Thursday, February 26, 2015

Tacos al Pastor for Sarah

Chili-marinated pork tacos with pineapple are known as Tacos al Pastor in Mexico.   They are a satisfying cold weather dinner that will assure you that the warmer months are on their way.  We made them recently with our friend Sarah- recently back from working in Mexico-- and her sisters.  

With the cold snap most of the country has endured, a brightly flavored new taco recipe is the right distraction.  Most supermarkets carry whole chilis and if you have been wondering how to use them, this recipe is an easy introduction.  If you cannot envision yourself stemming and seeding 4 chili peppers, substitute one small can chipotle chilis in adobo and one small can green chili peppers. 

Most recipes also call for achiote paste made with annatto seeds in the marinade.  If you have achiote paste at your local market, it’s a nice authentic ingredient. If not, add a clove or two of crushed garlic instead. 

Tacos al Pastor can be found at most Mexico City restaurants where thin slices of pork are carved off a spit (trompo in Spanish) and served on corn tortillas with grilled onions and pineapple chunks.  A half pineapple tops the spit so that its juices can run down during the cooking to tenderize and baste the meat.  The marriage of sweet pineapple juices and the savory – but not too spicy—chili marinade give this taco a fresh twist. 

Tacos al Pastor
Makes 6 servings (Recipe can be halved or cooked pork can be frozen in individual portions)

For the Pork Marinade:
4 dried peppers—2 ancho, 2 gaulijjo
½ - 2/3 cup water
6-8 ounces pineapple juice  (small can)
Juice of one lime
½ teaspoon cumin
½  teaspoon oregano
½  teaspoon salt
optional: 1 Tablespoons achiote paste

2 pounds pork—loin, pork shoulder or butt*
12 corn tortillas
1 fresh pineapple, sliced or cubed
2 medium onions, sliced or quartered
Serve with: cilantro, salsa, avocado, extra lime, etc

*if you are grilling, use pork loin, tenderloin or pork chops.  If you are slow cooking the pork on low in the oven, use the other cuts of pork.  They are less expensive and come out really well when slow cooked.  You can also substitute chicken in this recipe.

  1. Prepare the chilis and marinade.  Preheat oven to 325˚F.  Place whole chilies on a metal sheet or pan and bake 3-5 minutes until skin gets crisp.  Watch carefully to prevent scorching.  (Gaujillos may puff up- they are ready when they do.) Remove chilies and allow to cool.  
  2. Next you will break open the chilies to remove seeds, stem, any veins that are easily pulled away.  Wear gloves or carefully wash hands and under fingernails before touching anything else, especially eyes, and going on to the next step.  
  3. In a blender, combine the chili skins and water.  Puree to a thick consistency.  
  4. Add achiote paste, pineapple juice, lime juice and seasoning. 
  5. Prepare pork.  Cut into thin strips or, if grilling, ½ inch slices (that will be sliced into strips once off the grill).  
  6. Place pork in marinade (use a large bowl or a ziplock bag).  Marinate at least 1 hour or as long as overnight. 

Three ways to cook the meat:
Grill— pork loin, tenderloin or pork chops
  1. Preheat grill.  You want a medium temperature.  
  2. Wipe some oil on the onion slices and grill, turning until softened and crisping.  Set aside.  
  3. Wipe excess marinade from pork chops or pork slices.  Grill each piece 3 minutes per side.  Look for an internal temperature of 145˚F.  (Bonus flavor: If you have extra pineapple juice baste pork with it while it is grilling or brush it on after it comes off the grill.)  
  4. Let cooked meat rest on a serving plate while you grill the pineapple slices.  Grill pineapple slices 2-3 minutes preside on medium, until grill marks are just starting to show.  
  5. Wrap tortillas in foil and place on grill to warm or cook them directly over the fire using long tongs to hold your tortillas.  Keep them warm in a foil pocket or covered platter.  
  6. Each taco gets pork, pineapple, onion and toppings.
Serve with: cilantro, salsa, avocado, extra lime, etc

Oven--- pork loin, tenderloin or pork chops
  1. Preheat oven to 375˚F.  
  2. Remove pork from marinade but do not wipe off excess marinade.  
  3. Place pork in a foil-lined baking pan and bake for 10-12 minutes until pork is just cooked through.  (Pork chops will take a little longer if on the bone.) 
  4. When pork reaches 140˚F, remove and set aside to rest, covered.  
  5. Wrap tortillas in foil and place in oven to warm while you stir fry sliced onion and pineapple in a hot skillet. 
  6. Each taco gets pork, pineapple, onion and toppings.
Serve with: cilantro, salsa, avocado, extra lime, etc

Oven--- pork shoulder or butt.   Cook this cut of pork slow and low!  This will be the most like the pork served in Mexico. 
  1. Preheat oven to 325˚F.  
  2. Place pork strips and most of marinade in a baking dish or heavy, oven-proof casserole dish.  Cover dish with foil for its top.  
  3. Bake pork 1 ½ to 2 hours until pork is cooked through and very tender.  When pork is ready, remove form oven to rest.  NOTE: You can also use a slow cooker for this cut of pork.  Cook on Low 5-6 hours or High 3-4 hours. 
  4. Wrap tortillas in foil and place in oven to warm while you stir fry sliced onion and pineapple in a hot skillet.  
  5. Each taco gets pork, pineapple, onion and toppings.
Serve with: cilantro, salsa, avocado, extra lime, etc 
Sarah expertly garnishes her taco.

What goes around comes around….

The dish is an authentic Mexican meal adapted from the Lebanese dish with lamb “in the shepard style.” The original dish used lamb, slow-cooked on a spit and served the cooked meat on flatbread.  Mexico uses pork and tortillas but still honors its “pastor” namesake though in some parts of Mexico, you’ll find it known as Tacos de Trompo.

In a return loop to the Middle East, there is a recently popular dish called shawarma mexici that is made with chicken and wrapped in flatbread.  A dish that started off as lamb, was transformed to match local Mexican ingredients returns to its homeland as a chicken dish.