Friday, May 6, 2016

Impromptu al pastor

Tacos al pastor are delicious. But unless you have a vertical roasting spit in your home, you probably have a hard time doing it justice. (If you have a vertical roasting spit in your home, I am jealous.)

Serious Eats is typically serious about faithfully reproducing the flavour and texture in this in-depth recipe development. But I wanted al pastor on a weeknight. And even with what I came up with we were eating late - but only because I did it all at once. This recipe can be broken down, so I did.

The results are not totally authentic, but pretty good, without so large a time commitment.

al pastor progression

The three stages to this recipe can be broken down to make it doable on a weeknight, as long as you have a bit of time in the morning. Recipe after the break.

Carne al pastor...ish.
Serves 4-6

About 5cm sliced off a cleaned pineapple
~2 lb boneless pork shoulder roast (there's enough marinade that you don't need to worry too much about the exact size)

Ancho chile pepper, stem removed
Maggi chicken bouillon cube
Hot water (about 2 cups)
3 chipotle chiles in adobo sauce
1 large clove garlic
2 tbsp white vinegar

1 tbsp peanut oil or another neutral oil
About 1.5cm of achiote paste, or maybe a tablespoon of powder
Heaping tablespoon of whole cumin
Heaping tablespoon of dried oregano

Marinate the pork

In a small, dry saucepan, toast the ancho pepper over medium-low heat until it's aromatic, about five minutes. Add the maggi cube and hot water, which will boil like crazy. When that calms down, stir for a few minutes, then pour into a heatproof measuring cup that will accommodate a hand blender or into the bowl of a regular blender. You should have about a cup and a half of liquid. A little more is OK, but if you have less, top it up with water. Add chipotles, garlic, and vinegar and allow to steep until pepper is soft.

Meanwhile, wipe out the saucepan, add the oil and heat over medium heat. Crumble the achiote paste into the oil and add the cumin and oregano. They should all sizzle merrily. Stir the spices for a few minutes until they are very aromatic and the oil is coloured by the achiote. Scrape into the chile mixture.

Once the ancho chile is nice and soft, blend the mixture.

Slice the pork shoulder thinly into rounds and place in a mixing bowl. Pour the marinade over the pork and mix it all together until every piece of pork is totally coated in the sauce. Cover and allow to marinate for at least an hour, but you could do overnight.

Slow-cook the pork

Make thin slices (half a cm or so) of the cleaned pineapple until you've taken about 5cm off the end. Break each ring into pieces.

In an oven or grill-proof dish (a cast iron fajita dish worked perfectly), layer the marinated pork with pineapple slices and put on a grill over low heat until it's bubbling, then move to indirect heat, aiming for about 225-250F, or put into a 250F oven for two hours or until connective tissue in the pork has broken down and everything smells amazing.

(I suspect that you could do this stage in a slow cooker - marinate the pork overnight then layer the pork with the pineapple in the morning - or you could marinate the pork in the slow cooker's dish, stir in some pineapple in the morning and set it to cook on low through the day. Why not?)

If you've been doing this on your grill, when you remove the meat turn it up to high heat while you finish prep. If you've been doing it in the oven, turn on the broiler when you take it out. No matter how you got to this stage, you need some heat to finish things off.

Finish the pork

Fish the pork and pineapple out of their sauce and thread them onto skewers, being sure to
periodically include some pineapple between the pork. The amount on each skewer isn't important, so you can use this stage to divide the meat and pineapple into servings if that makes your life easy.

On a hot grill or under a broiler, turn the meat often to caramelize the pineapple and get a little delicious charring (but not too much!)

And that's it! Which, believe me, seems a lot simpler to do than to type out (and probably to read).

Anyway, serve this up on corn tortillas with all your favourite fixins. Especially queso fresco, which is totally worth making, like a mad science experiment for when you're having tacos. (Or, you know, buy some. No stores near me carry it, though.) If you make queso fresco, you could substitute whey for the vinegar in the marinade.

We added queso fresco, avocado, cabbage, green onions, jalapeno, cilantro, refried black beans, and salsa verde.