Recipe: Tacos al pastor

Stroll through the streets of Mexico City and you’ll inevitably find yourself lured, nose-first, to the countless food carts and taquerias grilling freshly-pressed tortillas and roasting meats over glowing charcoal. While it’s not possible to recreate the sounds, sights and intoxicating smells of the experience entirely at home, a few extra steps will give your homemade tacos a boost of authenticity, perhaps even transporting you to a time when it was possible to travel beyond our own borders.

Marinated meat cooked slowly over charcoal, made-to-order tortillas, zesty salsa; they’re all hallmarks of the kind of food you’ll find throughout Mexico’s capital, all achievable at home with a few specialty ingredients and a little extra effort.

Sliced thinly from a gently spinning spit (a tradition brought to Mexico by Lebanese immigrants), al pastor is layers of pork shoulder (or other similarly fatty cuts) marinated in a mix of smoky rehydrated dried chillies, achiote paste, chipotle in adobo, and plenty of herbs and spices.

With a little pork fat and the assistance of a tortilla press, yellow masa flour is quickly transformed into home-made tortillas, but if time is limited, our range of flour and corn tortillas are delicious substitutes.

Wrap the whole thing up with a few shaved pieces of charred pork, a slice of grilled pineapple and a dollop of tomatillo salsa and you’ve got the perfect handheld meal.

Ingredients

Serves 8-10
FOR THE MARINADE
4 whole dried guajillo chillies View
2 whole dried ancho chillies View
2 whole dried chipotle chillies View
3/4 cup chicken stock
1/4 cup white sugar
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tbsp achiote paste View
2 tsp Mexican oregano View
1 tsp ground coriander View
1 tsp ground cumin View
1 large chipotle in adobo, plus 1 tbsp sauce from the tin View
2/3 cup white wine vinegar View
8 cloves garlic
Salt
FOR THE BBQ
1.5-2kg pork shoulder (bone removed)
1/2 cup apple juice decanted into a spray bottle
Whole pineapple cut into quarter lengths, then 1cm slices
FOR THE TOMATILLO SALSA
1 tin whole tomatillos View
1/2 white onion, finely diced
Leaves from 1 bunch coriander
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
1 tbsp sugar
Salt to taste
FOR THE TORTILLAS
2 cups yellow masa flour View
2 cups very warm water
2 tbsp rendered pork or bacon fat (optional)

Note: you’ll need to begin this recipe the day before eating.

To prepare the marinade, cut the ends off the dried chillies and squeeze to remove as many seeds as possible. Discard seeds and stems. Toast the dried chillies in a dry saucepan until blackened and blistering (but not burnt), then carefully add the stock (it will spit aggressively), bring to a boil, cover and remove from heat.

After ten minutes of rehydrating, transfer the chillies and their soaking liquid to a blender, along with the stock, sugar, oil, achiote paste, oregano, coriander, cumin, chipotle in adobo, adobo sauce, white wine vinegar, garlic and salt. Blend until very smooth and season to taste. Split the sauce into two halves. Half will be used as a marinade, the other half as a sauce to serve.

Slice the pork as thinly as possible (freezing for an hour or so before cutting can make this job easier). Remove any sinew, but retain as much fat as possible. Toss the slices through half the marinade until well-covered and refrigerate overnight.

Light a charcoal barbecue (or preheat oven to 160C). Thread the slices of meat very tightly onto metal skewers, interspersing a slice of pineapple between every few slices of meat. Barbecue the meat off the direct heat of the charcoal, or roast in the lower third of the oven, for 2-3 hours (or until tender), spraying each skewer with a mist of apple juice and turning every 30 minutes or so.

To make the salsa, drain the tomatillos and chop into small chunks, discarding any excess moisture. Combine with the chopped white onion and coriander leaves, as well as the vinegar and sugar. Season to taste.

To make the tortillas, mix the masa flour with the pork fat and most of the water. Stop and knead until it becomes a smooth dough, adding more flour or water as needed (it should be wet enough to form into balls and flatten with your hands without cracking, but not so wet that it sticks to your fingers). Roll into balls and use the tortilla press to flatten them into tortillas. Toast on a non-stick frying pan over medium heat, or on the flat plate of your bbq until the dough begins to brown.

Top warmed tortilla with a few pieces of grilled meat, a slice of pineapple and a spoonful of tomatillo salsa, with extra al pastor sauce on the side for those that want it.

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