Tacos al Pastor
When I was 20, my Mexican friend Vincente took me to Mexico City for tacos al pastor. We walked up to this super-busy stall that had spits of marinated, sliced, and stacked pork rotating near a fire—almost like the meat for gyros. Pineapples rotated near the fire right next to the pork. The tacos are called al pastor because missionaries came from Jerusalem to Mexico and brought their Middle Eastern foodways with them. Over time, tacos al pastor became one of the most popular Mexican tacos. Go figure. Anyway, here’s my veiled attempt to nail down the spicy-sweet savory flavors. The texture is nearly impossible to get right without 200 pounds of sliced pork rotating on a spit. Instead, I use trim and scraps of pork shoulder, cut them small, and then sear the pork in a smoking-hot pan. Garnish the meat with spicy salsa and some chopped onion and cilantro, and it makes a damn fine taco.
1 pineapple, peeled, cored, cut into 1-inch cubes, about 2 cups, or 1 (20-ounce) can unsweetened pineapple chunks, drained
1 medium Vidalia onion, cut into rough chunks
10 cloves garlic, peeled
2 tablespoons ancho chili powder
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 pound lean pork shoulder, cut into ¾-inch chunks
3 teaspoons grapeseed oil or canola oil
8 fresh corn tortillas
½ cup sour cream
1 bunch cilantro
Reserve ½ cup pineapple chunks and onion and refrigerate for later use. Combine the remaining pineapple, onion, garlic, chili powder, cumin, oregano, salt, and red pepper flakes in a blender and blend to a paste. Place the meat and marinade in a gallon-size zip-top bag, squeeze out excess air, and zip closed. Refrigerate overnight.
Strain the pork and discard the marinade.
Heat a sauté pan over high heat. Add just enough of the oil to the pan for a thin coating and heat until the oil just starts to smoke. Working in batches, add the tortillas in a single layer and heat just until starting to char, about 1 minute per side, then flip and cook for another minute. Wrap in aluminum foil to keep warm.
Add just enough of the oil to cover the pan, swirl to coat, and heat until smoking. Add the pork and reserved pineapple and cook for 1 minute, or until browned. Shake the pan to flip the meat and cook until the pork is cooked through and the pan juices have cooked dry, about 7 minutes, shaking the pan frequently.
In a small bowl, combine the sour cream with the juice of ½ lime and whisk until smooth. Cut the remaining ½ lime into 4 wedges.
Coarsely chop ½ cup cilantro leaves. Reserve 4 sprigs.
Serve the tortillas topped with the meat and pineapple mixture, reserved pineapple and onion, chopped cilantro, a drizzle of the lime sour cream, a lime wedge, and whole sprig of cilantro.
Look for a lean shoulder roast for this recipe. It will be a piece of a boneless Boston butt. Get the smallest and leanest roast you can find, which will probably be 2 to 3 pounds. If you get a piece with excess fat, just trim it away before cutting the meat into chunks.