I didn’t learn about the sublime attractions of tacos al pastor until the ripe old age of 42. It’s a shame I missed out all those years, but I am much better now for having experienced this sublime Mexican dish.
To be honest I could have learned about this dish 2 years earlier, having planned a trip to Cozumel, but the fates intervened and sent a hurricane that pretty much wiped out the island, sending me instead to Thailand (a long time favorite of mine). Since I met my wife on that trip the delay in meeting up with tacos al pastor actually turned out to be a blessing.
When we finally did make it to Mexico in 2009 the anticipation for this dish was at a raging high. I had read about it, looked at the food porn, and couldn’t wait for my introduction. It was definitely worth waiting for. Marinated pork is cooked on a vertical rotisserie along with fresh pineapple and thin melt in your mouth slices are carved to order, served on freshly grilled corn tacos with the fresh crunch of onions and cilantro. It is that simple, and like so many simple dishes is an amazing medley of flavors on your palate. In fact, we spent so much time at the top Playa del Carmen tacqueria that they took our picture an immortalized it on Facebook. I have to agree with the words they added, but you’ll have to click the link to see it yourself.
Needless to say this recipe is nearly impossible to recreate at home, especially when you live on the other side of the world. Even so, I was not to be denied. I would be happy to fly down to Playa del Carmen twice a year to experience these little slices of heaven if I lived in the U.S., but from Thailand it is a bit too much of a financial burden, even for tacos al pastor. So, I created a recipe that isn’t a substitute really, but does put the cravings on the back burner for a little while.
So, until such time as I can get back to Playa del Carmen here’s a make at home recipe for tacos al pastor that’s sure to please.
- 2 whole ancho chilies, seeds and stems removed
- 2 whole pasilla or guajillo chilies, seeds and stems removed
- ½ cup homemade or store-bought low-sodium chicken stock
- 2 teaspoons vegetable or olive oil
- 1 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano
- 1 teaspoon dried ground cumin
- ½ tsp cinnamon
- ¼ cup raisins
- 1 tablespoon achiote powder or paste (can use 1 tsp paprika)
- 1 chipotle chili packed in adobo sauce, plus 2 teaspoons sauce from can
- ¼ cup distilled white vinegar
- 3 whole cloves garlic
- 2½ teaspoons kosher salt
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- 2 pounds boneless blade-end loin or sirloin pork roast or collar
- 1 large pineapple
- Tortilla shells (preferably corn, but wheat will work as well)
- Chopped onion (for garnish)
- Chopped cilantro (for garnish)
- Queso fresco (for garnish)
- Heat the chicken stock and add the ancho chiles, pasilla chiles and raisins. Soak for 10-15 minutes.
- Pour chicken stock mixture into blender and add the rest of the ingredients (except the pork & pineapple). Blend until combined and smooth.
- Pour marinade over pork in bowl or ziplock bag and marinate unrefrigerated for 2 hours or refrigerated for 4-6 hours.
- Clean pineapple and slice into 1" thick slices. Remove core and grill pineapple.
- Grill pork.
- Heat tortilla shells in lightly oiled pan.
- Slice pork thinly and slice pineapple into small dice.
- Place about 2 ounces of sliced pork with ½ ounce pineapple on two offset tortillas.
- Top with chopped onions, chopped cilantro and queso fresco.
- If you want you can also add pico de gallo, sour cream, and guacamole.
As you can see, the recipe is kind of free form, but the original includes just the pork and pineapple with chopped onions, chopped cilantro and queso fresco. If you don’t have queso fresco available any fresh cheese will do and I will post a recipe for making your own cheese at home in the future (it’s pretty damn easy). Try these at home, but be warned that once you do you’ll need to make a pilgrimage to Mexico for the real thing.