Friday, May 13, 2011

I Dream of Mexico City and Vertically-Spinning Pork

Yes, I do. I dream of Mexico City, walking down the streets, drinking cervezas and tequila and margaritas on ice, eating from taco stands and street vendors. The one type of place though that highlights the dream is a taqueria that has a rotisserie in a big window and spinning on the rotisserie is a big body of pork.

The rotisserie is vertically set and a hot flame sears and cooks the pork as it slowly rotates. Set atop of the rotisserie is pineapple, the heat of the flames releases the juices of the pineapple and it leaks down onto the pork flavoring it with its sweet taste. The taquero, the guy who makes the tacos, thinly shaves the pork from the spit and into his tortilla-covered palm, cilantro and onions are added and you have Taco al Pastor.

These types of taquerias are found all over the states of Mexico and in the US as well. The recipe for al Pastor has been a kept secret. Chefs do not share it, the recipe remains in the family. You can find versions on the internet and all have different seasonings etc...In its most basic form, al Pastor is pork, pineapple, and dried peppers.

This particular recipe, coming from a grilling expert Steven Raichlen and his book Planet Barbecue, and from a fantastic blog Denver on a Spit: Tacos al Pastor at Home, I've tried several times and is without a doubt, the best taco al pastors I've had. I haven't been to Mexico City or any other Mexican state so I am no expert, but my taste buds aren't lying to me, this is some good sh*t!

Most people, if not all home cooks, don't have space or the daily need for a vertical, flaming spit. Raichlen suggested grilling the pork and pineapple on a hot grill. But first, you need to marinade that pork. You'll need:

3lb pork loin
4 ounces guajillo chiles, seeded, deveined, soaked in hot water for 1 hour
1 cup of chile-soaking liquid
1/4 cup white vinegar
3 tomatillos
2 garlic cloves
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon salt
2 teaspoons black pepper
2 tablespoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon anise
1 teaspoon dried thyme

After the chiles are done soaking, chop and add to a blender with all other ingredients. Blend until smooth. After a few runs on this recipe, I cut back on the chile liquid to a half cup. I wanted more of a paste texture instead of a watery texture.

Raichlen suggests cutting the pork into thin strips. This is a hard task to do. First, I had freezing the pork for 30 minutes to make slicing easier but that didn't turn out so well. This time I just decided to cut half inch steaks to ensure even grilling on the pork. Cover the pork in the marinade and set in fridge for 4-6 hours or overnight.

The guajillo peppers really give it a vibrant red color as you can obviously see. I stuck my nose damn right in the bowl, closed my eyes, and took a big sniff. Ahh! I knew I'd be eating well soon.

Meanwhile, prep your grill and get the coals nice and hot. Slice your pineapple, white onions, and cilantro. Set aside.

I grilled the pork loin steaks for about 4-5 minutes a side over direct heat. It smelled awesome!

Let the pork rest a few minutes and grill the pineapple slices and warm up the tortillas. Pineapples can grill for about 3-5 minutes a side based on temp of grill.

You can make salsa or guacamole to add to taco but I opted not to. I wanted to taste the pepper, the seasoning, and sweetness of the pineapple. And yes, it was fantastic. I chopped the pork into strips instead of a thin slice like the taquiera. To me, it snuggles into the tortilla well and it is easy to handle.

I garnished the taco with cilantro, onion, and queso frecso. Oh mamacita was it good. Yes, it has a different appearence from the way a taquero would make it but for city house in Milwaukee, I'll take it.

The sweetness of the grilled pineapple, the crunch of the onion, and the guajillo pepper marinade makes it al Pastor and it made it muy delisiouso. The sweetness did not over-power the salted-spiced up pork, it was just perfect. The marinade was the real winner though. All the ingredients combined together, allowed to sit overnight, flavors melding together and forming, really turned the pork loin into something amazing. I understand why cooks and families in Mexico have guarded their al Pastor recipe.

Again, this is what I love about Mexican food, it is simple yet the flavors slap you in the face. This recipe will remain in my collection forever and I will continue to make Tacos al Pastor forever. It is a simple recipie but it will take time and effort to perfect it. Steven Raichlen provided a big first step in that effort and that empty space in the corner of my kitchen may provide the second step, housing a vertical rotisserie! No, I'm kidding but wouldn't that be awesome?