Tacos al Pastor
On our first trip to Mexico City, Manny and I were completely blown away by the city; the food, the people, the sights, the museums... hey, did I mention the food? To be fair, we were told to be prepared, but between the night-time laser light show on the pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacán, the museum of anthropology, the local artists and representative artists from each distinct region of Mexico, the crickets served over guacamole, the barbacoa, the carnitas, the insanely good smells from all the various foods we walked past and at a minimum five meals a day, there was nothing that could have prepared us for how much we would enjoy the city. That doesn't even touch on the nearly religious experience of the tacos al pastor in the city. There are as many ways to prepare tacos al pastor as there are vendors in the city. Everyone has their own secret adobo marinade and salsa pairing; some use red salsas and some green. All of them cook the pork on what is called a "trompo" that we typically recognize as "that thing the gyro meat spins on while it's cooking". The beauty of cooking the meat this way is that when you shave it off the trompo onto the tacos you get a mixture of textures and flavors you wouldn't otherwise get. There's crunchy, caramelized pieces, some tender, juicy pieces, and everything has that distinctive (and very unique to each vendor) signature adobo flavor that we fell in love with. It's the perfect marriage of flavors in our opinion.
Pork shoulder is the perfect cut for this recipe. We started with a full packer-sealed boneless pork shoulder and used 1/2 for the tacos and threw the other 1/2 on the smoke for pulled pork. You could just as easily start with pork country-style ribs (pork shoulder cut into the shape of ribs with the bonus of having, you guessed it, no ribs). If you have a good butcher, you can even tell him what you're doing and ask him to take the pork shoulder roast and cut it into thin strips for you. The adobo here is the star of the show. It has pineapple juice in it, though, so be aware that the enzymes in the pineapple juice will start to break-down your pork while it's marinating, so no more than 2 days in the marinade or your pork texture will be off when you cook it. We're definitely going to re-use this adobo recipe, likely on some pork ribs. In fact, we encourage you to experiment with this marinade and let us know what you've used it for. Lastly, the grilled pineapple is important to the recipe. It's the sweet side to the savory adobo and pork. Canned pineapple is not the same as fresh pineapple. It's not even a close race either. Find a whole pineapple or one that is in the deli/produce area that's been cut up for you. Better yet, if you get two, juice one for the marinade ingredients and cut one up into rough chunks that you can grill for the toppings.
As always, from our table to yours... #SpiceConfidently #EssenceOfFlavor #ChemistryInTheKitchen #CasaMSpice
— Mike Hernandez
For the Adobo Marinade:
- 3.5 oz chipotles in adobo
- 4 whole cloves
- 2 oz achiote (anatto seed)
- 8 cloves garlic
- 1/2 oz pasilla chile, ground
- 1/2 oz ancho chile, ground
- 3/4 oz Casa M Spice Co® Uncontrolled Chain Reaction®
- 3/4 oz Casa M Spice Co® Uncontrolled Cattle Drive®
- 1 cup pineapple juice
- 1 cup apple cider vinegar
For the Pork:
- 4 pounds pork shoulder, cut into thin strips
Pulling it All Together:
- 24 taco-sized tortillas
- grilled pineapple chunks
- lime wedges
- cilantro leaves
The beauty of cooking the meat this way is that when you shave it off the trompo onto the tacos you get a mixture of textures and flavors you wouldn't otherwise get.- Mike Hernandez
LET’S GET COOKING
Add all dry ingredients for the adobo marinade into a blender or similar appliance and puree until everything is smooth and fine. Add the wet ingredients next and repeat the mixing process to blend everything until it's smooth.
In a large bowl add the thinly-sliced pork shoulder pieces and pour the marinade over the pork. Mix thoroughly to ensure the marinade fully coats the pork.
Let the pork marinate in the refrigerator, covered, for at least three (3) hours, but up to two (2) days.
When you're ready to make your tacos, preheat your grill to high heat with a section set aside for indirect heating.
Use skewers and pierce each piece of pork onto a skewer keeping the pieces very tightly packed and close together. For us, 4 pounds of pork was 3 skewers.
Place the skewered pork over indirect heat initially and cook, turning regularly, until the internal temperature reaches 145°F
Move the pork over direct HIGH heat to sear, turning regularly. At this point, the pork is cooked through and in this step you're looking to get charred pieces on the outside of the skewer (see photos).
Remove the pork skewers to a platter (leaving the pork on the skewers) and let them rest while you grill up the fresh pineapple chunks (not canned) on the grill over high heat. Just enough to get grill grate marks and warm-through the pineapple.
To assemble the tacos, lay three warmed tortillas out flat on a plate, then on a cutting board slice parallel to the skewer cutting small pieces of pork off the edges of the pork on the skewer. This technique gets you a balance of textures and tastes from the pork, some caramelized, some tender and juicy, all with deep, rich homemade adobo flavor. Add salsa and any toppings you'd like and then dig in while they're hot. You'll find that they go very quickly and once you taste them, you'll understand why.