Tacos al pastor, a Mexican street-food staple, are a perfect synthesis of local flavors (pineapple, chiles, annatto), Spanish influence (pork, adobo) and Middle Eastern technique (a shawarma-style vertical rotisserie). The synthesis comes from Mexico’s history, but perfection comes from the combination of sweet pineapple, spicy meat and fragrant corn. This recipe provides an easy way to make it at home; try boneless chicken thighs if you don’t want pork. Blot the meat until very dry before cooking it so you get a hard sear that mimics the char of a grill.
Tacos al pastor
Recipe from Gabriela Cámara Adapted by Julia Moskin
Ingredients for the adobo (marinade):
• 2 dried cascabel chiles
• 1 dried ancho or guajillo chile
• 2 plum tomatoes, halved and cored
• 1/4 small white onion
• 1/4 cup vegetable oil
• 1 tablespoon orange juice, freshly squeezed
• 2 teaspoons lime juice, freshly squeezed
• 1-2 chiles de árbol (depending on how much heat you like), stems removed
• 3 garlic cloves
• 1 whole clove or 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
• 1/2 teaspoon ground achiote (annatto) seeds
• Pinch of ground cumin
• Pinch of dried oregano
• 1 tablespoon kosher salt
Ingredients for the tacos:
• 2 pounds pork tenderloin, thinly sliced crosswise then cut into bite-size slices and shreds
• Kosher salt
• 1 cup small chunks fresh pineapple
• 2 teaspoons sugar
• 12 corn tortillas
• 2 tablespoons vegetable oil, plus more as needed
• Minced white onion and chopped fresh cilantro, in separate bowls, for topping
• Hot sauce and lime wedges, for topping
Make the marinade: Break off the stem ends of the cascabel and ancho (or guajillo) chiles and shake out and discard the seeds. Place chiles in a saucepan and pour over cold water to just cover. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, then turn off the heat and let the chiles soak for about 15 minutes.
In a blender, combine tomatoes, onion, oil, citrus juices, stemmed chile de árbol, garlic, clove, achiote seeds, cumin, oregano and salt. Add the soaked chiles and a few tablespoons of the soaking water and purée until smooth. Add more of the soaking water if needed to make a thin paste. Set aside about 1/2 cup of the marinade for cooking.
Sprinkle the meat with salt. Place in a container, add remaining marinade, and mix until well coated. Cover and refrigerate at least 1 hour or overnight. Bring to room temperature before cooking.
Combine the pineapple and sugar in a nonstick skillet over medium heat. Stir often until the sugar is melted and the pineapple is caramelized, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a serving bowl.
Heat the oven to 225 degrees. Prepare a tortilla basket or slightly damp clean dish towel. In a skillet, warm the tortillas on both sides until hot, stacking them in the basket or wrapped in the towel. Transfer to the oven until ready to serve.
Place a large skillet over high heat. Drain off all excess liquid from the meat and blot between layers of paper towels. Add the oil to the hot skillet, swirl to heat through, then add 2 tablespoons marinade. Let sizzle, then add the meat, spreading it out in a single layer. Let meat cook over high heat until browned on the bottom, then sauté over high heat, stirring often, until cooked through but still moist, about 5 minutes. After 3 minutes, taste and stir in more reserved marinade as needed. When cooked, transfer to a serving bowl.
Place everything on the table, including the toppings, and serve at once.
Total time: 45 minutes, plus marinating; serves 3-4.