Tacos al pastor are traditionally cooked on a spit, but you can cheat a little and get all the same delicious flavor on your grill. Then wrap all the sweet-spiced pork and pineapple in a tortilla and enjoy!
In recent years, it feels like there are more and more fusion tacos around. Whether with Korean-style fillings, Indian or Japanese, it’s a popular idea to play around with. But fusion tacos are not a new thing.
One of what you probably think of as a traditional taco is in fact probably the ‘original fusion taco’: tacos al pastor.
Why are they called tacos al pastor?
Al pastor literally translates as “in the style of the shepherd”. This is often believed to refer to the rural Mexicans that adapted the spit-roasting method for shawarma brought by Lebanese immigrants to the country in early 20th century. Alternatively, it could be referring to the immigrants themselves – it’s one of those things lost over time.
Exactly who aside, they used the shawarma technique but changed the flavors to reflect the local ingredients, like chilis and other spices in the marinade. Using pork instead of lamb is down to the Spanish influence already in the country.
As with many recipes that have evolved, the ingredients can vary. One thing that is in some but not al recipes is achiote or annatto. It’s a spice with a bright red color that has a slightly bitter flavor, and is central to cochinita pibil, for example. Since I didn’t feel it was essential to the flavor, and it’s not in many versions, I have skipped it here.
Does al pastor have pineapple?
Apparently this is a little up for debate, and probably not always, originally. Reports (as in this Huffpost article) say there was often pineapple on top of the stack as the meat cooked, but more for easy access to serve with the meat rather than to marinade it.
It is only over time that it has been generally incorporated into the marinade and served with the meat as standard. Nowadays I think the pineapple is a key part of the flavor for most, and I for one love the play of sweet and spice.
How to recreate the flavors at home
Since building your own spit and stacking a huge quantity of meat on it is probably out of the question for most of us, making these at home is not quite as easy as some other dishes. However I’ve gone with the general method of this Food and Wine recipe. It gives that balance of flavor getting right into the meat, without days marinating, and a much easier cook but still crisp edges.
I’ve simplified the marinade a little using chili paste and chipotles in adobo rather than the traditional dry chilis which need to be soaked first. This way, you just blend the ingredients up.
If you can’t find guajillo chili paste, then use dried chilis, soak them in hot water to soften then break up and add in with everything else. But do try to find guajillo chili as it is the most traditional for this dish.
How to make tacos al pastor on the grill
- Start by cutting pork shoulder into relatively thin slices.
- Blend up the marinade ingredients then pour over the meat. Mix well and leave to marinade in the fridge overnight.
- The next day, grill them until cooked through.
- Grill some slices of pineapple and onions at the same time.
- Dice up the meat, pineapple and onion and put them in your tortillas along with some salsa and fresh cilantro.
You can see how it all comes together in the short video:You can choose pretty much whatever salsa you like in this, but I’d recommend a more liquid-like one rather than chunky so you add both moisture and flavor. I used the chipotle salsa from my B Good burgers but a tomatillo salsa verde would also be good.
Since you are grilling the pork anyway, make sure you also grill up some slices of pineapple and onion. The grilling really brings out the flavor of the pineapple and makes the onion more mild and sweet. In other words it means they are both perfect to then add in to these tacos.
These tacos al pastor are an easier way to recreate a classic Mexican taco at home, without skimping on flavor. Easy to prepare, cook and put together, they’ll soon be a favorite at home, not just at the taco bar!
Like tacos? Try these!
- Pork carnitas tacos with tomatillo salsa verde
- Slow cooker chicken mole
- Sweet potato tacos
- Jerk spiced shrimp tacos
- Plus get more Mexican recipes in the archives.
Tacos al pastor
- 1/2 onion small/medium
- 5 oz pineapple 145g, a little under a cup of chunks
- 2 cloves garlic
- 2 tbsp white wine vinegar
- 2 tbsp guajillo chili paste
- 1 chipotle in adobo
- 1/2 tsp cumin
- 1/2 tsp oregano
- 1/2 tsp salt
For rest of tacos
- 1 lb pork shoulder 450g
- 1/4 onion or 1/2 small
- 2 slices pineapple
- 6 tortillas medium
- 6 tbsp salsa smooth best, eg tomatillo or as preferred
- 2 tbsp chopped cilantro (approx) coriander
Ahead of time (marinading)
- Trim any excess fat from the pork and cut it in to roughly 1/4-1/2 in/1cm strips. Put in a box of freezer bag.
- Roughly chop the pineapple, onion and garlic for the marinade then put all the marinade ingredients in a blender. Blend until smooth.
- Pour the marinade over the pork, mix so that the pork is all covered with the marinade and then cover box/seal the bag and refrigerate. Marinade for at least 4 hours or overnight.
When ready to cook
- Preheat the grill and cut some onion and pineapple slices. The onions should be relatively thin and still joined at the base so they hold together while grilling.
- Remove the pork from the marinade, gently shaking off any excess (but don't take marinade off completely).
- Grill the pork, onion and pineapple until each are gently charred on both sides and pork is cooked through. For the pork, we cooked it on a mix of indirect heat over foil (partly to keep marinade on, partly to save it falling through) and direct to give a bit of a char at end, but cook as you prefer/suits your grill.
- Cut the pineapple and onion into small pieces and mix together. Dice the pork.
- Warm the tortillas and layer up each with pork, salsa, the pineapple-onion mixture and a sprinkle of cilantro.
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