Al pastor, also known as tacos al pastor (literally meaning “tacos in the style of the shepherd”), is a dish developed in Central Mexico, likely as a result of the adoption of the shawarma spit-grilled meat brought by the Lebanese immigrants to Mexico. Being derived from shawarma, it is also similar to the Turkish döner kebab and the Greek gyros.
You know shawarmas, kebabs, and gyros, right? Where they pack a bunch of marinated lamb meat on a huge sharp rod and roast it all day, slicing off paper-thin slices as needed? Right. It’s wicked delicious.
Although shawarma and döner are usually lamb-based (thus the “shepherd style”), gyros in Greece and tacos al pastor in Mexico are made from pork.
The pork is marinated in a combination of dried chiles, spices, and pineapple. In some places, achiote is also added, and then slowly cooked with a gas flame on a vertical rotisserie called a trompo (“spinning top”), very similar to how shawarma is cooked, with a piece of fresh onion and a pineapple on top.
When ready, the meat is then thinly sliced off the spit with a large knife. It is served on small tortillas, with finely chopped onions, cilantro, and occasionally, a small slice of pineapple, and usually topped with some lemon or lime juice and hot salsa. This meat is a common ingredient in not just tacos, but also gringas, alambres, huaraches, tortas and pizza.
In some places of Northern Mexico, such as Nuevo León, Durango, and Chihuahua, these are usually called tacos de trompo if served on maize flour tortillas, and gringas if they are served with cheese on wheat flour tortillas.
A similar dish is called tacos árabes, which originated in Puebla in the 1930s from Arab Mexican cuisine. Tacos árabes use shawarma-style meat carved from a spit, but are served in a pita-style bread called pan árabe. These tacos have been brought by Mexican immigrants to the United States in the past few years and have become popular in cities, such as Chicago and Los Angeles, two of the largest Mexican/Mexican-American population centers in the USA.
A non-pork version was brought “back” to the Middle East in the early 2000s, and sold as “shawarma mexici”. It is essentially a chicken shawarma made in the Middle Eastern style (wrapped with garlic mayonnaise, dill pickle, and french fries in a thin flatbread), with the only difference being the marination of the chicken in the “al pastor” style.
We can say with certainty that we have never had a bad taco al pastor; only good and amazing. Clearly, if they are that pleasing, we all need to know how to replicate tacos al pastor at home. Seriously lacking a huge rotisserie and a fire-place big enough to roast 50 pounds of meat at a time, Hilah Johnson from hilahcooking.com adapted the recipe for regular people in regular kitchens.
Tacos al Pastor
- 1.5 – 3 pounds pork roast
- 3 guajillo chiles
- 1 ancho chile
- 1 cup pineapple juice
- 1 tablespoon apple cider or red wine vinegar
- 1 teaspoon each: cinnamon, oregano, black pepper, salt
- ½ cup chopped onion
- 5 cloves garlic
- ½ teaspoon achiote (annatto) powder
- Corn tortillas
- Fresh cilantro, diced onion
- Pineapple spears or chunks
- Rehydrate the peppers by soaking in very hot water for 20 minutes. Discard stems and seeds. Put the peppers in a blender with everything but the pork. Whizz it until it’s smooth.
- Pour over your pork roast and cook it one of three ways:
Grill: slice the meat thinly, marinate up to 4 hours and grill it with fresh pineapple spears over a hot fire.
Crock pot: put the whole roast and marinade in there and cook on low for 8 hours until it’s falling apart. Add some pineapple chunks in the last hour.
Bake: marinate whole roast up to 24 hours and roast at 350 degrees F, covered, until tender (2-4 hours depending on size). Shred it, add pineapple chunks and stick it under the broiler for a few minutes to crispy it up.
Remember that pineapple is a natural meat tenderizer. Fresh juice has much more of the active enzymes and can over-tenderize meat if left too long. A whole big roast will be fine marinating overnight, but small pieces of meat will disintegrate in that time. Four hours is enough. Using canned or jarred (pasteurized) juice, you needn’t worry about over- marinating.
English 英文 and bad Spanglish 美式西班牙语
Dear lordy, give me some with onion, cilantro, and pineapple, and I could eat this every day!