Thursday, February 19, 2015

Recipe: Slow Cooked Pork Shoulder with Mexican Style (Achiote) Sauce

Achiote (or annatto) paste is based on originally a Mayan spice blend, orange-red in colour and containing the achiote seeds. It is strongly associated with Mexican cuisine from the Yucatan region.

Achiote seeds in their pods. Image borrowed from Amazon Ecology
Australia's proximity to Mexico does not allow for us to have a strong (and quality, or authentic) Mexican food presence. So not surprisingly, it was difficult finding achiote paste or the seeds in the local supermarket, and I didn't have the time to look further in specialty food places. So getting inspiration from Ferran Adria's The Family Meal, I decided to do some research and come up with my own Mexican (Achiote) blend to marinade my pork shoulder in.

Achiote seeds have been described as peppery, sweet and with a hint of nutmeg. The most distinctive quality of the achiote seems to be the yellow colour, which can also be derived from:
  • saffron
  • turmeric
  • paprika

Being cost conscious meant that I immediately crossed saffron off the list, particularly as it's my first time attempting the Achiote sauce. So I stuck with both paprika (sweet and smoked meant it would add more BBQ styled 'oomph' to the pork and closer resemble the sweetness found in achiote) and turmeric for that distinct yellow colour.

You can play around with the quantities based on the size of the cut of meat, and how much sauce you want left over in the pan. The below yielded approximately two cups of marinade and after cooking, just enough sauce (approximately 3 tablespoons) to smear on the pork.

1.7kg pork shoulder (bone out, and if preferred, tied)
1 x white onion, roughly chopped into thick squares or slices

Achiote Sauce
2 tablespoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon sweet, smoked paprika
1 tablespoon turmeric powder
1 teaspoon nutmeg powder
1 teaspoon allspice powder
1 teaspoon chilli powder
4 tablespoons olive oil
3 oranges, freshly juiced
3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
3 garlic cloves, crushed


  1. ACHIOTE SAUCE: Combine all the dry ingredients in a bowl and mix well. Stir in the wet ingredients.
  2. MARINATE OVERNIGHT 8-12HRS: Place the pork in a deep and wide enough bowl and poor the achiote sauce over it, making sure it gets underneath and around all the sides. Tightly wrap the bowl with plastic cling-wrap and place in the fridge overnight. 
  3. SLOW COOK FOR 6HRS: Preheat oven to 100-120 degrees Celsius. Place plenty of foil in a deep tray, allowing enough length to go up the sides and contain the meat and the achiote sauce (like a parcel) without leakage. Put the meat in the tray and poor over the achiote sauce leftover from the marinading bowl. Scatter the onions over the pork. Fold over the foil to create an almost airtight parcel and bang the tray in the lowest rack (or floor) of your oven. Cook that bad boy low and slow for 6 hours, or even longer*. 
  4. SERVING SUGGESTIONS: Make sure to smear that sweet Achiote sauce (now thickened with the cooking) over the pork. You won't even have to shred the pork or use a knife, it will fall apart with the pull of a fork. Serve with warm tortillas, freshly cut salad (e.g. corn, tomato, lettuce, avocado), fresh chilli, fresh lime and your choice of pickles.
    * The longer pork shoulder is cooked, the better and softer it gets. If you love to take your time, you could even take the cooking time up to 12 hours at 100 degrees.