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Homage to the Taco Chronicles, “The Series“ - Tacos al Pastor

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    Homage to the Taco Chronicles, “The Series“ - Tacos al Pastor

    Homage to the Taco Chronicles – The Series – Tacos al Pastor

    "A taco and a shawarma walk into a bar…."

    As a continuation of my series paying homage to the Netflix’s documentary called the Taco Chronicles, for my next offering let’s look at the history of and cook up some tacos al pastor.

    Mexico City’s metro area has an estimated population of well over 21 million people making it one of the largest cities in the world. Of all the cuisines, all the different street foods, of all the tacos served to such a mass of humanity, none is more popular than tacos al pastor. Like our McDonalds or Starbucks; from stands, to restaurants, to drive-ins, to garages by day, taco stands by night, you can literally find these tacos on every street corner. Of course each has its own twist and their own secret ingredients that makes their recipe the best and thus most popular.

    So not only are these pineapple and pork tacos the most popular street food, their origin is even more interesting and again highlights the diversity of that melting pot of flavors known to Mexican cuisine. Tacos al pastor were originally created in the 1930s in Puebla, Mexico, by Lebanese immigrants who introduced the region to the classic shawarma, or roasted lamb served on a flour tortilla or pita bread (pan arabe). This creation was originally known then as tacos arabes, and used meat cooked on a vertical, or upright, grill. Not only that, the spices introduced from middle eastern cooking, like cinnamon, began working their way into Mexican seasoning as well.

    Click image for larger version  Name:	pastor trompo.jpg Views:	0 Size:	439.5 KB ID:	1000501

    Although the technique of roasting on a vertical spit remained, the use of lamb was changed to the more available pork which evolved into tacos al pastor. Pastor, or the Spanish word for shepherd, is said to refer back to the shepherding of the lambs in the original recipe although no one seems to know for sure.

    In addition, the meat in tacos al arabes isn't marinated; it had a simpler salt seasoning served with flour tortillas. When the upright grill moved on from Puebla, the tacos al pastor as we know it today gradually came into being. Marinated pork replaced lamb on the spit, with cilantro and onions added to the mix.

    To begin, thin slices of pork are marinated for three or four hours in spices and chiles like guajillos, anchos, achiote and adobo; they're then stacked onto a long trompo, or spit. As the meat cooks, the outside layer gets crispy from exposure to the heat. The taquero, or taco maker, shaves off the outer layers straight onto tortillas, topping the meat with sliced onions, cilantro and salsa. The use of a vertical skewer is a key part of the cooking equation, allowing fat and juices to drip down onto the meat at all times, basting it as it crisps.

    The onions, cilantro and salsa of modern-day tacos al pastor are hallmarks of Mexican cuisine. What’s also been added is pineapple loaded onto the spit then shaved off and put on top of the cooked pork. It’s a curious combination and no one really seems to know where it came from. All we know is that it mysteriously works, and it works well.

    So let’s make some Tacos al Pastor…..

    Tacos al Pastor

    Course. Lunch or Dinner.
    Cuisine. Mexican
    Makes. 6 to 8 servings
    Takes. 90 minutes prep, 3-4 hours to marinade and 60-90 minutes to cook

    Ingredients – Meat & Adobo Marinade

    3-4 pounds pork shoulder cut very thin. Can be done at home cut from a boneless pork butt or have your butcher cut you very thin steaks from a bone in roast.

    5 – dried ancho chilies
    5 – dried guajillo chilies
    2 – chipotle chilies and half of the adobo sauce from a prepared 7 oz. can by either La Costena or Goya. Either can be found in your local grocery.
    1 – garlic head (6-8 cloves)
    1/2 rough chopped white onion
    2-3 whole cloves, ground
    1/2 - cinnamon stick, ground, preferably Mexican canela
    1 – teaspoon Mexican oregano (regular works as well)
    1/2 - stick achiote paste smashed

    1/2 – teaspoon cumin powder
    1/2 – teaspoon marjoram
    1-2 – dried bay leaves ground
    1/2 – teaspoon black pepper
    1 – teaspoon Kosher salt
    1/3 - cup cider or white vinegar
    2 – teaspoons sugar
    1/2 to 3/4 cup of orange or pineapple juice (or a combo of the two)

    Ingredients – For Tacos Presentation

    10-12 – small #10 corn tortillas OR classic flour
    2 cups – white onion chopped
    1 – bundle (about 1-1/2 cups) cilantro finely chopped
    1-2 cups – fresh pineapple chunks seared on a grill then chopped
    Pico de Gallo made with seared and chopped pineapple pieces
    Favorite salsa
    Lime wedges

    Directions – Adobo Marinade & Meat Prep

    1. Prepare your individually thinly sliced pork into the shapes you feel necessary for the method you choose for cooking. If on a skewer or a rotisserie spit, make sure they are small enough to stay in place while turning or rotating. If too large, the tendency is to have them fall apart. (More on this later)
    2. Begin the marinade by cutting off the stems and opening up your dried chilies with a kitchen shear. Remove all of the seeds and any membranes. Rinse thoroughly as they tend to be dirty.
    3. In a frying pan, quickly roast the chilies until they change color and become fragrant. Do them in batches to avoid burning. Also roast your onions and garlic.
    4. Bring enough water or chicken stock to soak all the chilies to quick boil and remove from the heat, allowing it to cool a bit. Submerge the chilies into the hot water, cover and allow to steep, about 30-40 minutes. They should become very soft and pliable.
    5. In a small pan toast your cloves and cinnamon until aromatic. Grind them into a powder.
    6. Add the reconstituted peppers, the canned adobo peppers and sauce and all of the aromatics to a blender. Add the vinegar and enough juice to allow the contents to thoroughly blend into a soft paste. Strain the resultant paste into a bowl to remove the coarser pieces of pepper skin, seeds or other unblended matter. Dispose of the pulp.
    7. In a large enough vessel, spread the meat out in an even layer and pour all of the adobo marinade onto the meat. Work the marinade into and around each piece coating thoroughly. Cover with foil and allow to marinate in your refrigerator at least 3-4 hours to allow the acids to break down the meat as well as adding flavor.

    Directions – Thoughts on Cooking Method

    This is where things get a little tricky. I know there’s been on lot of discussion about this recently and over time as well. How exactly do you recreate the Mexican trompo cooking style at home? Most of us don’t own $1200 vertical roasters so we have to try to recreate the method that ensures that the meat is somewhat self-basting, while at the same time ensures that good crispy, crunchy outside layer. And how do you otherwise shave the pieces and allow the meat to continue to cook and crisp up?

    I struggled with this for some time and was going to just do mine as individual skewers, a method I would recommend and will return to. However, it was suggested that the use of a Napoleon skewer accessory for my Weber rotisserie may be effective so I gave it a try. Unfortunately, the whole experience ended in somewhat of an epic fail.

    Click image for larger version  Name:	Pastor 01.jpg Views:	0 Size:	6.54 MB ID:	1000505

    Although I tied and skewered the heck out of the meat stacks, the rotating movement caused the slippery pieces of meat to fall apart. Things went pretty well for about the first half hour, but after that I had to stop the rotisserie and just let the meat roast. I did continue to spin the rotisserie occasionally though, to achieve a more uniform crispiness on the individual pieces. I roasted the pieces at 350*F until they reached an internal temperature of 140-145*F. It took about 75 minutes.

    Regardless of my mechanical failures, the meat turned out really tasty. I served on the classic flour tortillas (although the #10 corn tortillas are preferred in Mexico), along with a roasted pineapple pico de gallo and topped my tacos with cilantro, onion and some additional seared pineapple chunks. These tacos shine with the savory and sweet combination making them unique and most popular among all of Mexico’s tacos.

    Regardless of your cooking method, give these a try. The flavor of the adobo, the tender and somewhat fattiness of the pork and the sweetness of the pineapple are a combination that will truly make these a favorite of yours as well.

    Click image for larger version  Name:	Pastor 02.jpg Views:	0 Size:	6.64 MB ID:	1000504Click image for larger version  Name:	Pastor 03.jpg Views:	0 Size:	3.91 MB ID:	1000503Click image for larger version  Name:	Pastor 04.jpg Views:	0 Size:	1.69 MB ID:	1000502

    For those interested in following or have missed any of my Taco Chronicles series, here are links to previous offerings;

    Tacos de Guisado
    Tacos al Pescado
    Tacos de Chivo Birria

    Next up is we go to the northern Mexican states and into their cattle country to cook tacos that are near and dear to my heart, tacos made famous here in Houston by Ninfa Lorenzo called Tacos al Carbon. Stay tuned, until then Trout is out !!!

    "This is what defines Mexico….a Good Taco"
    Last edited by Troutman; March 10, 2021, 03:43 PM.

    Dang, I just thawed 5 lbs shrimp and now I want this instead.


    • RonB
      RonB commented
      Editing a comment
      You can have this as your second course - after you down the 5 lbs of shrimp.

    Fantastic write up!


      More inspiration. Thank you.


        Good stuff right here! Pastor is amazing and the pineapple takes it over the top. The acidity pairs so well with the bitterness of the adobo. And the rich pork brings it all together!

        I have not tried this method of cooking, as you mention the trouble. I do have the infrared burner like you, but don’t have a rotisserie. I have found that thin pork steaks work great for Tacos al Pastor.

        I also like the addition of the orange/pineapple juice in your adobo. I have not done that, I usually just go full on cider vinegar for the liquid. Have you prepared adobo both ways? And if so, which do you prefer?

        Love the new addition to Taco Chronicles! Thanks for taking the time to try out a new way to make this wonderful taco dish. I know it didn’t work as you planned, but I’m sure it ended up as a great dish!


        • Troutman
          Troutman commented
          Editing a comment
          Yea I’ve prepared it more traditionally (like in the Birria write-up) and this way. This way has a hint more middle eastern spiciness and begged for the off setting sweetness of the juice. It really depends on the typ of finish you’re looking for.

        Thank you for posting. I was looking forward to this recipe. It is very similar to mine. Good use of the rotisserie. With my recipe of Tacos Al Pastor, the meat is sliced very thin, marinated and then layered in a disposable aluminum bread pan with bacon. Then placed in an oven to cook. Once done, the grease from the Pastor is used to baste pineapple that is roasted. Once all done, it is chopped and heated on a flat grill and dispensed in corn tortillas. It comes out very good, like yours.

        Thanks again for posting your recipe and technique .


        • Troutman
          Troutman commented
          Editing a comment
          Interesting approach, that does sound good !!

        What a wonderful write up! I will be doing your version next. (I've been bouncing around between several different marinades for this.)

        I noticed that you didn't use achiote paste. It looks like the adobo sauce is taking the place of that? My wife really finds the flavor of achiote off-putting, so I've been trying to find a marinade that works without that.


        • Troutman
          Troutman commented
          Editing a comment
          Good catch, I simply forgot it. Yes I always add 1/2 stick of the achiote paste to my adobo. Thanks for the catch, I’ll amend the recipe !!

        • Michael_in_TX
          Michael_in_TX commented
          Editing a comment
          lol...awesome....I was like, how did he get that color without it?!

        • barelfly
          barelfly commented
          Editing a comment
          Michael - check out the adobo recipe I have listed in a few taco posts (birria and I think pastor) - no achiote paste. If you have trouble finding it, let me know and I can send it to you.

        Thanks for the write-up. I love tacos al pastor! I "solved" my lack of a trompo problem by doing the following:

        1) Mix up the sauce/marinade (my marinade is similar to yours, but I might steal some of your ideas) and slice pork butt thinly into small "steaks"--for a "gourmet" version, use tenderloin. Slice a pineapple into 8--10 spears. Ratio of pineapple to pork is your choice.
        2) Marinate the pork and pineapple over night, reserving some of the marinade for later.
        3) Next day, remove the pork and pineapple from the marinade and, on the flat side of some Grill Grates, sear them on a "medium" hot surface 'til crisped/browned nicely.
        4) Remove to a cutting board and chop into half-inch-ish pieces and (oh the horror!) dump 'em into a Crock Pot with the remaining marinade and simmer for an hour or two. Use enough marinade to keep things wet, but not soupy.
        5) Serve with fixin's like pickled onion, salsa, whatever.


          Like the others, I've really been looking forward to this one. I have another use cued up for a couple pounds of pork butt later this week, but will try to work this in fairly soon. This will call for trying to finally use the vertical spit set-up on my Kamado. It doesn't rotate, but should have fairly even heat all round. I'm hoping I'll be able to rig a grill underneath with a drip pan under the meat to catch some goodness (possibly for finishing pineapple bits in reserved marinade) and any falling bits of meat. Tortillas could be warming around the periphery of the grill surface.

          Click image for larger version

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          • PNWsmoke
            PNWsmoke commented
            Editing a comment
            nice looking Q

          • Michael_in_TX
            Michael_in_TX commented
            Editing a comment
            In some sense, that is a "Pit Barrel Cooker" attachment for your Kamado.

          • Jim White
            Jim White commented
            Editing a comment
            Michael_in_TX Yeah, that's what I've thought about it, too. Also, it's just begging for some skewers hanging down from that cross piece since it can move up and down the central hanger hook.

          Another great one!!




            • glitchy
              glitchy commented
              Editing a comment
              willxfmr There’s some cheaper ones too, but I usually try to support the original, plus the BBQ hack one comes with 3 different size skewers. I don’t know for sure they were first either, just the first ones I remember seeing with them.

            • klflowers
              klflowers commented
              Editing a comment
              Just when I swore to myself I wasn't buying another accessory...

            • glitchy
              glitchy commented
              Editing a comment
              klflowers I guess I beat Attjack to the opportunity to tempt people this time.

            Outstanding write-up! Thank you so much for sharing. The history is pretty fascinating. I make al pastor pretty regularly in my PBC and there are NEVER leftovers. With that said, I'm going to give your recipe a try next time. Thanks!


              I guess my final editorial comment has to do with the cooking method. It seems there are a lot of good ideas, accessories and hacks that begin to approach the real al Pastor experience. Ask yourself this though, can you really make a true gyro without a shawarma? Not really. So I again say that you can have a good experience making an al Pastor-like cook but unless you have a vertical, spinning spit up against a very hot heat source, it's just not al Pastor.

              Regardless, I enjoyed trying with the result being very tasty, but there's a taco place by me called El Rey that sells them for $3.50/taco. You get the real deal rather than take 5-6 hours to make the adobo, wait for it to marinate the meat, create some sort of quasi-trompo, roast the meat, grill the pineapple, make the pico, heat the tortillas only to get most of the way there. Sometimes it's better to just throw up your arms and surrender.

              I'll be looking to see how others do with your accessories. Again it's fun experimenting, but as Dirty Harry always said,


                Troutman--Agree 100%. From my point of view, why spend big bucks to buy a proper trompo to, generally, only feed two people? And what a PITA it'd be to load pounds of meat on it, or onto a hack, then stand around for how long shaving newly crisped meat off of it. I'm kinda agreeing with HouseHomey; I no longer search for the "best", nor necessarily for 100% authenticity. If I get to where the product I make suits me and my better half, then I'm good. I don't go chasing new recipes for something that I'm already happy with, nor do I spend big bucks to get the "finest" tool (well...almost never). None of that is to say that I don't try to refine my recipes sometimes, f'rinstance, my chili has evolved considerably over the years.

                BTW, you wouldn't catch me within 200 miles of a hurricane making landfall, mebbe even 300 miles.
                Last edited by Willy; March 8, 2021, 05:34 PM.


                  Looks great! I will be doing something similar soon, and had the Napoleon rotisserie thing in my Amazon wish list, but after hearing about your failure to spin, I’ll just cook on regular skewers, and crisp up over the SNS at the end.


                  • Willy
                    Willy commented
                    Editing a comment
                    No need for skewers. Seriously. Just "crisp" ‘ em on the grill.


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