Monday, August 27, 2012

Tacos al Pastor

Pork and pineapple tacos al pastor are gluten-free and simple enough for weekday fare. 
I never used to buy corn tortillas. I just didn't know how to make anything with them. My experience of so-called Mexican food was mostly of American fast food. When I moved to a new area and started seeing them in the supermarket, I didn't know what to make of a floppy corn tortilla. Aren't they supposed to be hard? Isn't that the difference between a flour tortilla and a corn one---soft vs. crunchy?

Tacos al pastor is sloppy, yet simple, fare for dinner
Only at the drive-thru, my friends. At the grocery store, corn tortillas come fresh. You can usually find them in the refrigerated case, or close by. They're paler than the yellow corn shells that come in taco kits at the supermarket. Look at the ingredients. You want a nixtimalized corn flour, and not too frightening a string of preservatives after that. A variety I can find locally, and which is made without preservatives, is Maria and Ricardo's. The ingredients are "ground corn treated with lime, water, and guar gum." The first ingredient, "ground corn treated with lime," is nixtimalized corn, which is what you want.

I like to get food inspirations from Cooks Illustrated, and then to pursue one of two ends: either to go back to the source and make the most authentic possible version of the dish described, as when I went back to the source, repeatedly, making cassoulet, or alternately, make the recipe even easier without losing too much of the quality. According to the author of a recipe for tacos al pastor I found in a recent issue, this is street food, and is typically grilled. Yet CI's tacos al pastor are a bit fussy for a sloppy crowd pleaser. I decided to dumb them down.
Braised, then broiled pork, tossed in the simmering sauce for serving as tacos al pastor

In simplifying tacos al pastor, I started my modifications at the cooking method. The "al pastor" in the name means, in the style of a shepherd. "Pastor" is "shepherd," like the pastor of a "flock" of church congregants. Why is it called that? Because when you get this in a real Mexican taqueria, it's cooked on an upright spit, a method borrowed from Arab-Mexican shepherds, and the same way lamb for gyros is cooked today in most restaurants.

Feel free to grill your pork for this recipe, but I find that, for my purposes, which is just to put a little color on some already braised pork and to warm up some fruit, I don't feel called to start a charcoal fire. I feel like braising on the stovetop or in the oven, or letting the crock pot do most of the work, and then finishing it off on the broiler.

Taco al pastor with a side of braised cabbage and carrots
Souza has you braise the meat on the stovetop, but you can also do this in a crock pot. He also makes quite the fetish of exactly what type and number of chiles to use, and again, I riff and take shortcuts, use what's on hand. My farm share has included a lot of fresh hot peppers of all varieties in the last few weeks: anaheims, jalapenos, serranos. I pureed the fresh peppers with tomatoes, garlic, and spices, added a drop of liquid smoke, and simmered sliced pork butt in it until it fell apart. Then I put the sliced meat and pineapple on a broiler and gave everything a few minutes, just to begin to brown, and served it on warm corn tortillas with garnishes of scallions, cilantro, and lime.

Spicy Pork Tacos (al Pastor) in Cooks' Illustrated (login required)
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