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Recreate a Couple of Classic Isla Mujeres Dishes Back Home

Any visit to Isla Mujeres means eating well, whether it’s light happy-hour appetizers or a full-on feast at one of the island’s topnotch restaurants. When you’re back home, it can be fun to recreate some of the regional recipes you savored during your stay with us at Privilege Aluxes—a good way to bring a little “island time” into your workaday routine.

Here are a couple of classic Isla Mujeres dishes to try your hand at in your home kitchen—until you can get back down here for some more Yucatan dining!

Cochinita Pibil

If you’ve sampled this traditional Mayan dish of the Yucatan during an Isla Mujeres visit, we’re confident you’ve fallen madly in love with it. Pork marinated in annatto paste made from the seeds of achiote (a native tropical hardwood), jacketed in banana leaves, languidly slow-roasted, and served, say, in taco form—yikes, does it get any better?

The traditional method roasts the marinated, leaf-wrapped pork in a pit underground (pibil means “under the ground” in Mayan) for hours, and often uses a suckling pig for the meat. That’s a preparation definitely worth tracking down in Mexico, but back home it’s possible to whip up a worthy rendition in your home kitchen without the barbecue pit.

Rick Bayless provides one recipe for slow-grilled Cochinita Pibil that’s worth trying; here’s another, a pot-roasted version, from his Rick Bayless’s Mexican Kitchen—good for some 16 to 18 tacos.
The annatto paste:

  • 2 Tbsps. achiote seeds
  • 2 tsps. allspice
  • 1 tsp. black pepper
  • 1½ tsps. dried oregano (preferably Mexican)
  • 3 Tbsps. cider vinegar
  • 6 peeled cloves of garlic
  • 1 (generous) tsps. salt

[Note: You can also purchase pre-made achiote seasoning mixes.]
The rest:

  • 6 Tsps. sour orange juice
  • 2-lb. lean boneless pork shoulder, or 3-lb. bone-in-pork blade roast
  • Two pieces of banana leaf
  • 16 to 18 fresh corn tortillas
  • 1½ cup Pickled Red Onions [3 large red onions sliced 1/8” thick & 2 cups fresh sour orange or 1 1/3 cups fresh lime juice plus 2/3 cup fresh orange juice]
  • Cilantro sprigs for garnish

Grind the achiote and blend it with the vinegar and the other paste spices. Chop the garlic roughly and salt it, then mash this into a paste; combine the garlic paste with the achiote mix, and then add one or two tablespoons of water to make a viscous but spreadable consistency.

Combine the achiote paste with the sour orange juice in a large bowl, then well slather the pork in this marinade. Cover and refrigerate for a couple hours at a minimum (overnight if you can afford to).

To cook the meat, heat your oven to 325 degrees. In a six-quart or so pot, layer two banana leaves in an X shape, set the meat in the center (spreading the marinade liquid atop it), and fold it inside the leaves. Then add a cup of water around the pork package, cover the pot tightly, and put it in the oven for three hours or so—until it’s “fall-apart tender,” as Bayless writes. Keep checking periodically, and add water if the liquid’s burned off.

When the meat’s done, place it on a cutting board and pour the juices into a measuring cup. Chop or shred the meat, sprinkle a bit of salt on it, and then put it back into the roasting pot. Skim off the fat topping the juices and pour a little over the pork; then cover the pot and place it over low heat. Put the rest of the juices in a saucepan and do the same.

Once you’ve heated the tortillas, place a couple of tablespoons of pork into each, drizzle some of the juices on top, and garnish with the picked onions and cilantro. Voila!

Shrimp Ceviche

Ceviche—raw seafood in a well-spiced and seasoned bath of lemon or lime juice—is enjoyed all across coastal Latin America, and Isla Mujeres is no exception. Here’s one easy-to-make preparation that “Homebrew55” submitted to Isla Mujeres.info “Isla Recipes” page:

  • 1 lb. shelled & deveined medium shrimp
  • 1 2/3 cup fresh lime juice
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • Black pepper to taste
  • 1 small finely diced onion
  • 2 finely diced roma tomatoes
  • 1 tsp. minced cilantro
  • 1 minced jalapeno chile (remove the stem and seeds)
  • 1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

Toss the shrimp in a cup of lime juice in a bowl, then cover and refrigerate this for a couple of hours or more. In another bowl, mix the rest of the lime juice with the other ingredients to make the ceviche’s salsa. Once the shrimp’s “cooked” in the citrus juices, drain it and add it to the salsa. Give the ceviche another hour or more to marinate, and then serve cold with tortilla chips.