Posts Tagged ‘Tacos’

I’ve spent the past week looking into al pastor recipes and noticed that there’s no typical recipe out there. Each has it’s own blend of ingredients and most are dumbed-down for the home cook by using pork chops or sliced pork loin marinated, cooked and chopped up rather than a large chunk of meat roasted. The pineapple juice, responsible for this dish’s unique flavor, is prone to burning due to its high sugar content so while I wanted to roast my dish, I worried it would become a charred, burnt mess. I figured I’d try a braise.

I coerced a few friends over to test the recipes that follow and everyone approved.

Al Pastor Recipe

The pork butt is a fatty cut of meat, but a 3-hour braise will render most of this fat and turn the meat a mouth-wateringly tender dish.

2 ½ lb. pork butt, fat not trimmed
3 T canola oil

2 arbol chilies* dried or fresh
4 guajilo chilies* dried or fresh
10 tepin chilies* dried or fresh
1 chipoltle chili* dried or fresh or tinned
1 bay leaf—only if re-hydrating dried chilies
Juice of 1 orange
1 c pineapple juice
1 yellow onion
5 cloves garlic
½ t ground cloves
1 t ground cumin
Salt and ground black pepper to taste

To Serve
Corn or flour tortillas
Tomatillo sauce (recipe follows)
Smoky Red Salsa (recipe follows)
Chopped onion
Diced pineapple

*This is a combination of chilies based on what I could find in my local stores and me trying to re-create the spiciness and complexity of the dish I’d tried at the taco truck. But if these aren’t available this link describes flavors and substitutes.

Season roast with salt and set aside.

If your chilies are dried, place in a saucepan with enough water to cover and a bay leaf. Bring to boil and turn off heat. Allow them to soak until soft, about 10 minutes. Discard the bay leaf and water.

For both fresh and dried chilies, removed the stems and seeds to taste, as the seeds are very hot. I kept the majority of the seeds when I cooked this dish; however, I had a very spicy meal. To temper the heat, discard the seeds of the chilies.

Place all marinade ingredients except for the pineapple and orange juice into a food processor. Process until well blended. Add additional water if the marinade is too dry and season with salt and pepper. Marinade pork overnight.

Pre-heat oven too 270 F.

In a large Dutch oven, or oven-safe pot with tightly fitting lid, heat 3 T of oil until hot. Scrape excess marinade off meat and sear until brown on all sides, about 10-20 minutes. Once browned, reduce heat to low and pour the marinade into the pot. Add pineapple and orange juice and enough water to almost cover the meat. Bring the liquid to a simmer, cover with lid and place in the oven. Braise for 3 hours, turning twice. Meat should be tender enough to shred with a fork and the liquid will be reduced by two-thirds.

Shred meat and serve on tortillas with smoky red salsa, tomatillo sauce, diced pineapple, chopped onion, cilantro and a squeeze of lime.

Tomatillo Sauce

Vegetable oil
8 tomatillos, husked and halved
2 Serrano chilies, stems and seeds removed and halved
4 cloves of garlic
1 bunch of cilantro
Squeeze of lime
Salt and pepper to taste

Place first 3 ingredients on a baking sheet, lightly brush with oil and roast at 450 F for 15-20 minutes until slightly charred.

Blend in a food processor with remaining ingredients.

Smoky Red Salsa
4 vine-ripe tomatoes, diced
1 medium red onion, one half diced, one half sliced
2 tinned chipotle chilies
1 bunch of cilantro
Vegetable oil

Brush the sliced red onion with oil and roast at 450 F for 15 minutes or until browned. Dice.
Mix roast onion with all remaining ingredients. Blend half the mixture in a food processor for a chunky salsa consistency.

For more salsa inspiration check out Clay’s Kitchen.

Strawberries are in season, so for dessert I served my friends vanilla-bean custard hidden under strawberries.

Vanilla Custard Recipe
2 cups of heavy cream
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
4 large egg yolks
5 T sugar

Heat cream and vanilla bean in a heavy saucepan till almost simmering. Scrape seeds of the vanilla bean into the cream and discard pod.

Whisk egg yolk and sugar in a bowl. Slowly whisk in a few tablespoons of the hot cream mixture to temper the yolks. Continue adding the cream slowly and whisking well so the egg doesn’t curdle. Once the cream is mixed into the egg yolk mixture, return to the saucepan. Heat over a low heat, stirring constantly till mixture thickens. The custard will thicken further as it cools.

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Three blocks from my office, a taco truck from the South San Francisco restaurant, Los Compadres, parks at the corner of Spear. And on sunny days, when work is quiet, I wander down with a magazine and enjoy the view—between buildings—of the bay while eating lunch. I’d only ever ordered the cheese quesadilla with extra tomatillo sauce and extra hot salsa—a mouth-numbingly smoky, spicy combination of flavor.

But, in my quest to discover street food typical to this northern-Californian city, on Tuesday I perused the menu and thought I’d branch out…5 types of meats on the menu so let’s give them a try…five taquitos for $1.50 each: al pastor, pollo asada, carne asada, carnitas, lengua.

Lengua—tongue—am I brave enough for this? Apparently tongue has the tenderness of organ meat without the over-powering flavor but, taste buds, on my lunch? I’m brave when it comes to trying food but I need moral support, so I’ll skip the tongue taco for now.

Each little taco was served on double corn tortillas, with tomatillo sauce, salsa, chopped onion, cilantro and a lime. The pollo asada was tender and richly flavored but not charred. The carne asada had an okay flavor, but the meat was minced and I didn’t like the texture. I turned the plate to the next taquito, carnitas. My first bite was dry and lacking in flavor, and I feared for my lunch, but my second bite redeemed it. The carnitas was crisply moist and tender, perfectly roasted with pockets of caramelized meat—it was a perfect complement to the spicy salsa. And then, I turned the plate to try al pastor, or bbq pork, a meat preparation I’d never tried before. The flavor was sweet, rich, and complexly spicy—I fell in love.

Al pastor is a Mexican method of bbq-ing on an up-right spit, introduced to the country by Lebanese immigrants. The pork is marinated in red chili adobo and topped with a pineapple so the sweet fruit juices drip onto the meat and caramelize as it roasts. I didn’t see a spit in the Los Compadres taco truck and, on other web sites, I’ve read that it’s uncommon to find al pastor spits in the US, but the flavor of my taco was still addictive. It’s a recipe that I think could be adapted to an easy braise. Hmmm, I guess that’s my plan for the weekend…

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