One of my all time favorite Mexican foods is a street food, Tacos al Pastor or literally “tacos de trompo” . It started in Puebla Mexico, where many middle eastern immigrants came and sold their own rotisserie meat, the doner kabob. Now, all over Mexico they have stands where the pork and pineapple that have been marinating are stacked on a huge skewer and cooked in a vertical rotisserie and then the meat and pineapple is shaved off and served on a tortilla with onions, cojita and cilantro.
When I lived in Chicago I could just go to the Carceneria and buy however much I wanted of the velvety red marinated pork and pineapple and take it home and make the tacos straight away. Here in South Carolina it takes a little more work to produce the meal… but the results are outstanding. If you too like this dish, or want to try it, you can, no matter where you live. The first thing you will need is annatto, or if you live in a place with Hispanic groceries, you can buy the achiote paste commercially made. I have always been able to buy the paste, but here in Charleston…. no soap, so I learned to make my own.
It is easy and I actually like it better than the commercial paste. I froze the extra paste in a ZipLock bag. Annatto is the seed of the achiote tree and is used in Hispanic & Caribbean cooking for color and flavor. I work at the Spice and Tea Exchange of Charleston and we sell annotto, so that was easy for me. If you cannot find it near you, we also sell it on our website. Once you have the paste made, then you make the marinade. Because of the pineapple juice in the marinade, you do not want the meat to marinate more than 4-6 hours. Then you cook the slices of meat and pineapple and serve them the same way I described above. I usually serve them with lime slices and sometimes crema (Mexican table cream).
Tacos Al Pastor
- 1 cup pineapple juice
- 1/4 cup vegetable oil, plus more for cooking, or home rendered pork lard
- One 1-ounce package achiote paste (or make your own, see recipe below)
- 1 tablespoon adobo sauce
- 4 chipotles in adobo sauce (you can also freeze what is left in the can for another time)
- 6 cloves garlic
- Pinch sea salt
- 2 pounds boneless pork butt, sliced into 1/2-inch-thick slices, then into 1/2-inch-wide strips and then in 1/2 inch chunks
- 12 fresh 6-inch white corn tortillas
- 1 red onion, 1/4-inch dice
- 1/2 a fresh pineapple, peeled, cored, 1/2-inch dice (0r you can use chunky canned pineapple)
- 1/2 cup fresh cilantro leaves coarsely chopped
- Cotija cheese, crumbled, for serving
- Hot sauce, creama and lime quarters
Puree 3/4 cup of the pineapple juice, the vegetable oil or lard, achiote paste, adobo sauce, chipotles, garlic and salt in a food processor. Mix the pineapple juice mixture with the pork in a freezer bag and move around to coat. Marinate the pork in the fridge, 1 to 3 hours.
Preheat a cast-iron skillet or grill to medium-high heat. *Note: if you are doing this on a grill, leave the meat in strips and then chop after cooking. Lightly oil the skillet and add the tortillas, toasting, about 30 seconds per side. Remove the tortillas and store in a towel to keep warm.
Raise the heat under the skillet to high and add 1 tablespoon vegetable oil or lard. Remove the pork from the bag and wipe off any excess pineapple juice mixture. Cook the pork in batches, until charred and cooked through.
Remove the pork from the skillet. Add half of the onions and the fresh pineapple and quickly cook until lightly browned, about 2 minutes. Add the remaining 1/4 cup pineapple juice and the chopped pork back to the skillet with the juices.
Place the pork, pineapple and onion mixture in the tortillas. Top with the remaining onions, cilantro, cotija and hot sauce.
Home made Achiote Paste
- 6 tablespoons annatto seeds
- 1 tablespoon toasted cumin seeds
- 1 tablespoon toasted coriander seeds
- 1 tablespoon toasted black pepper corns
- 5 allspice berries (these can also be toasted)
- 1 teaspoon sea salt (I use smoked salt)
- A pinch of nutmeg
- 6 whole cloves
- 6 garlic cloves
- Juice & zest of 3 limes or lemons
- Enough olive oil to make the paste (about 1/4 cup)
- Put all spices and dry ingredients into a spice grinder, and grind until you have a fine powder.
- Take the powder and put it into the bowl of a food processor and add the garlic, lemon juice, zest and the olive oil 1 tablespoon at a time until you get a thick paste which binds together, in a putty like consistency.
- Separate into Tablespoon size portions and freeze individually.
- When you want to use it, you can mix the TB size portion with 10 cloves of garlic crushed, and 1/2 cup of 50/50 orange juice & lemon juice and marinate pork or chicken overnight.
- Some recipes say to add tequila, but that is an Americanization of this Yucatecan specialty. However, I have done it and it is good.
*NOTE* Annato seeds are very, very hard, and are difficult to grind with a mortar and pestle, use the grinder or it won’t make a paste. They DO, and WILL stain your grinder, and anything you happen to spill it on, be careful. You can double, or multiply this recipe as you wish, and I usually make enough for a year’s worth at a time. It freezes well.