¡Auténtico Tacos al Pastor!
We’re pretty fanatical about our tacos here in Madison. As a city with a fairly large Mexican population (% wise), finding authentic tacos is pretty easy. Finding authentic ingredients for authentic tacos is also, not surprisingly, fairly easy. So naturally, when I decided to set out to make authentic (running theme, in case you couldn’t tell) tacos al pastor, I knew I had to do it right.
Al pastor tacos are relatively simple and comprised of only a few ingredients–pork, a couple kinds of chilies, onion, various spices, and the hallmark of any legit pastor–pineapple. The fruit adds a wonderful sweetness to the slight heat from the chilies, giving the meat an incredible one-two punch in the flavor department. For step-by-step instructions on making your own pastor, click to read more!
Let’s start out with a list of ingredients:
- 2 ancho chilies
- 2 guajillo chilies
- 1 cup pineapple (I used canned, but fresh is always better)
- 2 tbsp honey
- 1 tbsp paprika
- 1 tbsp white vinegar
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 chipotle chile in adobo sauce (it’s in the international aisle, usually)
- 1 tbsp adobo sauce (take it from the same can as the chipotle chile)
- 5 cloves garlic
- Oregano (dried or fresh is fine)
- 4lb pork shoulder (I used bone-in) or boneless butt roast
- 1 red onion
First, you’ll want to take your dried chilies–the guajillos and anchos–and place them in a pot. Bring the pot to a boil, then turn off the gas/heat and let the peppers steep for half an hour (30 minutes) or so. They should start to inflate and re-hydrate. If you were fortunate enough to get fresh peppers, skip this step.
Once the peppers are done steeping, cut off the tops, rinse out the seeds, and toss into a food processor. Keep reading.
Once you’re done with the peppers, toss in the rest of the ingredients, except for the onion. If you’re using fresh oregano, a couple of sprigs will do. If dried, shake the container a couple of times to get the flavor in there. And, if you’re using canned pineapple, make sure you drain the juice out of the cup. Once you’ve got everything in the food processor, process the ingredients until they’ve formed a fairly thick, red paste-like substance–it should look something like the above picture.
Oh, and when it’s done, taste it to make sure it’s to your liking. I left some of the seeds from the peppers in to get an extra kick of heat. It totally worked.
Now, the fun part. Take out the pork and let it sit for 20 minutes or so on a cutting board. If you’re okay with your hands touching ice cold meat (it’s a little painful), then no need to wait. Slice the pork in 3/4-inch slices or so, and go down about 3/4 of the way–do not cut through to the bottom.
Once you’ve sliced up the pork, take the paste and start spreading it between the slices. Work the paste into the meat using your hands (attn. perverts: this is not some kind of sexual euphemism), making sure it covers the entire piece of pork. I actually took this picture before all the paste was used up, so the final meat product will have a lot more coverage than this picture.
After you’re done slathering the pork with paste, cut up the onion and place the slices between each cut of meat. Wrap the pork tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight so it can marinate.
Finally, time to cook the meat! There are a few schools of thought here, so I’ll run through each one. The recipe I was following suggested cooking the meat on a rack inside a roasting pan. Sure, that’s a fine way to do it, but I was much more eager to use my brand new enamel cast iron dutch oven that I received for Chanukah (as a Jew, I can assure you that the irony is not lost on me). The instructions are the same either way, so here we go:
Preheat the oven to 475° F. Using a roasting pan/rack or dutch oven, place the pork into the oven. If using a dutch oven, leave the top on. Roast at 475 for roughly 30 minutes.
After half an hour has elapsed, remove the top from the dutch oven (if using) and lower the heat to 300° F. Roast for another 3 hours or until tender. Once the three hours is up, remove the pork from the oven and let it rest for twenty minutes. It should be very, very tender (my giant shoulder piece broke in half when I took it out).
Cut the pork up into chunks (or shred it with forks). Serve on corn tortillas (homemade if you’re really feeling ambitious) and top with fresh cilantro and onion. Serve with garnish of lime wedges and avocado. Enjoy!
Future notes for improvement (for me): You may find it beneficial to save some of the paste and pineapple and mix it in with the pastor afterwords. It’ll give it an added kick of flavor. Otherwise, absolutely delicious!