Tacos al Pastor for Cinco de Mayo

by editor on May 5, 2011

It’s Cinco de Mayo and as much as I’d love to be digging my toes into a warm sandy beach at Esencia, I’m feeling a little reminiscent about Mexico City – the smoggy, vibrant and surprisingly hip city where I never did get mugged, despite my best efforts (getting dropped off in a bad part of town, at the wrong address, late at night with my suitcase and shaky Spanish for company).

It’s not somewhere I might ever have gone of my own volition, but I got sent there for work a few years ago and I’ll forever be thankful for the experience. Sure it’s little sketchy and arrestingly smoggy at times, but Mexico’s Distrito Federal is an intoxicating mix of edgy hotels and nightlife, ancient and pop culture and some of the most fascinating museums in the world. It’s also surrounded by some daytrips of a lifetime – drive for less than an hour to Teotihuacán and you can see the immense Pyramid of the Sun and other barely A.D. ruins at the UNESCO World Heritage Site there. If you’re only in town for a layover, don’t miss Fonda el Refugio, which has a cult-like following and is considered by many to be the best Mexican restaurant in a city where the competition is understandably tough.

Cool, refreshing lemonade from a street vendor in Mexico City

In a city filled with diverse global cuisine and restaurants garnering international recognition (Izote, Pujol and Biko to name a few), Mexico City’s street food alone is worthy of a dedicated vacation. My favorite late night outdoor treat was Tacos al Pastor – filled with sweet and juicy marinated pork and tender roasted pineaple, carved from a shawarma/gyro/donner-like spit called a “trompo” in Mexico.

This recipe is an at-home version of Tacos al Pastor, with pineapple in the marinade (instead of atop a spit) to tenderize the pork. It’s wickedly good – full of big citrusy, spicy, savory flavors – and might set you up as competition for your favorite taco truck. It’s also surprisingly healthy and naturally low in fat if you skip the sour cream. Enjoy it with a cold Victoria, Negra Modelo or some Mandarin Key Lime flavor Oogave soda (which reminds me of Corona and lime without the alcohol).

Salud and Happy Cinco de Mayo!

Tacos al Pastor
Adapted from Steven Raichlen | Serves 8

1/4 white onion
1/2 cup fresh orange juice
2 tbsp white vinegar
2 tbsp guajillo or ancho chile powder
2 cloves garlic
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp dried cumin
1 small chipotle chile in adobo, plus 1 tsp adobo sauce
1 whole pineapple, peeled and cut into 1/2″ slices
2 small pork tenderloins (1- 1 1/2 lbs.), cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
1/4 red onion, finely minced
1-2 tbsps hot jalapeno slices, finely chopped

8″ corn tortillas
1 lime, cut into wedges
sour cream and salsa verde to serve (optional)

To make marinade:
Place first nine ingredients in food processor along with 2 slices of the pineapple, and blend until smooth. Pour into a large plastic bag or glass/non-reactive dish, add pork and marinate for at least 4 hours or up to a day.

To make tacos:
Mix together finely chopped red onion, cilantro and jalapenos. Set aside.

Heat grill or griddle over medium-high heat. Grill remaining pineapple slices until warm and grill marks are present. Set aside.

Grill pork slices (don’t shake off excess marinade) until charred and cooked through (about 2-4 minutes). Transfer pork to cutting board and allow to cool for a few minutes. Chop pork and pineapple together into small bite-sized pieces.

Spoon pork and pineapple mixture into warm tortillas and serve with red onion cilantro relish, lime wedges and sour cream or salsa verde.

Note: If you are going to marinate the pork overnight, I recommend pureeing the pineapple seperately and leaving it out of the main marinade. Mix the pineapple puree back into the pork mixture an hour or so before you are ready to cook the pork. Why? Too much time bathing in the pineapple’s tenderizing bromelain enzymes can make the pork a little soft in texture.

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Braised Spice-Rubbed Pork Belly with Star Anise Plum Sauce

Everything does not taste better with bacon. A little sprinkling of this magic marketing ingredient is no competition for a fatty, juicy, chewy slab of pork belly that has been rubbed in fragrant, crushed spices and braised or roasted low and slow, seducing creatures far and wide with its primitively savory aroma.

Inspired by Cochon 555 and the rather long-lived culinary love affair with the porky product that has already been declared over, I’ve been toying with this fatty cut, experimenting with rubs, brining, not brining and roasting vs braising. I’ve developed a soft spot for the Momofuku Pork Belly Buns, however one of my favorite preparations also happens to help with my plum quandry. This recipe is particularly fragrant with the spice rub carried over into a rich, tangy plum sauce whose sweet acidity cuts through the fattiness of the meat beautifully.

Kurobota (meaning “black pig” in Japanese, and also known as Berkshire) pork belly, from an heirloom breed of pig is probably the most sought after type of meat, however Duroc – a more svelte breed, tends to have a higher lean meat to fat ratio. Whatever type of pork belly you get your hands on, and whatever preparation method you use, the experiments are almost guaranteed to be delicious.

Serve this pork belly with a bitter or tart side to cut through the rich fattiness of the meat. I like this crisp, bright and spicy Asian Salad from The Independent or these garlicky Braised Dandelion Greens.

Braised Spice Rubbed Pork Belly

Braised Spice-Rubbed Pork Belly with Anise Plum Sauce
adapted from a recipe in Olive Magazine

For the Pork
3lbs pork belly – (2-3″ thick, off the bone and preferrably from the front belly)
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp fennel seeds
1 tbsp coriander seeds
2 whole star anise
1 tsp grated ginger
2 tsp oil

For the Plum Sauce
3 ripe plums
1 small cinnamon stick
2 tbsps rice wine vinegar
4 tbsps soft brown sugar
1 tbsps oil

Special Equipment
Roasting pan with rack or roasting pan with foil donuts.
Pestle and mortar to crush spices.

Preheat oven to 425F. Score criss-cross pattern in the pork skin with a sharp knife, and rub whole slab of pork with soy sauce and oil.

Gently crush fennel, coriander seeds and one of the star anise and set aside 1 tsp of this mixture for the plum sauce. You want to release the flavor of the spices but leave them coarse crunchy, not powdered.

Rub remaining spice mix all over pork, and then season all sides well with salt and pepper. Place on a rack and roast for 30 minutes. Reduce heat to 280F and add a cup of water to the pan. Continue to cook for 2-3 hours, adding more water along the way if most of it evaporates. Pork is ready when meat is fork tender and skin is browned but not blackened. I like mine a little drier with a little more fat rendered out, so I tend to cook it for longer.

To make the sauce, warm the oil in a medium pan over a medium-high heat. Add ginger and cook until lighly browned. Stir in chopped plums, remaining spice rub, second star anise, cinnamon stick, vinegar and sugar. Simmer for about 10-15 minutes or until sauce is thickened and shiny. Using a large fork, gently mash any remaining large chunks of plum.

Serve slices of warm pork belly with sauce on the side, and plenty of napkins!
Note: If you don’t have a roasting rack, you can create your own with some nifty foil donuts like this one I found on Google.


Lamb Ragu with a side of Jet Lag

October 12, 2009

Seventeen hours of flight time and over 24 straight hours of travel. The foggy, golden and gentle Umbrian mornings of the last ten days are but a fond memory as the assault of searing fluorescent lights and vicious cart-wielding zombie passengers at baggage claim bash me about the head with the reality of my very […]

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