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~ Tacos al Pastor: "Shepherd's-Style" Pork Tacos ~

PICT0009It's a beautiful Spring day here in Happy Valley, and, today, I'm paying tribute to the pineapple.

PICT0005Meet my husband's pineapple(s)!  

Yes folks, right here in Centre County Pennsylvania, my husband Joe managed to grow three pineapples.  It took a while, seven years, but this week, they are finally ripe and ready to pick.  We sliced and ate the first one immediately.  I liken the experience to picking a perfectly ripe tomato from the vine and savoring is juicy, fresh, sundrenched goodness, plus: it tastes even better if your grew it yourself.

PICT0033Yesterday, with the second pineapple, I made and posted my recipe for ~ Pineapple, Avocado, Tomato and Onion Salsa ~, which you can find in Categories 1, 4, 8, 10, 13 or 14.  

Today, I'm going to be using this salsa as a topping on an old and famous Mexican recipe: tacos al pastor, featuring our pineapple #3.


American Tacos vs. Traditional Mexican Tacos, and:

Tacos al Pastor.

ImagesWith the exception of a few of our Southwestern states, tacos in Mexico are nothing like the tacos found in the United States.  You'll not find them made with ground "mystery" meats or loaded up with toppings like iceberg lettuce, sour cream and a ketchup-like salsa that comes three ways:  mild, medium or hot.  They won't contain processed American "cheesefeed" or be served on "cardboardlike" taco shells either.

PFO2861In Mexican towns and cities, Mexico City for example, right around the time the sun sets, taquerias (taco shops) open their doors and taqueros (taco vendors) start serving thinly sliced or shredded marinated meats hot off of their large grill tables, or,  larger cuts of meat which they have been roasting or spit-roasting for most of the day.  Meat is the shining star of the "Mexican Taco Show".  It gets heaped into a freshly-made, warm, sometimes grilled, corn or flour tortilla.  Depending on what meat filling you choose, your tacos will be served topped with a savory or sweet salsa or sauce that complements the meat perfectly.

Tacos_al_pastorTacos al pastor is a unique and wonderful Mexican experience.  If you ever have the opportunity to be in a taqueria with a trompo (which means "spinning top" and is a vertical rotisserie,) do not, I repeat, do not, pass up the chance to try these.  Thin slices of spicy marinated pork are stacked on a vertical spit in front of an open flame.  The taquero shaves caramelized outer layers of meat onto corn tortillas along with thin slices of similarly grilled pineapple.  Onions, cilanto and fresh lime juice are the traditional toppings.  Taqueros, I might add, work swiftly and precisely.  This is the "Ultimate Taco Show".

SandwichTacos al pastor ("al pastor" means "shepherd's-style") is a spin-off off the Middle Eastern gyro (pronounced zheer-oh).  "Pastor" was the nickname given to Lebanese businessmen who immigrated into Mexico over a century ago.  Along with these Lebanese merchants, came Lebanese street vendors, who brought their method of cooking lamb on a vertical spit with them.  Over a few decades, one thing led to the next:  The Mexican people substituted pork for the lamb and their own Mexican spice blends and marinades replaced traditional Lebanese ones. Lastly, corn and flour tortillas replaced pita bread, and, tacos al pastor was born.

My "ah ha" Moment, and:  Tacos al Pastor a la Mel.

PICT0018In the case of a recipe like this, one that revolves around a specific cooking method and a specialized piece of equipment (a vertical rotisserie), realistically attempting to duplicate it in the home kitchen would be futile, if not impossible, and, the result would be somewhat disappointing.  When I am faced with developing a recipe such as this, first, I ask myself what I, personally, want from it, then, take it from there.  In the case of tacos al pastor, I wanted:  authentic flavor as well as moist, tender, juicy meat with a bit of caramelization on the outside.  Next, I ponder the cooking methods available to me (and you). Roasting and grilling were both obvious, viable options. Roasting (a long and slow method) and grilling (a short and fast method), both produced nice caramelization on the outside of the meat, but, in both cases, the meat was too dry to suit me.  Then, the Asian stir-fry method of cooking occurred to me!  Ah-Ha.

PICT0005The electric skillet.

This reasonably priced and often forgotten countertop appliance is capable of 400 degrees of controllable heat, plus, has a big enough surface area to quickly sear and cook the meat evenly!

PICT0017I seared my thinly-sliced pork tenderloin, along with its spicy marinade, in this hot skillet (to get a bit of crunchy texture on the outside), then, I lowered the heat to cook it briefly, about 6 minutes (to lock all the juices in the inside)... this was everything I could have hoped for.

PICT0029The Recipe.

~ Step 1.  Rinse, pat dry, and slice/shave, as thinly as possible, to a thickness of 1/4" or less:

2  pounds pork tenderloin

Place the meat in a 1-gallon size food storage bag as you work.  Set aside.

PICT0035~ Step 2.  Peel and slice/shave, as thinly as possible, 1/8" or less:

8  ounces yellow or sweet onion

PICT0002Place in the food storage bag with the pork as you work.  Now it's time to make the marinade:
















1  tablespoon guajillo (gwa-hee-oh) chile powder

2  teaspoons ground cumin

2  teaspoons Mexican oregano

1/2  teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2  teaspoon garlic powder

1/4  teaspoon ground cloves

1/2  teaspoon coarse ground black pepper

1  teaspoon coarse sea salt

2-3  chipotle chile peppers in adobo sauce, plus, 2-3  tablespoons adobo sauce (about 1/2 of an 11-ounce can)

1  6-ounce can pineapple juice

2  teaspoons white vineger

PICT0012~ Step 3.  Place all of the ingredients, as listed in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade.  With motor running, process until smooth, about 1 minute.





~  Step 4.  Transfer the marinade to the pork/onion mixture, seal the bag and toss to thoroughly coat.

PICT0009Refrigerate 2-4 hours or up to 8. Return to room temp, 1-2 hours, prior to cooking.

PICT0014 PICT0017~ Step 5. While pork is marinating, slice:

1 whole, fresh pineapple

In a grill pan or on the barbecue, grill, just until grill marks appear, turning only once, about 2 minutes per side.  Cool to room temperature, then, dice into bite-sized pieces.

PICT0008~ Step 6.  In an electric skillet, heat to 400 degrees:

1/4 cup corn oil

Add the meat mixture and all of its marinade.  Saute/stir-fry, for about 1 minute.  Lower the temperature to 350 degrees and continue to cook for 5-6 minutes, until just cooked through.  Do not overcook.

PICT0015Step 7.  Reduce heat to 325 degrees.  Add the diced, grilled pineapple.  Stir until pineapple is just heated through, 1-2 additional minutes.  Do not overcook.  

Each taco al pastor is traditionally served on two warm or lightly-grilled (pliable) corn tortillas, which soak up excess juice, and, are garnished simply, with some cilantro and lime juice, or, better yet, with my salsa (pictured above): 



PICT0014Tacos al Pastor:  "Shepherd's-Style" Pork Tacos:  Recipe yields filling for 12-16 tacos and 1 cup of marinade. Note: This marinade can be used to make other Mexican dishes as well. Try marinating steak or chicken strips in it the next time you're in the mood for fajitas.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 1-gallon food storage bag; food processor; electric skillet; grill pan or barbecue grill; spatula; tongs

PICT0010Cook's Note:  Chipotle chile peppers are smoked and dried jalapeno peppers, which is why you don't see me adding any fresh jalapenos to this dish.  Adobo sauce is a spicy tomato-vinegar based sauce made from garlic, herbs and spices, plus, ground chile peppers. Guajillo chile peppers are much milder than jalapenos and have a fruity, almost berry taste to them. Guajillo chile powder, as well as dried guajillo chile peppers are both available on the internet.  They are inexpensive and I recommend adding them to your spice rack or pantry.

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2012)


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