Monday, February 19, 2018

Tacos al pastor

Tacos and hamburgers are two things that I can't get enough of. I've taken to ordering a hamburger and French fries at our local Mexican restaurant. It's not that I don't enjoy their food. I do, especially the chili verde. I simply want hamburgers.

And there are no shortage of tacos near our home. They abound on Taco Tuesday. Debbie and I frequent the local take and bake pizza joint, where -- on Tuesday -- ground beef tacos are the special of the day.

This pleases my wife. She only orders three things at any Mexican eatery -- one, two or three tacos, crunchy shell, no tomato with lettuce of the side. In nearly 37 years, I've never seen her deviate.

This brings us to tacos al pastor. Cooked "shepherd style," traditional tacos al pastor are prepared by stacking marinated pork slices on a spit and roasting on a vertical rotisserie, much like Greek gyros. The meat is slowly roasted as the spit turns. Each time a taco is ordered, the cook shaves the crisp out layer off onto a handheld tortilla.

Yet, tacos al pastor can be made without a spit. A cast iron grill pan stands in for the rotisserie. After grilling the onion and pineapple over intense heat, marinated pork slices quickly caramelize on the ribs of the grill pan. The result is a wonderfully charred taco filling.

The marinade is prepared with garlic, spices, achiote paste and guajillo chilies. The achiote adds color and a "earthy, peppery flavor with a hint of bitterness" to the marinade. When combined with guajillo chilies, the deep red hue imparts an amazing bit of eye appeal, to say nothing of the rich level of spiciness. Stir in pineapple juice and vinegar and the flavor of the tacos are out of this world.

This is my new favorite taco.

Serve tacos al pastor with Mexican rice, lime wedges and a spritz of chopped cilantro. This may not be authentic, but I enjoy a side of grilled onion with the tacos.


This recipe is attributed to the Food and Wine website. I have adapted the directions to cast iron grill pan or skillet. Purchase guajillo chilies and achiote at well-stocked supermarkets or your local Mexican market.

1 tablespoon canola oil, plus more for brushing
3 garlic cloves
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
4 guajillo chilies, stemmed, seeded and cut into 2-inch pieces
1/3 cup pineapple juice
1/4 cup distilled white vinegar
2 tablespoons achiote paste
Sea salt
2 pounds boneless pork shoulder, sliced 1/4 inch thick
1/2 medium pineapple, peeled and sliced 1/2 inch thick
1 medium red onion, sliced crosswise 1/2 inch thick
Warm corn tortillas, chopped cilantro and lime wedges, for serving

Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and cook, turning occasionally, until lightly browned, about 1 minute. Stir in the oregano, cumin, pepper and cloves and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.

Add the chilies and cook, stirring, until blistered in spots, about 30 seconds. Add the pineapple juice, vinegar and achiote paste and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat and steep for 5 minutes.

Transfer the chili mixture to a blender and puree until smooth. Season with salt. Place the pork in a large covered dish or storage container. Pour the marinade over the pork and turn to coat. Set the dish in refrigerator overnight.

Preheat a cast iron grill pan or skillet over medium-high heat. Brush the pineapple and onion with oil. Grill over high heat, turning once, until lightly charred and softened, about 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer to a plate and tent with foil.

Remove the pork from the marinade. Grill over high heat until lightly charred and just cooked through, 2 to 4 minutes. Transfer to the plate and let rest for 5 minutes.

Cut the pineapple, onion and pork into thin strips and transfer to a bowl. Season with salt. Serve with corn tortillas, chopped cilantro and lime wedges. Makes 8 to 12 tacos.

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