I lived in Mexico for two years when I was serving my LDS Mission. There I discovered my favorite food of all time: tacos al pastor. Also known as “Shepherds Tacos.” They were awesome. I’ve found similar tacos here in Ogden at the Sonora Grill. However, there is one problem: the food health codes in the USA prohibit the tradition methods of cooking tacos al pastor. Here is a traditional method of cooking:
The key is cooking it on the rotisserie spit. It allows for a crispy outside and juicy inside. But as listed on Grub Street Chicago, there is a serious downside to this method:
If the restaurant isn’t busy, your stomach will be in a tizzy: that spit meat can go bad pretty quickly, and if there’s not a lot of turnover at the taqueria, you may turn over (this has happened to us before and it’s not pretty).
It takes at least 24 hours to prepare and marinate the meat, some people taking 48 or even 72 hours to prepare the meat. That means many people will prepare a very large amount of meat at a time to help save on the work. When the meat is cooking on the spit, the outside cooks much faster than the inside. So you start cutting and serving from the outside, letting the inside cook more. But if the restaurant is running slow, the inside can go bad before it is cooked.
The Food Safety guidelines state that you can’t start serving the meat until the entire piece of meat is finished cooking. So when Sonora Grill tried to do Tacos al Pastor, they would have to cook the entire piece of meat on the spit, and either keep it up at temperature, or cool it down and re-heat it later. This would cause the meat to dry out, and just wasn’t very good. So they changed their recipe and method of cooking. So they still taste great, but it isn’t the same.
Now, I won’t be preparing meat for hundreds of people, just for myself and friends. So I can plan, prepare, and cook the meat in a safe manner using the spit. So I thought “alright, I can do this myself, and have my favorite tacos.”
So I started researching some recipes. I found several recipes, and I’ve posted them at the end of this post (incase they go down, since the interent isn’t forever).
The second problem I face is finding a vertical rotisserie. After googling around I found out it is called a vertical broiler, and are also used in making traditional gyros. But the decent ones run about $1,000 bucks. I’m not ready to drop that kind of money on a spur of the moment feeling. So, here is my plan:
First, try to get the marinade down. I’ve been told this is the hardest part of making these tacos. Then, I can cook the meat in the oven and finish it on a pan. So the crispy/juicy factor won’t be quite right, but it will be pretty decent.
Second, there are some smaller smaller vertical rotisserie cookers for about $60-70 bucks. I figure I can try out one of these and see if it can work for making smaller batches.
Then, finally, if I can regularly make good tacos al pastor that are just lacking the spit, and if I am still committed, I’ll buy a vertical broiler. Then during the warm summer months I’ll be cooking my favorite tacos regularly!
Wish me luck!
So, how can you create this dish at home, without building your own vertical rotisserie, stacking raw marinated pork into a big pile, or hiring your own swarthy, mustachioed taquero to make your tacos? You can’t. But, you can come awfully close. Here’s how to prepare tacos al pastor at home.
Tacos al Pastor
2 pound boneless pork loin
2 Guajillo chiles
1 Ancho chile
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon crushed whole black pepper
1 teaspoon ground sea salt
2 finely chopped white onions
6 cloves of garlic, crushed
2 teaspoons of achiote paste
1 cup of pineapple juice
1 white onion, diced
1 handful fresh cilantro, chopped
Slice pork as thinly as possible, diagonally against the grain, and set aside. Rehydrate dried chilies by covering in hot water. Let soak until soft, drain water, and remove tops, seeds, and membranes from each chili. Combine with cinnamon, oregano, black pepper, sea salt, garlic, achiote paste, and pineapple juice in food processor, and pulse until thoroughly combined. Transfer pork to gallon freezer bag, and pour marinade on top. Mix to make sure all pieces are coated, and marinate, refrigerated, for 24 hours. Preheat oven to 350 degrees, and remove meat from bag. Arrange into “roll” or “loaf” shape on a baking sheet, cover with additional marinade, and cook for about an hour. The pork will still be pink, but don’t worry; finish it until cooked to your liking in a pan on the stovetop. Place a few slices of pork on a corn tortilla, and top with diced onions, cilantro, and a healthy squeeze of lime.
Tacos al Pastor is perhaps the best taco you could ever try. The problem is that good tacos are hard to find the United States since the recipe is such a secret.
In Mexico city there are taquerias dedicated mostly or even exclusively to tacos al Pastor. Tacos al Pastor are made from pork meat that has been marinated in a secret recipe and then cooked in a rotisserie with pineapple on top. The tacos should be very small (almost like 2 bites size) and garnished with cilantro (coriander), chopped onion and the pineapple. Add your favorite hot sauce.
This space was empty for a long time and I apologize for it. The recipe I started with was not bad, but it was not as good as I wanted it to be. I sent this recipe to Mexico City to be reviewed but nobody would talk much about it. Then in my last visit I wanted to have someone review it but I encountered the same problem.
The fact is that everyone seems to have a different list of ingredients for the marinade and nobody wants to share it. It is after all their business to keep their recipe different and better from others as well as secret. Restaurants are sold and bought just for the value of their recipe. You get the idea? Restaurant owners have emailed me an said that there is no way the would disclose their recipe. It is a big business.
Further down in the page you will find a recipe for you to try, but note that is not the real thing. The good news is that we can now sell you the real stuff in bottles, read below.
Below is the recipe I started with, if you experiment with it and improve on it, please tell me about it. Other ingredients mentioned to me by people are:
Achiote and red vinegar. Achiote can provide some color (red)
Orange juice. Adds to the flavor.
Coca-cola (Coke). Another recipe we make is Carne con Coca, which is pork meat cooked in Coke. Someday I’ll write it for you. It makes things taste very good and ads some sweetnes.
This recipe serves 4.
10 chiles Pasilla
10 chiles Guajillo
1/2 garlic bulb
1/4 litter White Vinegar
1/4 tsp. Cumin
pineapple (fresh or canned)
2 lbs thin pork meat
Fresh cilantro (coriander)
Cut the pork meat in thin stakes or slices if necessary. Normally each stake would rest on top of each other while marinating and cooking.
The following is the recipe for the marinade, this is a lot so you won’t have to make it very often.
Take the seeds out of the chiles, cut them in little pieces and mash them together with the garlic, cloves, and cumin, avoid touching the chiles and vinegar with your bare hands if possible. The vinegar and chiles can “cook” your hands, trust me. A food processor would help here.
Boil the ingredients from the above step in the vinegar until it makes some sort of a heavy paste. Making sure that it won’t burn, so mix it often.
Once fully cooked drink the beer while you let the marinade cool down.
Apply the paste to the meat putting one steak on top of the other. At a real taqueria they would form a top that eventually goes into the rotisserie. Since we do not have the rotisserie you simply pile the meat together and store in the fridge for at least 6 hours or overnight.
In a taqueria they would roast the “top” of meat with pineapple on top of it so that the juice gives the meat some of its flavor. The meat would be rotated constantly as the cook cuts very small slices of meat and pineapple to be served in a taco.
Chop the cilantro and onion.
Without a rotisserie, our only choice is to cut the pork in small bits so that it can be eaten easily in a taco.
Use a frying pan and cook the meat with small pieces of pineapple making sure the pork is fully cooked and just about to burn in some cases (well roasted).
Cut the limes in quarters.
Serve the tacos with chopped cilantro, onion, and the limes.
I definitely need some (tips) this time. Or perhaps you’d like to send me a rotisserie.
Squeeze a lit bit of lime juice in the taco before you eat it and add habanero salsa.
If you only have large tortillas, cut them using a small plate of the size you want and a knife.
For microwave, add 15 seconds per tortilla and heat them between paper napkins.
Now for a totally different, radical recipe we have this, Courtesy of Jayson Mcpeak:
My name is Jayson Mcpeak, I am a certified chef (c.c.) through the ACF. I would like to share with you my recipe for Tacos Al Pastor.
5 lb boneless pork shoulder
1 lbs chorizo sausage (remove from packaging into a mixing bowl, must come to room temp)
1 medium size whole pineapple skin removed (canned may be used, fresh is preffered)
1/4 cup dry menudo seasoning found in most ethnic stores
3 tsp kosher salt
1 lime juiced
You will need a spit or some type of rotating cooking device for a more authintic recipe. If using an upright spit: Thinly slice the boneless pork shoulder roughly 1/4 inch thick, lightly brush on lime juice to the meat, starting with the largest slice on the bottom while working your way up, mix the dry ingredients togeter in a shallow pan, lightly dust the bottom piece first, then spear the slice onto the spit. Now generously hand smear the chorizo to the top of the slice, besure to reserve enough to finish the job. Repeat all steps until done. Now top the fully loaded spit with the pineapple, begin cooking. Besure to collect all drippings and rebaste using these very flavorfull tidbits. Depending on your heat source cooking time may vary. However you may slice the outer portions as soon as they reach a proper temp of 165* For a horizontal spit: follow all prep methods above, except for the meat layout and pineapple setup. Starting with the smallest slice getting bigger in the middle and smaller at the end. Make sure to use a foil drip catch under the meat. Crushed pineapple may be used here alternating between slices, use lightly.
7 thoughts on “Tacos al Pastor – The Quest Begins”
to see that meat and I was hungry, those tacos look good …
I am also on the quest to recreate my favorite tacos at home. Did you have a favorite recipe out of the ones you posted? Thanks for the US food safety guidelines. I’ve always wondered how the taquerias dealt with that.
I’ve also been researching vertical broilers/rotisseries and am wondering if al pastor would turn out differently on a horizontal rotisserie?
Couple of tips here… Go with apple cider vinegar, fresh orange and lime juice, I do equal parts vinegar and coca cola. A tbls or two brown sugar and also a bit of cinnamon! These aren’t all my ingrediants just things is add to your recipes you got the jist of it! Oh another thing that is great is a couple deseeded canned chipotle in adobo and then I try to get as much of the adobo sauce as possible! Careful with chiles these can be hot