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  • Writer's pictureF.W. Hume

3 Great Slow Cooked Latino Dishes

Do the words Cochinita Pibil enthrall you with their magic even if you don't know what they mean? They should.

Cochinita, suckling pig, from Spanish. Pibil, buried, from Mayan.

The Imperial Infanta of all forms of barbecue, Yucatecan Ambrosia. The smell, for me, conjurs up the market in Merida on christmas morning, bullfights near Tizimin, village fiestas on the beach in the jungle south of Tulum.

This is the dish that Johnny Depp, in Once Upon A Time In Mexico, eats all over the country and kills the chef if the dish is good (Roberto Rodriguez has a recipe available online, which is untraditional but pretty good).

There are many, many recipes. Originally cooked by being wrapped in banana leaves and buried with coals to cook, it is a perfect slow-cooking recipe.

The principle: take your pork, (the cochinita is great but you can use any pork meat with enough fat left on) marinate at least overnight completely covered in the fridge in a solution of sour orange juice (you can purchase bottled in Mexican groceries) and sour lime juice. (Here in Paris when I run out of the Naranja Agria from Mexico I use a mixture of vinaigre, fresh orange juice and lime to approximate the taste and I usually marinate for 3 days). Add Achiote (paste or grind some yourself) which gives the dish its bloody-orangish color. After you have tried a few variations you will decide on your choice of spices (garlic or no, onion or no, there are many schools). I use dried ground Piquin, Arbol and Ancho chiles. In the Yucatan it usually isn't spicy. Cook it for a very long time at a low temperature. Serve garnished with pickled red onion radish, and pineapple. Maybe some rice and Chaya (a delicious and versatile vegetable much prized by the Maya) or salad. And some warm fresh corn tortillas.

What else comes to mind?

Feijoada Brasileira

A dish that sings out the vibrant national identity of Brazil, based on a dish from Portugal, but combining elements from the Africans brought to Brazil to work as slaves in the gold miners and and from the indigenous peoples of South America

There are as many recipes as rivers, mountains and beaches in Brazil. But the principle: slow cook black beans, pork and beef (offal is traditional), with manioc flour, maybe corn, seasonings. Serve with steamed cabbage.

One more to get the thread going? Slow cooking, Cuban? Dominican? I'm hungry and thinking about Creole food and that draws me back north. There is some cool stuff in Colombia. I don't know anything about Panamanian cooking,I should look that up. Oh. Slow cooking? That brings something to mind. Back to Mexico, because they have one of those great famous slow-cooking dishes, a celebrated cure for hangovers. It must be one of the Official National Treasures like Mole sauces and the Pueblos Magicos:

Based on a Precolumbian dish, ancient. Already mentioned at the beginning of the 16th century in colonial texts. Each of the 31 states of Mexico and the D.F. seem to have a version. All delicious. And with a truly disturbing and memorable history.

Even the name is ancient, related to Nahuatl Pozolli which was their name for the even older Mayan drink known as Pozol, made from fermented corn dough and often seasoned with chocolate. You can still see people making it and consuming it in Mexico, particularly in Chiapas.

Pozol sellers Chiapa de Corzo, Chiapas

At root this dish is simply the marriage of meat with hominy (nixtamalized dried maize, like giant corn kernels) into a stew. One of the great hangover foods like menudo and Turkish Çorba.

But before the conquest, according INAH, the dish was sacred to certain religious rites. And the meat was not pork or chicken. It seems that for some occasions that required human sacrifice the Mexicas (Or Aztecs), after burning the heart and sometimes other organs for the gods, used the rest of the remains for making this festive stew.

Now, of course, it is made with pork and often chicken.


My preferred recipe:

Have a beer. Then several more over the cooking time.

take 2/3 cups of hominy. Use fresh, canned or soak dried hominy till starting to soften.

make a Sofrito (very finely chop celery, carrot, onion, garlic, and bell pepper, cook at the bottom of a large caldron in a little olive oil on low temperature until very soft.)

Add cold water so there will be enough to cover the chicken

Simmer a chicken or a roast chicken carcass in the broth until the meat is falling off the bone.

Drain, straining out the chicken and vegetable residue retaining the fluid.

Take out the ones and shred the chicken

To the broth add salt, cumin, pepper, (I add a little piquin chile and coriander)

add a piece (500gr-1kg) of chopped pork shoulder

Add the hominy

Slow cook for a couple of hours.

Remove the pork from the broth, shred it when cool enough

Let the broth boil for a while to reduce

return the chicken and pork to broth.

Top with limes, onion, mexican oregano, and some crunchy cabbage and bowls of optional chiles

Serve with a glass of very good tequila, and a small Sangrita. Or good southern Rhône red maybe a Grenanche-heavy Chateauneuf du Pape.

Tell your guests the story of how Pozole used to be made. Tell them you of course used meats that are acceptable to modern thinking. Refuse to tell anyone what meat you actually put in the Pozole, smiling eerily to yourself between bites. This ensures that you get to eat most of it.


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