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 food ways 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 2.5 cm (1 inch) cubes, about 2 cups, or 1 440g can plus 1 225g can unsweetened pineapple chunks, drained
- 1 medium onion, cut into rough chunks
- 10 cloves garlic, peeled
- 2 tbsp ancho chili powder
- 1 tbsp cumin seeds
- 1 tbsp dried oregano
- 1 tbsp kosher salt
- 1 tsp red pepper flakes
- 450 g (1 lb) lean pork shoulder, cut into 2 cm (¾ inch) chunks (see Note)
- 3 tsp grapeseed oil or canola oil
- 8 fresh corn tortillas
- ½ cup sour cream
- 1 lime
- 1 bunch coriander (cilantro)
Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.
Marinating time overnight
Reserve ½ cup each 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 coriander (cilantro) leaves. Reserve 4 sprigs.
Serve the tortillas topped with the meat and pineapple mixture, reserved pineapple and onion, chopped coriander, a drizzle of the lime sour cream, a lime wedge, and whole sprig of coriander.
• Look for a lean shoulder roast for this recipe. If you get a piece with excess fat, just trim it away before cutting the meat into chunks.
Recipe and image from Pure Pork Awesomeness: Totally Cookable Recipes from Around the World by Kevin Gillespie with David Joachim (Andrews McMeel Publishing, $40, pbk)
View our Readable feasts review and more recipes from the book here.