Tacos Al Pastor
I have a deep love and passion for Mexican food. It has always been my favorite to both eat and cook. I love the depth of flavors and spice. I’ll take any excuse to cook with smoky chilies like ancho, pasilla, chipotle, and guajillo. Growing up in California and taking several trips to Mexico when I was a teen gave me a great appreciation for Mexican food. It was in Mexico City that I first came across tacos arabes and the similar, but more common, tacos al pastor. These dishes are, in my opinion, the absolute pinnacle of fusion cuisine. The amazing fusion of Mediterranean and Mexican is unbeatable in flavor and texture.
I’ve cooked many different Mexican-inspired recipes over the years. I have my own Taco Seasoning recipe that creates the perfect tasty taco every time. I’ve also strayed from the classics and tried different things like Chicken Salad Tacos. And I have just about mastered making Mexican Rice. But I’m really excited to finally share with you the recipe that started it all.
As some of you may know, Heather and I recently moved to beautiful Costa Rica! I thought al pastor would be a perfect first post from our new home. This is one of my all-time favorites. Plus, the ingredients are all rather easy to find here in Central America. We are so excited to be revamping our site (thanks Heather!) and sharing exciting new recipes with you in the weeks to come!
The History of Al Pastor
Al Pastor was invented by Lebanese immigrants who adapted the vertical grilling technique used in doner kebab and shawarma to the ingredients and spices of Mexico. The result is some of the best food the world has ever seen. Al pastor is made with thin slices of marinated pork layered on a vertical spit and slow-cooked. The meat is then sliced off to order and served in small tortillas. It is served like a traditional Mexican street taco with chopped onion, cilantro and salsa.
There are a few other similarly prepared dishes throughout Mexico; like tacos arabes, in Puebla or tacos adobada in Baja California and northern Mexico. Somehow, I have had the amazing fortune of being able to try them all in their home regions!
I had an amazing opportunity when I was thirteen to travel to Puebla on a trip to restore a local summer camp. It was on that trip that I experienced tacos arabes for the first time, as well as several other delicious traditional dishes from Central Mexico, like mole. The experience would forever change my life. It ignited my passion for Mexican food. This was the first time I encountered the technique of vertical grilling. It sent me on a search for a similar dish back home in the United States. That search led me to discover tacos al pastor, which will forever be my favorite.
Al pastor recipes vary from region to region but the essentials are dried, smoky chilies, spices like achiote, cumin and oregano, and pineapple. Sometimes onion and pineapple is layered on the rotisserie in between layers of marinated pork. I replicate this layering of marinated pork, pineapple and onion in my own recipe. Though I unfortunately can’t replicate the vertical grilling at home. Thanks to some advice from The Food Lab over at SeriousEats I do have a good technique for cooking al pastor at home that comes really close to replicating the texture found in restaurants. If you are really serious and have a little bit of money to invest, you can buy your own vertical grill, like one from below. With that you’ll be able to cook up some seriously authentic tacos al pastor and shawarmas from your own home!
Either way, it will be incredibly delicious!