Recipe, photography and styling by Tanya Zouev.
Believe it or not, I was once a vegetarian. I decided in late 1999 that I didn’t need meat in order to survive, so for the entire year of 2000 I ate nothing but vegetables, legumes and tofu, and for that entire year I was hungry.
Then I met my husband.
When David came along, he thought that vegetarianism was frankly, bullshit, and he had no hesitation in voicing his opinion to me about it. He was sure that our canine teeth had been provided for the specific reason of tearing apart animal flesh and that we should honour that part of our evolution. In a way he was right, but at the time it was the source of many a heated argument as I tried to convince him that eating meat was morally wrong.
As our relationship progressed, so did my diet. I started eating meat again and funnily enough, stopped being hungry all the time. Whilst I insisted (and very much still do) that the meat we consume be from an ethical and organic source, it was to David’s delight that I started cooking meat dishes for him.
David loves pork, particularly slow-cooked Mexican-style pork. We love a good Mexican meal, and this particular slow-cooked meat dish was inspired by a Yucatan-style pork we ate years ago at the (then) only cool restaurant on Sydney’s northern beaches, Mexicano.
Let me explain, the northern beaches (where we have lived for four years) as glorious as they are, have long been a culinary desert. Amidst the stunning beaches and sunny skies, are dotted more fish and chipperies and rotisserie chook shops than you can poke a stick at. For a long time, schnitzel burgers, potato scallops and the Aussie-Chinese speciality, lemon chicken, was about as gourmet as it got. When David and I lived in the city, we never came to the northern beaches to eat, and if we ever visited, we always took a packed lunch.
Then came along Mexicano. The tiny modern-Mexican restaurant that perched itself in a tiny shop on Narrabeen beach, beckoning to locals who wanted a night out in inner-Sydney, but without the need to travel for it. Serving the likes of prawn ceviche with jalapeño tomato jelly, fish tacos and slow-cooked Yucatan pulled pork aka Cochinita. Our taste buds were blown straight into nirvana, particularly by the pork which David immediately asked me to replicate for him.
As I wasn’t exactly going to march into the tiny kitchen demanding a recipe, I had to work it out myself. And though I might have felt like harassing the chefs after several Pisco Sours, I didn’t. So instead, I went home slightly drunk and read up as much as I could on Yucatan cuisine. The next day I bought a 2 kilo shoulder of pork, and a bag of annatto seeds (as one does) and set about recreating my Mexicano feast at home.
Please note that if you can’t find annatto seeds, the recipe will still work without them. The annatto seeds turn the sauce an amazingly rich red and add a subtle authentic flavour to what is a traditional Yucatan dish. However without them, you’ll still have an amazing pulled pork. I do however, highly insist that you do try to source them, but if you get stuck, try the wonderful Ian Hemphill of Herbie’s Spices. He’ll sort you out.
Serves 4-6 as a main meal. Prep time 1 hour, cooking time 4 hours.
2 kilo (4.5 pounds) piece of boneless pork shoulder, skin and excess fat trimmed off (in my house the skin doesn’t get wasted and I always make crackling separately with it)
6-8 cloves garlic
4 coriander roots
2 eschallots or half a Spanish onion
2 jalapeño chillies (or 1 if you prefer a milder dish)
3 bay leaves
1/4 cup red wine vinegar or orange juice
1/4 cup macadamia oil
2 tablespoons annatto seeds, soaked for 30 minutes in hot water, then pounded to a paste in a mortar and pestle
1 tablespoon ground coriander seed
1/2 tablespoon ground cumin
salt to taste
fresh coriander leaves to garnish
1. Place the pork in a heavy based enamelled pan, salt it well.
2. Place the rest of the ingredients except the bay leaves, in a small food processor and blend until smooth. Pour the marinade over the pork and massage into the meat. Roll the meat up, tuck the bay leaves in and around, place foil over the top, then cover with lid. Place the pan into the fridge overnight (the acid in the vinegar/juice will make the meat incredibly soft and flavoursome).
3. Preheat your oven to 150 degrees. Place the pan in the oven and cook for the first three hours at this temperature. At the three hour mark remove the foil and roast a further hour at 200 degrees, basting every 10-15 minutes. The sauce will reduce down significantly and the meat will caramelise.
4. Remove from oven, let meat rest covered for 15-30 minutes then shred with two forks and mix the sauce through. Serve with whichever accompaniments you like. I eat it atop fresh cos lettuce leaves with plenty of guacamole, pickled Spanish onion and lime juice (as pictured). Finely sliced radishes work well too.
Let me briefly tell you about this guacamole. For years I thought that guacamole always tasted better in restaurants than how I made it at home. Seemingly simple, I just couldn’t work out how to get it to sing, and I refused to use those packet mixes you buy at the supermarket. My friend Aline, who is a wonderful cook, taught me to use her secret ingredient: a small amount of very finely chopped eschallot. I then worked out that garlic powder worked better than fresh garlic, and bam, I had an amazingly tasty guac. Make it to accompany your pork, or just to gorge yourself on the guacamole with crackers and a tequila with lime.
3 medium to large avocados, mashed with a fork
1 small eschallot, chopped very finely
1 small red chilli, with seeds, chopped very finely
1 small bunch coriander, both leaves and stems, chopped finely
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon garlic powder
juice of 1-2 limes
salt to taste
1. Combine the mashed avocado with the rest of the ingredients and let sit for at least 15 minutes to allow the flavours to develop.
The pickled onions.
These onions are a must and they are the easiest thing in the world to make. Simply finely slice one small to medium Spanish onion, salt it, then drizzle with cider or white vinegar. Stir and allow to sit for at least 30 minutes to “pickle”.
Photography and styling notes:
I wanted this dish to reflect the colourful and fresh nature of Mexican food in a rustic setting. I’ve used a weathered piece of plywood as a shooting surface and an old Mexican plate. Equipment used is a Canon 5D Mark 3 with a 24-70mm L-series lens, and a 100mm macro lens. The only light used is window light.