Tacos al Pastor

If you saw last night’s preview, you might have guessed I was doing something with spicy pork. Especially if you looked at the image name – tacos-al-pastor-016.jpg.

They took two days, including three hours in my Big Green Egg.  Here’s a view of the finished product.

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Tacos al pastor are one of my favorite tacos. I like them even more than my Street Style Beef Barbacoa Tacos.   When done right, the combination of the thinly sliced, spicy pork, with all its crisp edges, the grilled pineapple, onions, salsa and cilantro is just about unbeatable. Hot, sweet, crunchy, earthy. Everything I love.

This was the first time I’ve tried to make tacos al pastor at home.  These tacos were developed by Lebanese immigrants to Mexico. The meat is traditionally marinaded, sliced thinly, stacked on a skewer and cooked on a vertical rotisserie.  The preparation is very similar to a shawarma and gyros.  Since most home cooks don’t have a vertical rotisserie capable of holding a 40 lb wad of meat, it’s hard to duplicate the texture of real al pastor.

But I’ve been experimenting with vertical roasting in my egg for a couple of months now, and I’m starting to get the hang of it.  I figured I could duplicate the effect of the rotisserie by roasting the pork low and slow, till it was tender, then cranking up the heat to develop the crunchy exterior.

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I started with this recipe (and invaluable collection of hints about technique and pitfalls) from the excellent food blog, serious eats.  J. Kenji Lopez-Alt, serious eats’ Chef Creative Officer, says he worked on this recipe for a year and half before getting it right. He started with trying to roast the pork upright in his Weber Kettle.  He eventually abandoned that approach because it took too long and required too much futzing around to hold the temperature and make sure the pork cooked evenly. He settled on baking the pork in a meatloaf pan, then crisping it in a cast iron skillet before serving.

I must have been feeling bold, because I really wanted to roast it on that skewer in my Egg.  If Lopez-Alt worked on the recipe for a year and half, surely with his advice, I can vertically roast it and get it right my first time.

Well, not quite. I didn’t get everything 100% right. But it was a solid first effort and I learned plenty of lessons for next time.

The Recipe

2 ancho chilies, seeds and stems removed
2 guajillo chilies, seeds and stems removed
1/2 cup chicken stock
2 tsp vegetable oil
1 tsp dried Mexican oregano
1 tsp ground cumin
1 TBS dried achiote powder
2 chipotle chilies in adobo plus 2 teaspoons adobo sauce
1/4 cup white vinegar
3 whole cloves garlic, peeled
2 1/2 tsp kosher salt
2 tsp sugar
2 lb pork roast*
8 oz bacon
1 pineapple, peeled cored and cut into quarters. Reserve the top and bottom.
32 to 48 corn tortillas
1 medium white onion, diced
1/2 cup cilantro leaves and stems, minced
1 cup salsa verde
4 limes, cut into wedges

Place pork roast in freeze to allow it to firm up. This will make it easier to slice.

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Heat large sauce pan over medium high heat.  Add chilies. Cook for 5 minutes, turning occasionally.  Chilies should be soft, pliable and lightly browned.

Add chicken stock. Transfer chilies and stock to a small bowl. Cover bowl and set aside.

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Carefully wipe out the pan. Return to heat and add oil. When oil is hot add cumin, oregano and achiote. Cook stirring constantly, for 30 seconds. Add chipotle chilies and adobo. Cook 30 more seconds, stirring constantly.

Add garlic, vinegar, salt and sugar.

Transfer chile/spice mixture to blender and blend on high till smooth.  Mixture will be thick. Add a little water, if needed, and scrape down sides of blender as needed.

Allow marinade to cool.

Remove roast from freezer.  Slice roast, across the grain, as thinly as you can.

Place each slide between sheets of heavy waxed paper or parchment paper.  Pound with heavy skillet until very thin, about 1/8 inch.

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* Lopez-Alt says to use a loin roast.  The Latin grocery where I got the achiote powder didn’t have a loin roast, so I used shoulder.  This caused some problems.  Lopez-Alt’s loin pounded out to thin, uniform pieces that stayed together. My shoulder was uneven and came apart, with lots of little bits. This made it hard to form the roast and, after cooking, made it hard to slide thinly.  The little pieces pulled out of the body of the meat in chunks rather than letting me slice through them.  Next time I’ll find a loin roast.

Put meat in a large bowl and add marinade.  Work marinade through the meat to thoroughly coat every piece.

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Cut bacon in half.

Cut a hole or  X in the center of the bottom of a small plastic container. Like a 1 quart deli container, cottage cheese or ricotta container.  Make sure the container fits comfortably through the top air vent of your Egg.  I used two ricotta containers.

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Wipe excess marinade from  one or two slices of pork and put in the bottom of your container. Add two half slices of bacon. Continue alternating layers of pork, wiping to remove excess marinade, and bacon, packing meat tightly, until the container is full.

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Put lid on container and put container in a small glass baking dish. Refrigerate for at least one day.

Set up Big Green Egg for indirect cooking at 250° F, with plate setter legs up.  Put a drip pan on top of the plate setter.

Insert a long, sturdy skewer (at least 3 feet long) through the marinaded meat and through the bottom of the container.  Gently remove container from meat.

Carefully form meat into a firm, compact mass. Add reserved bottom of the pineapple to the skewer to hold meat in place.

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I’d checked the ricotta containers to make sure they fit through the air vent in the Egg. But I didn’t check the pineapple bottom. So I had to do a little surgery on it.

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Insert skewer through the top of the Egg. Rest point of skewer in drip pan.

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Using a piece of aluminium foil, block the top of the Egg. This will allow you to control the air flow and keep the temperature low.

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Roast the meat until it reaches an internal temperature of 190° F, approximately 3 hours.

If exterior of meat is not crispy enough, remove foil ball and open lower air vent. Allow Egg to reach 500° F and cook until desired texture is achieved. Approximately 10 to 15 minutes from after Egg reaches 500° F.

Remove pork from Egg and wrap in foil to keep warm.

Brush pineapple with rendered fat from drip pan.  Grill over high heat until hot through and surface is charred. Approximately 5 minutes per side.

While pork is roasting, heat corn tortillas in a cast iron skillet.  Heat skillet over high heat. Add tortillas, one at at time, cook for 10 to 15 seconds per side. Stack on a warm plate and wrap in a towel to keep hot.

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Slice pork as thinly as you can.

To serve, take two corn tortillas. Add pork and pineapple. Top with salsa, onions and cilantro. Squeeze juice from lime wedge over taco.

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As a bonus, my daughter took the left over tortillas and pineapple, added some ice cream and made dessert tacos.

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Too bad we didn’t have any caramel sauce for these.

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About fzinger

I read and I write. I read a lot and I write when I can.
This entry was posted in Food, Recipe and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Tacos al Pastor

  1. griffinsgrub says:

    Wow!! That looks and sounds amazing. I’ve never cooked anything on a vertical spit on my Egg before. Might have to give that a go. Thanks for sharing the recipe and your technique.

    • fzinger says:

      It was a good first try. There’s still some technique I’ve got to work on. Like slicing the pork thinner and how to load the spit. Look at my tandoori chicken struggles for more on cooking on a spit. I think I’m close to getting it down.

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