We celebrated Cinco de Mayo last week. Normally that’s a day I will wait among the crowds to have a delicious Mexican meal and maybe a margarita or two. Unfortunately, that tradition is a bit of a challenge here in the Midwest.
While I have always lived a stone’s throw from any crazy good taco joint in Los Angeles, that’s not the case here. The one Mexican chain in town is not so fresh, and the one place with “taco” in its name has chicken fingers at the top of its menu. Toto, we’re not in California anymore.
What’s an LA Girl to do? Make my own, of course!
I love just about any kind of taco I can get, but my favorite is al pastor. That sweet and savory pork combination makes my tongue happy.
There are a variety of ways to make al pastor. However, there are three elements that are all the same: 1. A combination of medium and mild chiles, 2. Pineapple, and 3. Thinly sliced pork.
Since some ingredients are difficult to get here, I had to improvise a bit to create a version of al pastor that satisfied my craving. Here’s what I used:
- 2 pounds pork
- 5 guajillo chiles (fresh or dried), seeds and stems removed
- 2 serrano chiles
- 1 ½ cups water
- 4 garlic cloves
- ½ cup white vinegar
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1 tablespoon salt
- ½ cup of pineapple
- 1 white onion
- (Lime wedges, cilantro and salsa for garnish)
- Cut the pork in thin slices (about 1 centimeter thick).
- Place chiles in water and boil. Remove from heat and let it cool.
- Add the garlic, vinegar, sugar, salt, pineapple, ½ of the onion and process until smooth.
- Combine the pork and marinate and refrigerate overnight (or for a minimum of 4 hours).
- Cook the pork slowly in an oven at 225 degrees for 6-8 hours or barbecue.
- Serve with warmed tortillas, chopped onion and cilantro, lime wedges and 2 types of salsa (I prefer salsa verde and chipotle salsa).
First of all, the pork is supposed to be thinly sliced. I froze the pork, thinking I would be able to get super thin slices. What a mistake! By doing that I had a block of pork that was more like a rock than a nice hunk of meat. I tried my new super sharp chef’s knife, but only managed to create small hacks. I tried a serrated knife. That didn’t work very well either. Finally, I let the pork thaw slightly before trimming it down with an old-timey electric knife. This thing was given to my parents 48 years ago as a wedding gift, and yet it was the only knife that really worked on that meat rock.
While ultimately I was able to get some really nice, thin slices, I found the slightly thicker cuts (about 1 centimeter thick) were the best. The acid from the vinegar and pineapple broke down the smaller cuts into a revolting meat goo.
When it comes to cooking the meat, some recipes say to cook the pork slowly on low heat, while others recommend barbecuing. I think it’s all a matter of preference or what is available to you. If you barbecue the meat, the marinade will nicely caramelize and the pork will be slightly tough. If you slow cook the meat, it will turn out tender and juicy, but will lose that char.
I also made some pickled onion slices to go with the tacos. It was the right amount of tang that gave the tacos some balance:
- 1 small red onion, thinly sliced
- 1 cup red wine vinegar
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- 1 teaspoon whole peppercorns
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- Combine all ingredients in an air tight container and refrigerate for 4 hours or more (can be made days ahead).
I’m not going to lie – this is a lot of work! The result, however, was worth it! I got exactly what I wanted, and my taco craving has passed…for the moment…