Photo: rez-art (iStock)

So many great Mexican recipes were passed down from the Aztecs, Mayans and various other native, ancient civilizations that inhabited the land. From molés to tamales, there’s never been a shortage of culinary beauties that were born and raised in Mexico. Then, entered al pastor.

It’s one of the most delicious and “authentic” recipes that you will find on a menu… that maybe isn’t as rooted in Mexico as one would be lead to believe. Rich with a list of chiles and spices, balanced off with a perfect acidity from added pineapple; al pastor is actually a culinary Voltron of two different cultures.

A wave of immigration in the late 19th and early 20th century brought a sizable number of Lebanese immigrants to Mexico. With them, they brought their cuisine and new cooking methods. Around the 1960s, Lebanese immigrants began opening restaurants that served food from their homeland. Among other delicious foods, spit-roasted shawarma had an inspirational effect on Mexican chefs and cooks. Soon, Mexicans were thinly slicing pork, stacking marinated meat in layers and spit-roasting them. At some point, an unknown national hero decided to add pineapple on the spit at the top of the stacks of pork. The details of how this part of the dish originated are sketchy at best, but does it matter? Pineapple with al pastor—caramelized sweetness and fatty pork—is what magic tastes like.

The Lebanese and Mexicans knew, as many cultures do, that there is beauty to spit-roasting meat. As the meat spins and slowly cooks, the fat drippings from the meat trickle down, helping baste the meat beneath it. Watching the crispy exterior of the cooked, deep-red meat is mesmerizing—especially if this is your 3 a.m. dinner at the local post-bar taco joint. The problem is that not many households have a spit readily available, so the challenge at hand was to create an al pastor taco recipe that one would forget or not even realize the meat being consumed wasn’t cooked on one.

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This is my solution.


No-Spit-Required Tacos Al Pastor

Photo: Jesse Valenciana

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  • 3 lbs. fatty pork shoulder, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 lb. dried guajillo chilis, stems and seeds removed
  • 2 chipotles in adobo sauce, with 2 tbsp. of the adobo sauce
  • 1 1/2 cups of beer (preferably a Mexican lager)
  • 3 cups mango, chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, roasted and minced
  • 4 Tbsp. cider vinegar
  • 1/2 onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 Tbsp. kosher salt, more to taste
  • 1 small pineapple, cored and diced into tiny pieces
  • Corn tortillas

To garnish:

  • Cilantro
  • Habanero salsa
  • Lime

Place guajillo chilis in a heatproof bowl and pour boiling water over the chiles. Let sit for 15 minutes to rehydrate.

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Then add rehydrated chiles in a blender with the chipotles, adobo sauce, mango, garlic, cider, vinegar and salt. Puree until smooth. Strain the sauce through a sieve and taste, adjusting with salt and vinegar.

Place the meat in a bowl with the pineapple pieces and onion (onions can also be added as a garnish and not cooked with the meat). Add to the meat the pureed sauce. Evenly cover meat, pineapple and onion, then transfer contents to a freezer bag, making sure all the air in the bag is pushed out. Refrigerate at least four hours, preferably overnight.

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When ready to cook, heat a cast iron pan over medium-high heat. Cook the marinated pork in batches in a little vegetable oil until dark golden brown on all sides and cooked through, about 15 minutes. Transfer to large serving plate. Serve pork and pineapple mixture in warm tortillas. Garnish tacos with cilantro, your favorite habanero salsa, and a squirt of lime.