Tacos Al Pastor

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Vacations never last long enough, do they?

Okay, that’s a pretty ironic statement coming from me, a self-proclaimed workaholic who has trouble using her (admittedly generous) vacation time.

When I do go on vacation, I like to eat. And when I come back, I like to play in my kitchen and try to recreate some of the dishes. I returned from Mexico with a few ideas, but  was especially interested in trying to make my own tacos al pastor.

When I think “taco,” I picture either your basic American family weeknight supper, featuring ground beef, sour cream, and shredded cheese, or fish tacos, which are pretty much the perfect beach food.

When I ordered these tacos, I was expecting shredded pork like I’ve had before. Instead, I was delighted with tiny crumbles of pork with a spicy kick.

Upon returning stateside, I did some research. “Al pastor” means “in the style of the shepherd.” It seems to be a fusion of Lebanese and Mexican cooking, typically involving a rotisserie. This recipe is modified for a home cook working on a stove. If you have the ability to roast the pork shoulder whole (maybe on a larger grill this summer?), by all means, try it out and let me know how it goes!

The enzymes in pineapple help tenderize the meat, while its sweetness is a nice contrast to the spice. And speaking of spice: achiote paste is a wet spice blend found in the spice aisle of international supermarkets. When I read “paste,” I was expecting the consistency of tomato paste, but it’s more like a dry brownie, if that makes any sense. The package I bought was about three ounces, so it was easy to measure out the amount I needed. Turns out, you can cut the sad little “brownie” with a butter knife. :)

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I found achiote paste in a nearby international grocery store.

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Is it just me, or does this achiote “paste” look like a sad packaged brownie or snack cake?

Achiote marinade

Combine achiote paste, pineapple juice, oil, garlic and salt in a food processor.

Place the pork in a freezer bag and add the marinade. Seal and place in the refrigerator.

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The marinated pork is cooked and then chopped into bite-sized pieces

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Caramelized pineapple complements the marinade while also cutting the spice.

This recipe didn’t produce identical results to my meal in Puerto Vallarta, but I imagine every restaurant has its own variation anyway. It was still quite good, and it is definitely worth adding to your cooking repertoire.

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Tacos Al Pastor

Adapted from The Food Network

Serves 6

1 cup pineapple juice
1/4 cup vegetable oil, plus more
1 oz. achiote paste
1 tablespoon adobo sauce
4 chipotles in adobo sauce
1 clove garlic
Pinch kosher salt
2 pounds boneless pork butt, sliced into 1/2″ thick slices, then into 1/2″ wide strips
12 fresh 6″ white corn tortillas
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1 fresh pineapple, peeled, cored and cut into 1/2″ pieces
1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves
For serving, as desired: diced red onion, chopped cilantro, avocado sauce, salsa, crumbled cotija cheese

Puree pineapple juice, oil, achiote paste, adobo sauce, chipotles, garlic and salt in a food processor. Mix the pineapple juice mixture with the pork in a freezer bag and move around to coat. Marinate the pork in the fridge, 1 to 2 hours.

Preheat a cast-iron skillet or grill to medium-high heat. Lightly oil the skillet and add the tortillas, toasting, about 30 seconds per side. Remove the tortillas and store in a towel to keep warm.

Raise the heat under the skillet to high. Remove the pork from the bag and wipe off excess marinade. Cook the pork in batches, until charred and cooked through. Remove the pork from the skillet and chop into bite-sized pieces.

Add the onions and pineapple to the pan and quickly cook until lightly browned, about 2 minutes.
Spoon pork into taco shells. Serve immediately.
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