Jayme Watts: Tacos al pastor at home (recipe)

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Jayme Watts provides this recipe for tacos al pastor at home.
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One of my favorite street foods in Mexico is tacos al pastor. These succulent, marinated and slow-roasted tacos can be found in many cities across Mexico.

Look for a crowd of people around a street stall patiently waiting for their taco to be cut on the vertical spit called a trompo. The taqueros carve the meat with their huge curved cleaver, thinly slicing the charred pork from the trompo and adding a bit of pineapple that sits on top slowly roasting with the pork. While they’re slicing the pork, I always ask for a little extra pineapple. Sometimes they respond to this request, albeit usually reluctantly.

The tacos are on double corn tortillas, topped with chopped raw onion, cilantro, and your choice of several sauces. As you take your first bite, you realize why it’s crowded and wonder why you only ordered two of those delicious tacos that are the perfect pairing of crispy, lightly spiced and sweet pork.

The story of tacos al pastor begins in Puebla, Mexico, when Lebanese immigrants fled to Mexico from the Ottoman Empire in the early 1900s. As they settled and opened restaurants, they brought with them the vertical spit-roasted lamb shawarma which they developed in the 14th century. These became known as Arabic tacos. During the 1950s and 1960s, Mexico began borrowing the vertical spit with pork marinated in chili peppers and Mexican spices and created al pastor. No one seems to know where the roasted pineapple atop the trompo came from, it remains a culinary mystery. I have wanted a trompo for many years to make al pastor and shawarma but due to space constraints in the kitchen there is no way to make it work. Instead, I found a way to make al pastor with a slow roast oven method that recreates the self-basting spit cooking technique.

Tacos al Pastor
6 guajillo peppers
6 ancho peppers
1 ½ cups of chicken broth
¼ cup olive oil
2 tablespoons of cumin
2 tablespoons of oregano
4 ounces of achiote paste
1 cup pineapple juice
3 chipotle peppers in adobo
10-12 garlic cloves
½ cup lime juice
3 tablespoons salt or to taste

De-stem and deseed the dried chiles and grill them in a skillet or bake for 5-8 minutes in a 350 degree oven until lightly blistered and aromatic

Put in the blender when it is cold
Add 1 ½ cups of chicken broth

Heat skillet over medium-high heat. Add ¼ cup of olive oil, add 2 tablespoons of cumin and oregano, 4 ounces of Achiote paste. Sauté for 30 seconds until boiling, then add the mashed peppers and broth. Bring to a boil for a few minutes. Cool

Return to blender with 1 cup pineapple juice, 3 chipotle adobo peppers. Add more chipotle for a spicier pork

Blend until smooth. Put three-quarters of the marinade in a bowl, then marinate each slice of pork butt/shoulder and lay it in a loaf pan and push the meat firmly down the sides and corners.

I used a 13x7x4 deep 1/3 hotel pan for 6 pounds of meat. Any size loaf pan will work. Be sure to leave an inch of space at the top of the loaf pan. Wrap in foil and bake at 275 degrees for 4 hours, or until internal temperature reaches 190 degrees.

Remove from oven and uncover to allow cooking.

Once the bread has cooled below 135 degrees internal temperature, place it in the fridge overnight. Remove the pork from the skillet, retaining all the melted fat and gelatinous broth.

Add ¼ cup lime juice and remaining marinade. Set aside to reheat the al pastor.

Slice the bread al pastor ¼ inch thick and heat a skillet, preferably cast iron, over medium-high heat. Add a cup or two of pork. Don’t overload the meat.

Stir once or twice in the first few minutes. You really want the pork to crisp up a bit. Add several tablespoons of well-mixed broth and marinade, then reduce and remove from pan. Repeat with the remaining pork in several small batches.

Pineapple salsa
1 small pineapple peeled and quartered, roasted for 10-15 minutes at 350 degrees
Cool and dice approximately ¼ inch to 3/8 inch
Add a small yellow or white onion, a small batch of coarsely chopped cilantro
2 serrano peppers without seeds. You can use more or leave the seeds for more heat
and ¼ cup lime juice
sprinkle with salt

Jayme Watts is Managing Director of Sassafras Eclectic Food Joint.

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