On The Range: Cochinita Pibil

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On The Range is a weekly exploration of the history and lore of Texas menu items.

Cochinita pibil, a slow-roasted Mexican pork dish which originated on the Yucatan peninsula, is often made from suckling pig. Of course, in these less literal times, cooks use butt or loin as well.

During Mayan times (in other words, before the Spanish introduced domesticated pigs) the feast was prepared with whatever game they could snare--rabbit, boar, venison, armadillo--according to food writer Betty Hallock in her Los Angeles Times article, "The Year of the Tasty Pig."

Carolina Buia and Isabel C Gonzalez note in their entertaining guide, Latin Chic, that tacos de cochinita pibil are found everywhere in the Yucatan, "from street stands in Cancun to fine restaurants in Playa del Carmen."

Traditionally, cochinita is prepared in a coal-filled pit, similar to that Hawaiian luau staple, Kalua pig. But the Latin Chic recipe calls for marinating the meat in anchiote paste and citrus juices.

The next step? Wrapping the meat in banana leaves before roasting in a Dutch oven for three to four hours.Buia and Gonzalez add that the anchiote paste lends a brick-red color to the pork, and that the banana leaves "not only keep the pork moist and impart a sweet flavor, but make for an eye-popping presentation," particularly when served in iceberg-lettuce tortillas.

Mondays are when you should order cochinita pibil tacos at Maximo in far North Dallas, for they are offered as a noontime special only on that day.

Maximo serves the meat with conventional tortillas rather than lettuce. Still, your eyes may indeed pop out when a trio of salsas are placed before you as accompaniment. All three are quite good, but lovers of heat should really gravitate toward the avocado-green jalapeno emulsion, which adds a kiss of fire to the pork's citrusy bite.

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