Cochinita Pibil and Green Salsa Verde Tamales

Two variations on fillings, one pork and one chicken, for a traditional tamale recipe by Enrique Olvera.

These tamales, by Chef Enrique Olvera, begin with a basic corn dough and offer two classic variations for fillings. The first, Cochinita Pibil, is a pulled pork dish that hails from the Yucatán. The second, chicken in a green tomatillo sauce, is a more universal Mexican flavor profile. -Editor’s Note 

Click here to purchase your own copy of Enrique Olvera’s cookbook Mexico from the Inside Out courtesy of Phaidon.


Corn Dough

  • 1 teaspoon slaked lime (calcium hydroxide)
  • 2 cups (510 grams) dried corn

Tamal Dough

  • 3 cups (840 grams) corn dough
  • generous 3/4 cup (200 milliliters) water
  • 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 1 cup (210 grams) lard

Cochinita Pibil (Filling 1)

  • 1/4 cup (40 grams) achiote paste
  • 1/4 cup (60 milliliters) bitter orange juice
  • 1/4 cups (60 milliliters) fresh key lime juice
  • 1/4 cup (60 grams) lard
  • 1/4 red onion
  • 1 allspice berry
  • 1 small garlic clove
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried ground Yucatan oregano
  • 3 teaspoon white cane vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 2 banana leaves, gently roasted over direct fire
  • 1 pound 3 ounces (1 kilogram) suckling pig

Green Salsa Chicken (Filling 2)

  • 1 1/2 cups (300 grams) tomatillos
  • 1/4 white onion
  • 1 serrano chile
  • 2 sprigs cilantro
  • 2 sprigs epazote
  • 1 teaspoon Kosher salt, plus more to taste
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1/2 cup (120 milliliters) water
  • 1 skinless, boneless chicken breast
  • 1 tablespoon corn oil

To Assemble

  • 1 pack banana leaves (about 3 leaves)
  • 1 teaspoon Kosher salt

Makes 8 tamales


  1. For the corn dough: Dissolve the slaked lime in 4 cups (about 1liter) water in a pot and bring to a boil. Add the corn and cook for 45 minutes. Let stand for 12 hours. Drain the corn in a sieve and rinse until the water runs clear. Grind to a thick and compact dough.
  2. For the tamale dough: In a bowl, knead the dough with the water and salt until combined. Cream the lard with an electric mixer and fold in the dough until combined and smooth.
  3. For cochinita pibil filling: In a bowl, blend the first 10 ingredients together. Line a baking sheet with one banana leaf. Top with the suckling pig leg and coat it with the achiote adobo. Cover with the other banana leaf and roast in a 340ºF (170ºC/Gas Mark 4) oven for 2 hours. Remove from the oven, remove the top banana leaf, and pull the meat apart.
  4. For green salsa chicken filling: Place all the ingredients, except the chicken and the oil, in a pan and cook over medium heat for 25 minutes. Blend and adjust the salt. Meanwhile, cut the breast into 4 pieces. Sear in the oil in a pan over high heat. Add the green salsa and cook over a low heat for 15 to 20 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through. Remove from the heat.
  5. To assemble: Cut the banana leaves into 12×18-inch (30x20cm) rectangles. Char each leaf over direct flame for 5 seconds. Place ¼ cup the tamal dough in the center of 4 leaves, then divide the cochinita pibil filling among the leaves. First fold over the sides of each leaf, then fold over the top and bottom, to make an envelope. Set aside. Repeat with the remaining leaves, dough, and the green salsa chicken fillings. Pour 2 cups (about 500 milliliters) water into a tamal steamer and add the salt. Cover the steamer rack with a banana leaf and arrange the tamales on it. Cover and steam the tamales over medium heat for 50 minutes.