I’m not going to lie, this is a labor of love. Love of al pastor, and love of pork (and let’s just get to this up front: I’m in no way saying this is the authentic Mexican way of making al pastor, but it’s a pretty darn good rendition). But back to my point. You’ll need to plan ahead, the marinade takes some time, but it makes a double batch that you can freeze so the next time you make it, it won’t take you so long. But I think it’s worth it.
I fell in love with al pastor tacos the first time I visited Sayulita, a little surfer beach town north of Puerto Vallarta on the Pacific coast of Mexico. There, a popular street stand called Tacos El Ivan draws locals, ex-pats, and tourists who line up for the succulent fire-roasted, marinated meat on a spit topped with fiery homemade salsa and fresh pineapple.
I can’t recreate that memorable moment on a dusty street in Mexico, balancing many tacos on a plastic plate with a cold but sweaty Tecate, but I can try to come close! Get started the night before, readying the meat, and the tacos will come together in a snap the day you make them. Serve these on small, warm corn tortillas or tuck the meat and pineapple mixture into iceberg lettuce cups for a carb-free “taco.”
Recipe: Grilled Pork Tacos, Al Pastor Style
Makes about 6 servings
Al Pastor Marinade
- 6 ancho chiles (2 1/2 to 3 ounces), wiped clean, seeds and stems discarded
- 1 1/4 cups chicken broth
- 1/2 cup water
- 1/4 cup white vinegar
- 2 tbsp vegetable oil
- 1 yellow onion, finely chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tbsp achiote paste
- 2 tsp ground cumin
- 2 tsp Mexican oregano
- 2 tsp kosher salt
- 1/3 cup orange juice
- 1 chipotle chile in adobo, plus 1 tbsp adobo sauce
- 1 tbsp brown sugar
- 2 lbs boneless pork butt roast
- 4 slices fresh pineapple, core removed, or 1 1/2 cups fresh pineapple chunks
- 1/2 small red onion, finely chopped
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
- 1 small jalapeno, seeded and minced (optional)
- Juice of 1 lime, plus more for serving
- Corn tortillas, warmed
- You’ll need to marinate the pork overnight, so plan ahead! To make the marinade: In a large skillet (with a lid) over medium heat, toast the chiles until fragrant and toasted, turning often, about 5 minutes. Add the broth, water, and vinegar, and bring to a boil over high heat. Turn off the heat, cover, and let side for 10 minutes to soften. Transfer the contents to a blender.
- Add the oil to the skillet and heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring, until softened and starting to brown, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic, achiote paste, cumin, oregano, and salt, stir to combine, then add the orange juice, chipotle chile, adobo sauce, and sugar. Stir until well combined, then scrape into the blender. Blend until the mixture is mostly smooth. If the mixture seems too thick add a little more broth or water until it has a sauce-like consistency. Pour half of the mixture into a large bowl and set aside to cool completely. (I make a double batch because this is such a pain to make, so freeze the other half in an airtight container for up to 3 months and pull it out next time you crave al pastor.)
- While the sauce is cooling, put the pork roast into the freezer for about 30 minutes; partially frozen meat is easier to cut but you don’t want it rock hard or it will become too difficult to slice. Cut the pork into thin, 1/2-inch thick steaks and add to the bowl of marinade. Cover and refrigerate overnight, or up to 24 hours.
- When ready to make the tacos, set up a gas or charcoal grill for indirect medium-high heat. Using a perforated grill pan, grill the pineapple over direct heat until charred, about 7 minutes. Chop the pineapple and toss with the red onion, cilantro, jalapeno if using, and lime juice and set aside.
- Reduce the heat on the grill to low. Remove the pork from the marinade, scraping off most of the marinade, and grill until it begins to char and caramelize, turning once, about 10 to 15 minutes. When the pork is nicely grill-marked on both sides, transfer it to a small baking sheet set over the unheated side of the grill and continue to cook slowly, about 5 to 10 minutes longer. Transfer to a cutting board, cover loosely with foil and let rest for 10 minutes. Chop the pork across the grain into thin slices.
- To assemble the tacos, heap some pork al pastor onto a tortilla, top with the pineapple mixture and serve, with more lime on the side.