Yucatecan Banana-Leaf Pork or Chicken
Ingredients
  • 2 small cloves garlic
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • Half a 3.5-ounce cake seasoned ground achiote paste (achiote condimentado)
  • 2 tablespoons orange juice
  • 2 tablespoons lemon or lime juice
  • A few strips citrus peel, removed with a peeler
  • 1 1/2 pounds boneless pork shoulder or country-style ribs
  • 3 or 4 yellow wax chiles, or 2 long green chile
  • 1-pound package frozen banana leaves (sold in Asian and some Latin American groceries), thawed
  • 1 medium red or yellow onion, thinly sliced
Time Estimates

Prep time: 25 min  

Cook time: 2 hrs  

Total time: 2 hrs 25 min  

 Directions

  1. Eight to 24 hours ahead of serving, mash the garlic and salt together in a mortar or on the cutting board (see Crab Cakes With Chipotle Aioli). Combine in a medium bowl with the cumin, achiote paste, and citrus juice and peel, and stir until well blended. Separate the meat along the natural seams, discard the excess fat, and cut larger chunks across the grain into pieces no more than 2 inches thick. Turn the pork cubes in the marinade, cover tightly (or seal in a gallon-size sealable plastic bag), and marinate in the refrigerator.
    At your convenience, roast, peel, and seed the chiles and cut the flesh into strips.
  2. Preheat the oven to 250˚F, or set up a covered charcoal or gas grill for slow indirect cooking. Remove the pork from the refrigerator. Carefully cut or tear four or six 12-inch squares of banana leaf. Trim off the tough stringy edge (save it for tying the packages, if you like). Rinse the squares with warm water. Lay a square dull side up on the cutting board; cover any tears with a smaller piece of leaf. Pile some onions and chile strips in the center and add a portion of the pork, with its marinade. Folding with the grain, lift two opposite sides of the leaf to meet in the center, then fold this doubled edge over once to form a seam, then fold again to enclose the filling snugly (the "drugstore wrap"). Fold the open ends of the package over the center, the longer one on top, and tie the package shut with strips of leaf or cotton twine. Repeat with the remaining portions.
  3. Bake in a shallow roasting pan, or cook in the covered grill away from the direct heat, until the meat is quite tender when probed with a skewer through the package, about 2 hours. Place the leaf-wrapped packages directly onto individual plates, with scissors for cutting the strings. For a neater presentation, either trim off the ends of each package with scissors or fold the excess back under the middle. Serve with rice or new potatoes.

Yield

Serves 4 to 6

Good to know

By itself, this dish is not especially picante; a few strips of seeded yellow wax chile give just a hint of heat. That's because the table will likely be set with either a fresh or bottled salsa made with the fiery habanero chile.

Which beer should I drink with this?

A dark, malty Märzen or bock.

Notes

1. Cooking meats in a wrapping of banana leaves is not unique to the Yucatán Peninsula; it's done all over the tropics, both as a matter of convenience and for the subtle herbal flavor the leaves give to the food. What gives this dish its Yucatecan flavor is the thick, citrusy marinade based on achiote, a brick-colored seed that is the source of the natural food dye annatto. Achiote seeds are very hard to grind, so I recommend doing as many Yucatecan cooks do and buying it already ground and blended with cumin and other spices. Look for rectangular packages labeled achiote condimentado in Mexican and Caribbean markets. A blend of citrus juices takes the place of the authentic bitter (Seville) orange, which is available only occasionally in the United States, mainly in winter or early spring.

Variation

Banana-Leaf Pork or Chicken en Adobo: If you can't find achiote or don't care for the achiote-based marinade, you can make a more pan-Mexican version based on dried chiles. Omit the achiote paste and roasted chiles in the main recipe. Instead, soak and scrape (see Note on dried chile paste) 3 or 4 smooth dried chiles (in order of increasing heat, [skipwords]California, New Mexico,[/skipwords] or guajillo), to yield a scant tablespoon of paste, and combine with the remaining marinade ingredients with an additional 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin. Marinate, wrap, and bake the meat as described in the main recipe.

Chicken is equally traditional cooked this way. You can use only legs (my choice) or divide a typical fryer and place half a leg and some breast meat in each package. For big appetites, serve half a chicken, restaurant style. Half a Cornish hen is another option. In any case, chicken cooks somewhat faster than pork, so figure on 1 hour in a 325˚F oven.

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From The Microbrew Lover’s Cookbook, Copyright © 2002 by Jay Harlow. Used by arrangement with Jay Harlow.

  

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