove skillet from heat; let garlic cool.
4. Peel garlic cloves; add to a blender with ground spices and vinegar. Purée garlic to a smooth paste.
5. Preheat oven to 300°F.
6. Line a 6-quart Dutch oven with banana leaves in a cross pattern, letting the leaves fall over the sides of the pot (or use parchment paper). Place pork shoulder in the pot, and season liberally with salt. Rub 1 cup of achiote paste all over pork (reserve extra paste for another use). Fold leaves over to enclose the pork; cover casserole.
7. Bake pork for 3 hours, until tender and a knife tip inserted in center of pork comes out with no resistance. Let pork rest, covered, for 30 minutes.
8. Meanwhile, heat the cast-iron skillet over moderate heat for 5 minutes. Place 1 tortilla in skillet; cook, turning once, until lightly toasted and pliable, about 2 minutes. Transfer to a kitchen towel to keep warm; repeat with remaining tortillas.
9. Transfer pork to a cutting board and unwrap. Shred meat with 2 forks or coarsely chop it. Serve pork in a bowl with tortillas, pickled onions, hot sauce, and lime wedges.
Pickled Red Onions
Makes 1 ½ cups
1 tsp coriander seeds
¼ tsp cumin seeds
¼ tsp whole black peppercorns
½ bay leaf
¾ cup apple cider vinegar
2 tsp sugar
2 tsp kosher salt
1 medium red onion, thinly sliced
1. Heat a small skillet over moderate heat for 5 minutes. Add coriander, cumin, peppercorns, and bay leaf. Cook, stirring, until fragrant and lightly toasted, about 1 minute.
2. Add vinegar, sugar, and salt; simmer, stirring to dissolve sugar and salt.
3. Pour mixture into a small heat-proof bowl; stir in onion. Cover with plastic wrap; let stand for 2 hours. Pickled onions will keep in the fridge for up to 1 week.