Ajiaco, a Javelina Stew
December 19, 2016 | Updated March 20, 2021
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Javelina are so unloved. Poor skunk pigs. They get a bad rap. As I’ve written elsewhere, they are really quite tasty properly prepared. This ajiaco stew is one such way.
Now don’t get all hung up on it being javelina. Unless you are in Central America, or live in Arizona, New Mexico or Texas, you are not likely to have any lying around. Use pork, wild boar, turkey (wild or domesticated), or hell, even chicken.
This recipe is called an ajiaco, most common in Cuba, Colombia and Peru. My version is from the Yucatan, and derives from the excellent book Yucatán: Recipes from a Culinary Expedition by the late, great chef David Sterling. If you are at all interested in the food of this region, you absolutely must get yourself a copy. Nothing better has ever been written in the English language.
If you know a little Spanish, you’ll see the word ajo, or garlic, buried in the stew’s name. And yes, there is a truckload of garlic in this stew. Fear not, however, because almost all of it is slow roasted and mashed into a paste before it hits the stew. This adds a mellowness and a depth of flavor that make this dish the equal of another great Mexican stew, chocolomo, that I also make from time to time.
For me, the key to a good ajiaco stew is a variety of vegetables, slight spiciness — and those plantains! You know how every stew you ever eat has some morsel you linger on, and want to be your last spoonful? In this stew, it’s the plantains. Starchy-sweet, I was shocked at how well they held up to long cooking.
The diced potato dissolves in the cooking, thickening the stew, as does the sofrito of onion and bell pepper, forming a base the rest of the pot then highlights.
Ultimately, however, the vegetables are your choice. These are typical veggies in the Yucatan, and the plantain really adds something… but use what you have.
When you make this ajiaco recipe, make a lot of it. I’ve never in my life had a stew that was so much better the second, third or even fourth day after it was made as this one was. I almost didn’t post it after the first day, thinking it, well, just OK.
Holly and I were blown away on day two. So here it is, ajiaco, a lovely vegetable stew with javelina, pork or whatever. ¡Buen provecho!
I cook quite a lot of Yucatecan food, so if you like this recipe, you might want to try my rendition of shredded turkey Yucatan, poc chuc, which is grilled pork, dzik, which is a shredded venison salad, classic cochinita pibil, or sopa de lima.
Yucatecan Ajiaco Stew
- 4 to 6 heads of garlic (yes, whole heads)
- 4 Roma or other paste tomatoes, sliced in half lengthwise
- Olive oil
- 1/4 cup fresh rendered lard or 3 Tbsp olive oil
- 1 small onion, minced
- 1 red bell pepper, minced
- 1 green bell pepper, minced
- 4 garlic cloves, minced
- 3 teaspoons ground cumin
- 1 to 3 chipotles in adobo, chopped
- 2 tablespoons achiote paste
- 2 to 3 pounds javelina, pork or turkey meat, cut into about 2-inch pieces
- 1 quart broth (chicken, pork, vegetable)
- 1 baking potato, peeled and diced
- 1 sweet potato, peeled and cut into chunks
- 1 or 2 chayote squash, peeled and cut into chunks
- 2 carrots, peeled and cut into chunks
- 1 yellow plantain, peeled and cut into chunks
- Salt to taste
- Cilantro for garnish
- Char the tomatoes. Set the halved tomatoes on a baking sheet and broil them until the tops are blackened. Keep an eye on them, but this should take about 8 to 10 minutes. Puree the tomatoes, char and all, in a blender or food processor and set aside.
- Roast the garlic. Switch the oven to 375°F. It should preheat quickly, as it will already be warm from broiling. Slice the tops of the garlic heads off and set them in a nest of aluminum foil. Drizzle some olive oil over them, seal the foil and roast until aromatic and soft, about 45 minutes to 1 hour.
- Make the sofrito. Meanwhile, heat the lard or oil in a soup pot and cook the onion and both bell peppers gently until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the 4 chopped garlic cloves and cook another minute or two.
- Add the meat. Add the cumin, chipotles, achiote paste and the pureed tomatoes and mix well. Add the chunks of javelina or pork. Mix and pour in the broth.
- Simmer. Add about 3 more cups of water and the diced potato. Add salt to taste. Simmer gently for 1 hour.
- Add the roasted garlic. While the stew is simmering, the roasted garlic will be ready. Squeeze it out of the husks and mash and chop it into a paste. Add it all to the simmering stew.
- Finish. After 1 hour or so, add the remaining vegetables and keep cooking until the meat is tender, probably another hour. Taste for salt and garnish with cilantro.
Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.
Works very well with bear. Made as the recipe states. my wife and daughter had seconds
I made this stew with a Javelina I killed in Arizona 10 months ago. The recipe was easy to follow and the only ingredient I had to purchase on line was the Achiote paste, which is available NOWHERE in SE Massachusetts.
My Javelina was an older female. Her teeth were nearly worn to the gums and my guide said he’d not seen an older one. So, perhaps my suggestion has to do more with the animal than the recipe. The animal was properly cared for. It was hung overnight till rigor left it. The meat was vacuume sealed and frozen for the trip home in a Yeti Rambler. Arrived rock hard.
My suggestion is that rather than just cooking the meat and first group of ingredients for one hour, then adding the other vegetables and cooking till the meat is soft, cook the meat until it is soft and then add the second round of vegetables. Why? Becuase the meat in my stew, cooked per the recipe, was tough as leather. My family would not eat it and even I found it tough to chew. I removed all the meat and some of the broth and stewed the meat an additional FOUR hours before all the connective tissue broke down and the meat became pleasant to eat. The flavor of Javelina by the way is excellent. This stew was superb and as promised, ate well for a week.
My experience with the javelina mirrors that with venison stew: The meat needs four hours of more of simmering to fully dissolve all the connective tissue (sinew) and become good to eat. When I do venison stew I always cook the meat and vegetables separately becuase they cook so differently, then combine them for 10 minutes at the end, before serving. It works well.
Thanks for a great recipe!
Just tried this for the first time. Really good. Not sure why I was so intimidated by javelina meat. I am totally keeping this recipe!
Hello there, Hank. There’s a part of the recipe that sounds weird to me: “Simmer. Add about 3 more quarts of water and the diced potato.” It seems like a lot of liquid to add for 6-8 servings, especially after having just put in a quart of broth. Instead of quarts, could it be cups?
Raul: Good catch! Yes, cups, not quarts!
Hank! I combined this stew with the other you posted above — chocolomo — and its so goddamn good. Roasted red onions, peppers, and the tomatoes first to make sofrito. Love that you’re doing latin inspired food — it is the best. No instagram!?
Willie: Yes, I am on Instagram: @huntgathercook
I made this stew a couple weeks ago and waited three days to serve.
This recipe is (like all of your others we have tried) outstanding!
As I write this, I am cooling a brine for corned venison.
Grateful for your website and podcast,
When/where will you be in Arizona Jan/Feb/Mar 2017?
Mark: I’ll be in Phoenix on February 6. Details in the “Book Tour” tab at the top of the page.
Made this stew a few days ago with pork shoulder after receiving your latest newsletter. Delectable, and true to your word, the best day-after stew ever!! The plantains and chayote are worth the extra trip to the Mexican grocery.
What cut of pork would you use?
How do you feel about oven vs stove top cooking for stews and sauces.
Either way, I am going out for plantains and chayote today.
JustLil: I typically do stovetop, but oven works fine at like 300 to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.
Thank you for the recipe and educational tips as well. Happy holidays !
Is this recipe in your new book? It sounds and looks delicious!
Christine: Nope. It’s new to the site this week!
This looks great- can’t wait to try it.
Chayote can be found in many places that carry Asian produce as well.