Marinated pork

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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Marinated Pork Tenderloin

???????????????????????????????Pork tenderloin might be one of the most underrated proteins. It’s versatile, cooks quickly, and is relatively inexpensive.

Yet growing up, I don’t remember ever eating it — and my dad raised hogs. When I moved out on my own, I would see recipes for pork tenderloin, but get frustrated when I went to buy the meat. I’d never bought meat from a grocery store before — a topic for an entirely separate blog post — and the way tenderloins were packaged threw me.

A typical recipe calls for a 1 lb. tenderloin, but I could only ever find it in one of two ways: 1 lb. tenderloins pre-marinated or sealed in a “pork broth solution,” or huge packages of 3 or more pounds. Surely those big packages weren’t the right cut, were they?

It was only later that I realized the larger packages at standard grocery stores were actually multiple tenderloins packaged together. A couple years later, I moved to a neighborhood with a Trader Joe’s, which does sell plain 1 lb. tenderloins.

The bigger packages aren’t necessarily a bad thing. This recipe is easy to scale if you’re feeding a crowd. Or, make a second batch of marinade in a separate bag, and throw it into the freezer. Put the extra batch in the refrigerator the night before you want to serve it, and it will marinade as it thaws.

Avoid the versions packaged in a marinade or broth solution. It’s way more sodium than you  need, and not that great.

This recipe is best on the (outdoor) grill, but it works well in the oven, too. When I’m grilling, I like pairing it with whatever seasonal vegetables I can throw on the grill, maybe some sweet or fingerling potatoes, and cinnamon applesauce. If I’m indoors, I swap in steamed green beans, broccoli, cauliflower, or whatever else I have on hand.

Marinated Pork Tenderloin

Adapted from Cooking Light

Yield: 3-4 servings

1/3 cup olive oil
1/3 cup orange juice
1/2 tsp black pepper, plus more to taste
1/2 tsp salt, plus more to taste
1 lb pork tenderloin

Preheat grill to medium-high, or preheat oven to 400°.

Remove pork from bag and discard marinade. Lightly season meat with salt and pepper.

If grilling, place pork on grill rack coated with cooking spray; grill for 20 minutes. If using the oven, roast for 35 minutes. Cook until a thermometer registers 160° (slightly pink). Let stand 10 minutes before slicing thinly.