Once upon a time in Gordonton…

May 28th, 2012 | By | Category: Country Cooking, News

It’s difficult to find fresh banana leaves. Thank goodness I live in Gordonton.

A couple of banana leaves, a nice bit of pork, some annatto seeds and a splash of tequila and you’re halfway to making Puerco pibil. This is now a firm favourite in our household, it’s unlike anything I’ve ever tried – a rich, smoky, peppery flavour that is pure alchemy. And it’s so easy to make, after you’ve ground all your spices.

It’s so good that in Once Upon a Time in Mexico Johnny Depp’s character shoots dead the chef who made his pibil. He didn’t want it being made for anyone else. Which seems a bit harsh, really.

At the end of the movie director Robert Rodriguez demonstrates how to make this seriously cool slow-roasted dish and I was determined to try it.

The first time I made pibel was two years ago, it had taken the best part of a year to find the annatto seeds. From the Caribbean or Central America, these brick-red, triangular curious wee things have an astonishing flavour.

In the end my first lot came from Dunedin-based Mexi Foods, who will freight anywhere in New Zealand.

The other day I was enjoying lunch in Taupo at Taste Cafe, and sitting on the shelf at beady eye level was a packet of annatto seeds. Clearly, they were meant for me.

Finding the free-range pork was easy, and now, at last, I knew where to get my banana leaves.

This was the ingredient that really caused grief two years ago. Search as I might, I couldn’t see a banana tree. That’s possibly because it’s not a tree at all, but the largest herbaceous flowering plant, but that didn’t really help at the time.

I kept half an eye out when we were on holiday up north, I looked when I was in Gisborne and many other places. Once I found a plant but by the time I returned home, the leaves had wilted. Months later I found what I was looking for – a huge, lush banana plant, growing in Gordonton, two minutes from home. Actually, there were two healthy plants, in different places in the village. Amazing.

Truth be told, you could possibly use taro leaves instead, or even do without and rely on tinfoil, but as Rodriguez says, banana leaves are cool. The seeds and other spices join the tequila and orange juice to make up a sauce that is poured over the pork chunks overnight.

The next day we wrapped the aromatic pork tightly up in its little bed of banana leaves – washed first, those Gordonton spiders are frisky – and slow roasted the whole caboodle.

Every minute spent plotting and planning this dish was well spent – pibel is an absolute sensation.

Serve with rice, a salad and oh, why not, margaritas.


First, find your banana leaf… (thank you Jenny!)

If you want to try this dish, give me a yell and I’ll ask the nice people who own the banana plants. Then all you have to do is find your annotto seeds.

5 tbsp annatto seeds
2 tsp cumin seeds
1 tbsp whole black pepper corns
1/2 tsp whole cloves
1/2 heaped tsp all spice
1 – 2 jalapeno pepper, deseeded and chopped
1/2 cup orange juice
1/2 cup white vinegar
2 tbsp salt
8 – 10 cloves garlic
5 lemons, juiced
2 1/2kg pork shoulder (shoulder blade end)
2 – 3 banana leaves (go on, it’s worth it)

Process whole spices in a grinder until powdered. Tip into a small bowl.

In another bowl stir together the orange juice and vinegar. Add the pepper and ground spices. Mix together very well with a wooden spoon.Peel and roughly chop the garlic and add to the above mixture, with the salt.

Pour all of this into a food processor and blend until smooth.

Scrape into a bowl and add a healthy dash of tequila and the lemon juice. Stir.

Remove the skin from the pork. Bone out the shoulder – the butcher can do this for you, keep the bones to make soup – and chop meat into 5-6cm chunks.

Place pork pieces into a large bowl and pour the mixture over them, stir together well. Cover with cling film and place in the fridge overnight.

The next day preheat oven to 160C.

Line a roasting dish with banana leaves, if you have them. Pour in the pork and all of its liquid. Cover with more leaves and cover tightly with tinfoil – the big sized stuff is best.

Roast for four hours.  Don’t let anyone shoot you.

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One Comment to “Once upon a time in Gordonton…”

  1. […] and if you’d like to try a real rip-snorter of a dish spiced to absolute perfection, try puerco pibel, a Mexican classic.  Maybe I should make it for the Major some […]

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