Tacos al Pastor
By Alex Stupak
Short of investing in a vertical broiler, this hack is the closest you’ll get to al pastor tacos at home. We tend to think of pork shoulder as something that needs to be braised, but a well-butchered shoulder steak given a swift ride on a ripping hot grill can be a thing of beauty—the wide surface area means more of that good Maillard char you want from al pastor. Take your time when slicing the finished meat: thin, bias-cut slivers are the ideal texture here.
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Alex Stupak’s Tacos al Pastor with Salsa Roja
- 1 cup Adobo (see below)
- Salsa Roja (see below), for serving
For the Filling
- Vegetable oil, for the grill
- Four 1/2-inch-thick boneless pork shoulder steaks (2 pounds total)
- Kosher salt, as needed
To Assemble the Tacos
- 1/4 ripe pineapple, peeled, cored, and cut into 24 even slices
- 1/2 medium white onion, minced
- 60 cilantro leaves (from about 15 sprigs), roughly chopped
- 2 limes, each cut into 6 wedges
- 1 recipe Corn Tortillas
For the Adobo
- 8 ancho chiles
- 8 guajillo chiles
- 1 chipotle morita chile
- 3 whole cloves
- 1/4 teaspoon cumin seeds
- One 2-inch stick of canela (Mexican cinnamon)
- 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
- 1 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano
- 20 garlic cloves, skins on
- 1 cup cider vinegar
- 2 plum tomatoes
- 10 guajillo chiles
- 1 chipotle morita chile
- 1/2 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano
- 1/8 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 5 garlic cloves, skins on
- 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 tablespoon cider vinegar
Make the Filling
Preheat a grill to the hottest possible setting and brush with vegetable oil. Slather about 1 cup of the Adobo all over the pork steaks and season liberally with salt.
Place the pork steaks on the hot grill and cook for 3 minutes. Rotate 45 degrees and cook for another 3 minutes. Flip and continue to cook for 3 minutes. The finished steaks should have visible charred grill marks. Remove from the grill, transfer to a plate, and set aside to rest in a warm place.
Make one batch of tortillas and hold them warm.
Cut the pork steaks against the grain and on the bias—you want the slices to be as thin as possible, almost shaved, to achieve the right tenderness and texture for al pastor.
Assemble the Tacos
Lay out the warm tortillas on serving plates. Evenly distribute the grilled pork and the pineapple slices among the tortillas. Top with some of the Salsa Roja, along with the minced onion and chopped cilantro. Squeeze a couple of the lime wedges over the tacos and serve the rest on the side.
Masa may be the bedrock of Mexican cuisine, but adobo is what makes it sing. The dried chile paste is a component in countless dishes, slathered on robust meats like the pork for Al Pastor Tacos and the lamb for the Lamb Barbacoa Tacos. The dried chile and aromatic spice flavors in this paste are versatile, so adobo is a useful thing to have around to add instant depth—try thinning it with oil and using it to dress a hearty vegetable, like asparagus. Adobo will last 1 week in the refrigerator, and 1 month in an airtight container in the freezer.
MAKES ABOUT 2 1/3 CUPS
Remove the stems from the chiles and tear the chiles open. Shake out and discard the seeds. Tear the chiles into small pieces.
Set a 12-inch cast-iron skillet over medium heat for 5 minutes. Add the cloves, cumin seeds, canela, black peppercorns, and oregano; toast, shaking the pan, until fragrant, about 15 seconds. Remove the spices from the heat, transfer to a spice grinder, and grind to a fine powder.
Reheat the skillet over medium heat. Toast the ancho, guajillo, and chipotle morita chiles, turning from time to time until you see the first wisp of smoke, about 30 seconds. Transfer the chiles to a bowl, cover with hot tap water, and place a heavy plate over the chiles to keep them submerged. Set aside to soak for 30 minutes.
Add the garlic cloves to the skillet and roast, turning them from time to time, until softened slightly and blackened in spots, about 6 minutes. Turn off the heat, remove the garlic from the skillet, and set aside to cool at room temperature. Once the cloves are cool enough to handle, peel them and discard the skins.
Drain the chiles and place in a blender along with the ground spices, roasted garlic, and vinegar, and puree to a paste. You may need to add a bit of water to the blender to help the chiles pass easily through the blades. Transfer to a container and refrigerate until ready to use.
For my salsa roja, I looked to guajillo chile, one of the workhorses of the Mexican pantry. Cheap and ubiquitous, these dried peppers impart the mild heat, distinctive berry-like aroma, and deep, rusty hue that define a good roja.
MAKES ABOUT 2 CUPS
Preheat the broiler. Roast the tomatoes on a baking sheet under the broiler until blackened in spots, about 7 minutes. Turn them over and continue to blacken, about another 7 minutes. Remove from the broiler and set aside to cool at room temperature. Once they are cool enough to handle, peel the tomatoes and discard the skins.
Remove the stems from the guajillo and chipotle chiles and tear them open. Shake out and discard the seeds. Remove and discard the veins.
Set a 12-inch cast-iron skillet over medium heat for 5 minutes. Add the oregano and cumin seeds and toast briefly, shaking the pan, until fragrant, about 15 seconds. Remove from the heat, transfer to a spice grinder, and grind to a fine powder.
Reheat the skillet over medium heat. Toast the guajillo and chipotle chiles, turning them from time to time until you see the first wisp of smoke, about 45 seconds.
Remove pan from heat, and transfer the chiles to a bowl. Cover them with hot tap water and place a heavy plate over the chiles to keep them submerged. Set aside to soak for 30 minutes.
Add the garlic cloves to the skillet and roast, turning them from time to time until softened slightly and blackened in spots, about 6 minutes. Turn off the heat, remove the garlic from the skillet, and set aside to cool at room temperature. Once they are cool enough to handle, peel the garlic cloves and discard the skins.
Drain the soaked chiles and discard the liquid. Place them in a blender along with the ground spices and roasted garlic, the salt, sugar, cider vinegar, and ¼ cup water. Puree on high speed until completely smooth, working in batches if necessary. Set up a medium-mesh sieve over a bowl and pass the puree through the strainer. Transfer to a container or refrigerate until ready to use. The salsa will keep for up to 3 days.