Monday, May 7, 2012

Cinco De Mayo - Tacos Al Pastor Made Easy

Sure, we're a bit late, but we couldn't let Cinco De Mayo go by without making some tacos. For today's menu, I chose Tacos Al Pastor - by far my most favorite type of taco. When we go out for Mexican and they're absent from the menu, my heart sinks.  Seriously. I don't know if it's the pineapple/pork combo that does it for me, the smoky, spicy marinade, or the crunchy onion topping and fresh cilantro. Who knows? And why wonder? Let's just eat.

Tacos Al Pastor - King of the Tacos, Photo: NK 

Today's Tacos were adapted to be a bit more weekday friendly. With 15 minutes of prep and marinating a day in advance (please read notes about Marinating Time in red below), they shouldn't take you more than a half hour the day of. Many Tacos Al Pastor recipes call for a whole loin of pork, but since these tend to come in 2-3 pound roasts, it would be overkill for just the two of us. To solve this conundrum, I adapted Bon Appetit's recipe by using pork loin chops. This change makes the recipe cheaper and allows for easier handling and portion adjustment. If you're serving a big crowd (more than 4), definitely go for a whole loin. 

Here's how to do it:

Tacos Al Pastor Made Easy
Adapted from Bon Appetit - Stephen Raichlen
Serves 3-4

Taco and Marinade Ingredients:
1 large White Onion, cut in half
1 large Pineapple, peeled fully and cut crosswise into 1/2 inch thick rounds 
Cutting the Pineapple, Photo: NK
1/2 cup Orange Juice
1/4 cup White Vinegar
1/4 cup Chile Powder
3 Garlic Cloves, halved
2 teaspoons Kosher Salt
1 teaspoon dried Cumin
1 teaspoon dried Oregano
2 Small Chipotle chiles + 2 tsp Adobo from the can* 
(*purchase Chipotle Chiles in Adobo)

4 - 1 Inch Boneless Pork Loin Chops - about 1 Lb
1/3 cup Chopped Cilantro
Small Corn Tortillas - 3 to 4 per person
Smoky Chipotle Salsa - recipe follows*
Lime Wedges, for serving

*Smoky Chipotle Salsa Ingredients
1/4 Beefsteak or 2 Plum Tomatoes chopped

2 teaspoons Adobo Sauce from the Canned Chipotle Chiles in Adobo, plus one small Chile

1 Tablespoon Lime Juice
1 Clove Garlic
1/2 teaspoon Chile Powder
Salt to taste


The Day Before
Make your marinade - 
Coarsely chop 1/2 the Onion
Marinating the Pork Loin Chops, Photo: NK
Coarsely chop 2 Pineapple Rounds, discarding pineapple cores
Place Onion and Pineapple in the blender.
Add Orange Juice, Vinegar, Chile Powder, 3 Garlic Cloves, Kosher Salt, Oregano, Cumin, Chipotle Chiles and 2 teaspoons of Adobo. 
Puree the Marinade until smooth. 

~ About 1-5 hours before you want to cook your meat, pour Marinade over Pork and seal in airtight containers to refrigerate. NOTE: While overnight marinating in citrus/acid is not usually recommended for Meat (as it breaks down the texture), it works just fine, in my opinion, for this dish because Al Pastor Pork is chopped up small and having it be tender is not a bad thing. Grilling the pork on very high heat gives it some of its texture back. 

Still, Marinating between 1-5 hours is really the optimal amount, but for a ready to make meal on a weeknight, I don't mind letting this sit overnight. It's entirely up to you and your schedule, though there's no doubt that the texture of the meat it certainly is improved by keeping the marinating time under 5 hours.

Make your Smoky Chipotle Salsa - 
Blend all the Smoky Chipotle Salsa ingredients until incorporated and smooth. 
Seal in an airtight container. The Salsa can be refrigerated several days.

The Day Of
Marinate meat if you have not already. 

Prepare a barbecue or Grill Pan (medium high heat). Grill the remaining Pineapple until warm and grill marks appear, about 4 minutes per side. Remove from grill to a cutting surface. Remove Pineapple cores and chop into one inch cubes.

Grilling the Pineapple, Photo: NK

Place Pork on the grill with some marinade still clinging to it. Cook on high flame about 3-4 minutes per side until cooked through. Remove from grill and let rest a minute or two. 

Finely chop the remaining Onion half. Combine Onion in a bowl with the Chopped Cilantro.

Cube the Pork into bite-sized pieces. Place Pork in another bowl with Pineapple chunks.
Toss to incorporate.

Marinated Pork and Grilled Pineapple Goodness, Photo: NK

Grill Tortillas for one minute on each side to warm. 

To Serve
Top Tortillas with Pork and Pineapple Mixture.
Add the Cilantro and Onion Mixture on top.
Drizzle Smoky Chipotle Salsa on top of it all and garnish each plate with lime wedges. 


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