As we know by now, basically you can roll almost any kind of food in a tortilla, chicken, beef, fish, vegetables, just add your favourite protein and voila! But even in taco society, favouritism are among within the tasty and good looking ones, and tacos al pastor ranks number one on that list.
Al pastor (from Spanish, lit. In the style of the shepherd), also known as tacos al pastor, is a dish created in Central Mexico, shawarma spit-grilled meat brought by the Lebanese immigrants to Mexico. Being derived from shawarma, it is also similar to the Turkish döner kebab and the Greek gyro. Although shawarma and döner are usually lamb-based (thus the “shepherd-style” name), gyros and tacos al pastor in Mexico are pork based. In some places of northern Mexico, as in Baja California, this taco is called Taco de Adobada.
Lebanese immigration to Mexico started in the 19th and early 20th centuries. In 1892, the first Lebanese arrived in Mexico from Beirut in French ships to Mexican ports. At that time, Lebanon was not an independent nation; the Ottoman Empire governed the territory for more than 400 years, but the empire was collapsing, which influenced the migration of many people. In the 1960s, Mexican-born Lebanese migrants began opening their own restaurants and morphing their heritage into Mexico.
Though grilling meat on a skewer has ancient roots in the Eastern Mediterranean with evidence from the Mycenaean Greek and Minoan periods, grilling a vertical spit of stacked meat slices and cutting it off as it cooks was developed in the 19th century in Ottoman Bursa current day Turkey. According to some sources, the Middle Eastern shawarma, Mexican tacos al pastor, and Greek gyros are all derived from the Turkish döner kebab, which was invented in Bursa in the 19th century by a cook named Hadji Iskender.
The secret for these tacos is the marinated thin meat, this meat is pork shoulder in a variety of chilies and strong red vinegar with achiote. The slices are then stacked onto a vertical skewer, forming a large, bell-shaped trompo (spinning top), which gets topped with an onion and a pineapple and slowly rotates in front of a vertical grill. If there’s a reason it resembles shawarma or doner kebab, it’s because the concept was first introduced to Mexico by Lebanese immigrants.
As the trompo spins, it slowly cooks on the grill, taking a dark, sexy grilled red colour, as each outer layer of meat crisps up, the taquero (person preparing the tacos) shaves it off with a big sharp knife, catching all these glorious goods in a soft corn tortilla, after all the meat is in place.
This sexy taco is topping with a bit of the beautiful roasted sweet juicy pineapple, salsa, cilantro, and onions. It’s really glorious stuff.
This pork meat is juicy and crisp with a deep chilli flavour tempered by sweet roasted pineapple. I Know! You must be thinking, pineapple in tacos? But trust me in this, is so good!
I have been noticed in taquerias, that my Canadian fellas, ask for a crispier version. If you want it crispier, you can saute more the meat for a couple of minutes in a grill pan, and the results are almost bacon-like in their succulence.
Once, during the summer at the cottage in Montreal, I made these tacos in a get-together reunion, and they were a success! Well, maybe it was the margaritas, after 2 drinks of margarita, all kind of food taste delicious hehe. But it got my attention that my French-Canadian friends were adding maple syrup on it while grilling it in a pan grill., I have to say, it was good! The meat was beautiful with a shiny glaze; we called them that time, Tacos al Pastor a la Quebecois.
Anyway, to make them at home is possible, just that instead of grill it we can bake it. Here is the recipe. Enjoy it!
Tacos Al Pastor
5 pounds boneless pork shoulder
3 tablespoons achiote paste
2 tablespoons guajillo chilli powder
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon oregano
1 tablespoon cumin
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon pepper
¾ cup white vinegar
1 cup pineapple juice
1 pineapple, skinned and sliced into 1-inch rounds
1 thick wooden skewer, trimmed to the height of your oven
10-12 small corn tortillas
1 white onion, chopped finely
1 cup cilantro, chopped finely
1 cup salsa of your choice
1. Preheat oven to 350°F/180°C.
2. Slice the pork shoulder into about 1-centimeter slices, then transfer to a large dish or bowl.
3. In a bowl, combine the achiote powder, chili powder, garlic powder, oregano, cumin, salt, pepper, vinegar, and pineapple juice, mashing and stirring until smooth with no lumps.
4. Pour the marinade over the pork, then toss the pork slices to make sure that they are all coated on all sides. Wrap the dish/bowl in cling film, then marinate the pork for at least 2 hours, up to 3-5 days in the refrigerator.
5. On a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or foil, place a slice or two of the pineapple. Take a wooden skewer and push it directly in the middle of the pineapple.
6. Remove the pork from the fridge and push the slices through the skewer, layering one after the other until there is a 1-inch gap at the top. Push another pineapple slice on top.
7. Bake for about an hour and a half, until slightly charred on the outside and deep red.
8. Rest the meat for about 10 minutes, then carve off thin slices of the pork. Slice off thin pieces of the roasted pineapples as well.
9. To assemble and serve, place some pork on the tortillas, followed by a few pieces of pineapple, a sprinkle of onions, a pinch of cilantro, then a small spoonful of the salsa.