al pastor tacos

I will go to extreme length to get tacos into my body. Growing up in San Diego, tacos of all varieties just became the food for me. I didn't grow up with the quintessential ground beef on flour tortillas with shredded lettuce and cheddar as being "tacos". I grew up with my dad out back grilling carne asada on tacos on homemade flour tortillas. I was eating cilantro before before I learned how to ride a bike. My dad fed me jalapeños starting at, like, age three. Mind you, I bawled my eyes out but I like to think that he was conditioning me for the iron stomach that I now possess. Seriously, give me all your habañeros, chili oils, ghost pepper infused stuffs. Anyway, what I am trying to say is that for me tacos, and really great Mexican food in general, is life for me. 


I'm not trying to bash on Texas Mexican food (okay, maybe a little), but I have yet to even find a taco shop remotely close to what I was used to in San Diego. The al pastor tacos I have had were basically just pork on a FLOUR (WTF) tortilla with cilantro and onion. None of the gorgeous meat shaved off a trombo that you may have witnessed had you ever been to a true taco shop. The best places serve the al pastor meat a little crispy, with onion, cilantro and a green crema sauce. The addition of pineapple is like pineapple on pizza--an extremely polarizing concept. I am absolutely not pro-pineapple pizza but charred pineapple on an al pastor taco helps to balance the slight bitterness of the marinade and adds some needed acid to cut through the fat. You add your pineapple at your discretion, I'm not here to tell you how to live your life. 


This method can be time consuming to try and achieve the trombo-esque texture and flavor of the meat, so marinating the meat and throwing it on the grill is fine too. I followed Serious Eat's method of layering marinated meat into a loaf pan and cooking it low and slow to bind the pieces together. My marinade is a bit different, something I've been using for a long time but I found that I put way too much marinade in the pan with the meat and so it had trouble binding together. The recipe for my marinade yields probably 3 times as much as is needed, so freezing leftover marinade will make your life that much easier the next time you want to make tacos. The recipe is pretty damn easy, just takes a bit of time if you're following my suggested method. 


method adapted from Serious Eats
serves 4-6

2lbs Pork Shoulder (boneless), sliced into pieces no larger than 1/4" thick (freezing the meat briefly can make it easier to slice)
1/2 pineapple (save the other half), peeled and cut into chunks
1/2 white onion, charred (do this over an open flame or in a cast iron pan until black all over)
1 tablespoon achiote paste
5 cloves garlic
4 dried guajillo chilies, seeds and stems removed
2 dried ancho chilies, seeds and stems removed
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon dried oregano
2 tablespoons sea salt
water, for soaking chilies
1/4 cup white vinegar

corn tortillas, warmed, for serving
1/2 white onion, diced finely
1/2 bunch cilantro, minced (leaves only)
1/2 pineapple, peeled and diced small
poblano crema, recipe below

To char your onion, peel and let it blacken over an open flame. Otherwise, use a cast iron pan and char the onion until all sides are black and onion is very soft. Place onion in the carafe of a blender. Add pineapple chunks to the cast iron pan and cook until dark brown. Add pineapple to the blender. In a dry pan, toast the chilies. Cover the chilies with boiling water and let them soak for 10-15 minutes. Transfer chilies to the blender, but reserve the soaking liquid. Add remaining ingredients to blender (salt, vinegar, achiote, garlic, cumin, oregano) and blend until smooth. If the mixture is too thick, use small amounts of the soaking liquid from the chilies to loosen the mixture. You do really want it to be a paste though, so be sparing. 

Toss 1/3 of the marinade with the pork and freeze the rest. Layer meat in a 9x5 loaf pan, pressing between pieces to make sure it's a tight fit. Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours, but it's better overnight. 

Preheat an oven to 275 degrees F. Cover loaf pan with foil loosely and place in a larger pan (for catching juices) and slow cook in the oven for 3 hours. Remove the cover and cook another hour longer. Remove from the oven and allow the pork to cool completely in the liquid. Transfer to the fridge and let it sit overnight (I told you, it's a process). 

The next day, remove meat from the loaf pan, removing any congealed fat. Slice the loaf and crisp up in a hot cast iron pan with some of the fat. Remove meat, add small diced pineapple the cast iron and cook until deep brown. Serve al pastor on corn tortillas with pineapple, onion, cilantro and crema. 

makes 2 cups

12oz mexican crema
1/2 bunch cilantro, leaves only
1 poblano pepper
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
juice of 1 lime

Char poblano over an open flame until black, or under a broiler in the oven. Place in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap until cool. Remove seeds, stem and blackened skin. Place pepper in a blender with crema, cilantro, salt and lime juice. Blend until smooth. Refrigerate until ready to use. 


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