Yucatan Goat Leg, Cochinita Pibil
Cochinita pibil is possibly the most famous dish in all of the Yucatan Peninsula. It’s a simple dish, nothing more than a warm, griddled tortilla with braised shredded meat, marinated onions and spicy hot salsa, but some of the best things are just that simple. It’s also a cornerstone of local Yucatan cuisine hundreds of years in the making, and likely much older than that.
As old as it is, the most well-known dish does rely on a few ingredients not native to the Americas, specifically bitter oranges and pork, but famous dishes like this often have even deeper roots, and it’s likely that the original meat was an indigenous one, most likely a small ruminant, like a deer. Goats are much closer in composition to deer than pigs, so we think Chef Bergo’s interpretation of this classic Yucatecan dish is pretty special made with Shepherd Song’s grass-fed goat, and could possibly be even closer to the original Native South American dish than the famous shredded pork version.
Making a goat cochinita requires some time, and preparation, but the ingredients are relatively easy to come by and the cooking process isn’t complicated. All of the special ingredients can be purchased at a local Latin or Asian market. Most importantly, you’ll need banana leaves, achiote seeds or paste, oranges, habaneros, and, of coarse, a goat leg with the shank attached, which you can order from Shepherd Song Lamb and goat meat by placing a special order. Once you taste the unique combination of slow roasted goat wrapped in a soft tortilla with onions and spicy hot sauce, we h0pe you’ll be transported to a warm, sunny beach in South America, like we were.
This recipe is by chef Alan Bergo. A chef from Minnesota, Alan is a veteran of the culinary industry, former executive chef of acclaimed Lucia’s Restaurant, and the Salt Cellar. He’s best known as a respected authority on Midwestern foraging. Learn more about Alan and his hunt for mushrooms, wild and obscure foods at his site Forager Chef.
- 1 Bone-in leg of goat or bone-in leg of lamb
- Kosher salt, to taste
- Corn Tortillas, fresh avocados, lime wedges, cilantro and radishes to garnish (optional)
- 1 medium-sized red onion
- 1/2 cup orange juice
- 1 cup lime juice
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- Finely grated orange zest, to taste
- 2 teaspoons dried Mexican oregano
Habanero Salsa (optional-very spicy!)
- 8-10 habanero peppers
- 1/3 cup fresh squeezed lime juice
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 4 garlic cloves, unpeeled
Put the garlic cloves in a dry pan and cook on medium heat while you clean the peppers. Wearing gloves, or being very careful not to touch the peppers, cut the peppers in half and remove the seeds (optional). Add the peppers, cut side up to the pan and increase the heat to medium-high. Cook the garlic and peppers until they blister, and the garlic is soft. Transfer to the bowl of a blender or molcajete (mortar and pestle) then add the lime juice and salt, and blend/pound until smooth. The sauce should not be finely pureed, so be careful not to overdo it if you have a high-speed blender like a vitamix.
Cut the root and top off the onions, then cut in half vertically through the root and top. Put the cut half of the onion down on the cutting board, then slice the short way, (perpendicular to the equator) into ¼ inch slices. Combine the onions in a non-aluminum mixing bowl with the salt, orange zest, lime and orange juices, and the oregano, mix well, transfer to a container with a lid, and refrigerate until needed. The onions taste better made at least the day before serving so the flavors can meld.
Combine all ingredients for the marinade and puree in a blender. Pour the marinated over the goat leg, then refrigerate, turning over in the juices every hour or two, or as often as you can remember, for 24 hours.
The next day, preheat an oven to 225 F. Line a baking dish large enough to fit the goat leg into with banana leaves, leaving enough hanging over the side to completely wrap the leg on all sides. Pour any excess marinade over the leg, then wrap tightly in the rest of the banana leaves, pour 2 cups of water into the dish, and bake for 4 hours, or until tender.
When the goat is cooked, remove it from the oven, allow to rest for 15 minutes, then unwrap, shred the meat, season to taste and correct the seasoning for salt if needed, moistening it with any roasting juices. Over a gas burner or a grill, heat the tortillas until the blister and char a bit, then wrap in a towel. Serve the tortillas with the shredded goat, onions, salsa, radishes, avocados and lime wedges and allow guests to build their own tacos.