Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Tacos al Pastor At Home Thanks to Steven Raichlen

In spite of the pig-on-a-spit image that graces the top of my page, which leads many people to the conclusion that I somehow know a lot about barbecue, I don't know much. In fact, it is well established that I know Jack-shit about barbecue. So when the good folks at Workman Publishing emailed me to ask if they could send me a copy of Steven Raichlen's Planet Barbecue, I said to myself, "Why the hell not?" This cookbook, after all, deserves a voice from the uniformed barbecue amateur as much as anyone else.

You may recognize this man by his trademark spectacles that darken in the sun yet inside magically clear. You will also no doubt recognize him as the grilling guru from his informative program on PBS. I do, because like NPR is where I get my up-to-date smart sounding stuff, PBS is where I get my historically relevant, though admittedly harder-to-fit-into-casual-conversation, knowledge.

This book, however, does not focus on the slow-cooking barbecue that comes to mind for many of us when we think of the word. It is rather, an encyclopedic volume of grilling from around the world. It is jam-packed with grilling tips, historical facts and cultural knowledge. It spares not one corner of any of its 600-some pages from something informative, and for this reason starts out a little overwhelming for Bush-league grillers like myself. But while leafing through page after mouth-watering page, from Vietnamese Grilled Bread to Burkina Faso-style Lamb Kebabs to Malaysian Grilled Fish Mousse, I came to page 212, and I realized why this book had found its way to me.

"Shepard's Tacos," it read. And in smaller, parenthetical letters below, were of course those three most delectable words: "Tacos al Pastor". A recipe for tacos al pastor is hard to come by. Taquerias in Mexico guard this recipe with ferocity, and internet searches turn up such a random mix of results that it doesn't seem worth it to even try. What Raichlen has here in his book is a recipe from a real-live taqueria in Mexico. I have no idea how he got it, and of course, it is likely that we don't even want to know the details of how he convinced them to hand it over, but he did, and it is a testament to how deeply researched and authentic this book likely is.

This recipe comes from "El Fogon" in "Carmen del Playa", which I believe must be just up the coast from "Playa del Carmen". And just like opposite world momentarily confused Raichlen's editorial staff, my world was suddenly about to change. My taco al pastor outside world and my pastor-less home kitchen world were, without warning, set to collide and potentially destroy everything that I once knew. Or? Or would my two worlds collide and create a new, unstoppable me, equipped with pastor at every meal, at every hour of the day?

While that sets the table for hours of interesting debate, I must move on to my next and most obvious question: what about the spit? As much as I love pastor, I don't think my wife will let me have a spit in the kitchen (I know she won't, actually, I've asked). This has always been the limiting factor that has stopped any of my attempts to make pastor at home, even if I could find the recipe. I have gone through many beer-fueled conversations scheming ways to rig a spit of some sort over my grill or stove. Raichlen's answer to this is simple and rather genius: slice paper thin strips of pork loin, marinate and then grill each quickly and individually over direct coals.

"That really might work!" I yell out in amazement. Once the marinade is good, the absolute key of a perfect taco al pastor is a thinly sliced piece of pork with perfect char on one side and moist pork on the other. While this would likely not be all that moist, it would be well-charred, and if the marinade was worthy, it had world-changing potential.

It starts with a 3-lb pork loin. Sliced paper-thin. Next time around I might have the butcher slice this up for me, because while I did come out with some good slices, my overall knife skills leave a lot to be desired. Finished slicing, I set to work on the marinade.

The Taco al Pastor Marinade:
4 ounces guajillo chiles, seeded, de-veined and soaked in 4 cups of hot water for 1 hour
1 cup of the chile-soaking liquid
1/4 cup white vinegar
3 tomatillos
2 cloves of garlic
2 bay leaves
1 tbsp coarse salt
2 tsps freshly ground black pepper
2tsps ground cinnamon
2 tsps dried oregano
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp anise
1 tsp dried thyme

The marinade is super easy. After the chiles are ready, chop them and add them to a blender. Throw in everything else, including 1 cup of the water where the chiles were marinating. Mix it all up as best you can. Chop one of the onions up into 1/4 in slices and mix it in a tray or bowl with the slices of pork and all the marinade. At this point the marinade did not quite smell like pastor, but rather the strong spices of pepper, cinnamon and anise.

I still had faith that it would all come together, and covered it in foil and put it in the fridge overnight. (Mr. Raichlen recommends at least 4-6 hours.) The next day I fired up the charcoal grill and set the coals up in the middle for maximum direct heat. I then grilled the pork slices, several minutes on each side, or until they had some nice spots of char on them.

Mr. Raichlen also recommends grilling the onions, but pastor doesn't have grilled onions, so I didn't waste any more grill space with them. Oh, and before I grilled the pork, I grilled 1/4 inch slices of pineapple.

I also made a salsa from my own recipe book that goes like this: 8 to 10 boiled tomatillos, a slice of white onion, 2 cloves of garlic, a pinch of cilantro and 2-3 serranos. I blended it all up and then sautéed it for 4-5 minutes in some oil, adding salt to taste. I then mixed in a half avocado and mashed it up. It ends up being similar to the typical "salsa verde con aguacate" that is found in many a taqueria.

I also had ready some warmed tortillas, chopped onion and cilantro. When the first batch of pork came off, smelling, I must say, quite a lot like pastor, my wife and I made some tacos and nodded to each other, recognizing this potential world-changing first bite.

World changing it was. It was a very good taco al pastor. And I made it. It blew away every single taco al pastor that I have ever had in a taqueria that didn't use a spit. It was even a better tasting marinade than some places that do have a spit. It was a little dry, yes, but I think that is because my coals were not hot enough so I had to cook for a longer time to get a good char. It also was a little strong with the cinnamon flavor, but I used the powerful Vietnamese Saigon Cassia cinnamon from Savory Spice Shop. In the future, I will use Mexican cinnamon, or use a bit less of the former. Otherwise, it was really a great taco, and Steven Raichlen is the man for bringing it to me. Here is one more look without all the toppings.

Pastor, as I mentioned earlier is a hard recipe to come by. Many, many taco shops both inside and out of Mexico get this recipe absolutely wrong. Steven Raichlen somehow found a great one and then adapted it for the home cook brilliantly. I would venture to say, without having had the time to explore Planet Barbecue in full, that is likely full of other equally authentic recipes from around the world. For $22.95 it is an absolute steal of a cookbook that would give you years and years of good use.

Mr. Raichlen will be in Denver June 6th. Actually he will be all the way down in Park Meadows from 2-4pm signing books. At the Williams and Sonoma store. Hopefully he will join me in Denver after that for some tacos al pastor. 

1 comment:

  1. awesome post! Tacos al Pastor is something i've never made. I figured I would mess it up bad but it looks like you nailed it. I may have to give it a try now.

    Thanks for your comments on my blog. I did read your post on Mole when it came out in April. It was helpful in my pursuits to be pork drunk.




11N (1) A Federal Case (1) A Taste of the Philippines (1) Acapulco Tacos (1) Ace Eat Serve (1) adobo (1) Adrian Miller (1) aguas frescas (2) Al Lado (1) Al's Beef (1) alambre (4) Ali Baba Grill (1) All-V's (1) Araujo's (1) arepas (4) Argentina (2) art (1) asada (2) Aurora (5) authentic (1) Award (1) Azul (1) bacon (1) bagel (1) Bailey (1) bakery (1) baklava (1) baleadas (2) Ban Thai (1) Bánh mì (2) barbacoa (4) baseball (6) Basil Doc's (1) BBQ (2) beer (3) bibimbob (2) Biker Jim (1) birria (1) biscuit (2) Bistro Vendome (1) Bonnie Brae Tavern (1) books (2) Boulder (3) Boulder International Film Festival (1) Bourdain (1) breakfast (3) breakfast for dinner (1) breakfast tacos (1) brunch (2) Brussels sprouts (1) Buffalo wings (2) buffet (2) Bun Hanoi (1) burger (3) burrito (8) cabeza (2) Cafe de Tacuba (1) Cafe La Habana (1) Cafe San Juan (1) camping (1) Canada (1) Carl Sandburg (1) carne en su jugo (2) carne seca (1) carnitas (2) Cava (1) cecina (1) ceviche (2) change (1) charal (1) chica morada (1) Chicago (10) Chicago Louie's (1) Chicago Style (1) chicarron (3) chicharron (4) chicken skin (1) chilaquiles (5) Chile (3) chiles en nogada (1) Chili Verde (1) chimbolo (1) Chinese (2) Chinese New Year (1) chorizo (4) chorrillana (1) Christmas (1) churros (2) cinco de mayo (2) CLOSED (6) coffee (4) Colorado Springs (1) Colt and Grey (1) Coney Island (1) contest (9) crab (1) crawfish (1) crispchon (1) Cuba Cuba Sandwicheria (1) Cuban sandwich (7) cupcakes (1) curry (1) Cypress Hill (1) Dae Gee (1) Dancing Noodle (1) deep dish (1) deli (1) Deluxe (4) Denveater (7) Denver Biscuit Company (1) Denver Botanic Garden (1) Denver County Fair (2) dessert (2) Dim Sum (1) diner (1) DINR (7) discada (1) dolmades (1) Domo (1) donuts (1) Dorilocos (1) dreams (1) duck curry (1) dumplings (2) durian (1) EatDenver (2) El Boricua (1) El Camaron Loco (1) El Costeno (1) El Diablo (2) El Divino (1) El Fogon (1) el guero tortero (1) El Olvido (2) El Paisa (3) El Pariaso (1) El Rico Dicho (1) El Salvador (2) El Taco Rey (1) El Tamarindo (1) El Tizoncito (1) El Trompito (1) elote (1) Emapanda Express Grill (1) Empanada Express Grill (1) empanadas (8) enchiladas (1) enchiladas mineras (1) Encore (1) epicurious (1) Ernie's Bar (1) Euclid Hall (1) event (1) Evergreen (1) falafel (1) Fantasy Island (1) Filipino (7) film (7) fire (1) First Friday (1) fish tacos (3) flan (1) flautas (1) flyfishing (1) food truck (7) food cart (6) football (2) French (2) fried chicken (2) fried tacos (1) frijoles charros (1) Frijoles Colorado (1) Fritangas (1) frito pie (5) fruit (1) frybread (1) G6 (1) gallo pinto (1) garnachas (1) Gastro Cart (1) Gaudalajara Authentic Mexican Buffet (1) Globeville (1) Golden (1) good Mexican food (10) good signs (5) gorditas (1) Grandma's Korean BBQ (2) Greek (1) Greek Town (1) green chile (12) Guadalajara Authentic Mexican Buffet (1) gyro (4) Halo-Halo (1) Harvest Week (1) Hi Rise (1) Honduran food (1) hot dog (5) huarache (4) Huerfano Cafe (1) Hush (1) Hutch and Spoon (1) Ian Kleinman (3) ice cream (1) Indian taco (1) itacates (1) Italian beef (6) Italian-American (2) Jabo's (1) Jack-n-Grill (1) James Mazzio (2) Japanese (1) Jax (1) Jiutepec (1) Jollibee (1) Jonsey's Eat Bar (1) kabob (1) Kaladi (1) Kavkaz Bakery (1) kids (2) King's Land (1) Korean BBQ (4) La Cascada (1) La Chapina (1) La Flor de Michoacan (1) La Loncheria Mexicana (1) La Mexicana Taqueria (1) lamb (3) Lao Wang Noodle House (1) Las Torgtugas (2) Las Tortas (1) Laughing Ladies (2) LDP (2) Le Trompeau (2) Leandro Cristobal (1) lechón (5) lengua (1) Leobardo's (1) LoHi (1) lonchera (7) longaniza (2) Los Angeles (1) Los Carboncitos (1) Los Farolitos (2) Los Gallitos (1) Los Pastes (1) Los Toritos (1) Lou Malnati's (1) lox (1) lumpia (2) lunch (2) machaca (1) Mama D's (1) Mama Tere (1) mango (1) Map (1) Marco's Coal Fired Pizzeria (1) mariachi (1) Martin Rios (1) Masterpiece Deli (1) Maxwell Street (1) mayonnaise (1) Mexican Canoli (1) Mexican hot dog (1) Mexico City (9) Mexico City Restaurant and Lounge (1) michelada (2) Middle Eastern (6) Mile High Vienna Beef (1) molcajete (1) mole (8) Monte Vista (1) Motulenos (1) Mulli (1) Museo de las Americas (2) mushrooms (1) mussels (1) mystery meat (1) Navajo taco (1) New Mexican (3) New Siagon (1) Nicaragua (2) nitrogen (1) Nonna's (1) North County (1) NOT CLOSED (1) old school (1) Ondo's (1) Operation Front Line (2) Orange Crunch (1) Oscar's (1) Osteria Marco (1) oysters (1) paleta (1) pan dulce (5) Panaderia Rosales (1) pancit (2) Papas Locas (1) Parallel 17 (1) Park Burger (1) Paste (1) pastries (1) Pasty (1) Patricia Quintana (1) Patriotic Independence Gathering (1) pepper and egg (1) Peruvian (2) Philippines (3) pho (3) Pho 77 (1) Pho Duy II (1) Phoenician Kabob (2) Piccolo's (1) Pig Out (1) Pikka's (1) Pinche Tacos (2) Pinche Taqueria (1) pizza (9) Planet Barbecue (1) poblano (1) pollo a las brasas (2) Pomfreet (1) pork (3) poutine (2) pozole (1) pronunciation (1) Puebla (1) Puerto Rico (1) pupusa (5) quesillo (1) recipe (6) Recovery Room (1) Red Tango (1) rice and beans (3) Richard Sandoval (1) Riki Takaoka (1) Rise and Shine (1) roast pig (2) Rosca de Reyes (1) Route 40 (1) Russia (1) Sabor de Mexico (1) Salida (4) salty lemonade (1) Santa Fe (1) sausage (5) seafood (4) Seattle (1) shawarma (2) shrimp cocktail (1) Silla (1) Simpsons (1) smothered (7) sope (1) South American (1) southern colorado (8) Starz Denver Film Festival (3) Steven Raichlen (1) Stevo's (1) street food (9) strip malls (1) Studio F (2) stuffed (1) suadero (1) Sub sandwich (1) Sue of Siam (1) summer food truck boom (3) Sunburst Grill (1) sushi (1) Sustainable Food Film Series (1) sweets (2) Table 6 (3) taco al pastor list (2) taco arabe (1) taco truck (8) taco vampiro (1) Taco Veloz (2) TacoMex (1) tacos (2) tacos al pastor (37) tacos al vapor (4) Tacos Copacabana (2) tacos de canasta (1) tacos de trompa (1) tacos dorados (1) Tacos el Chorizo (1) Tacos El Gordo (2) Tacos El Sampa (1) Tacos Junior (2) Tacos Tijuana (1) Tacos y Salsas (2) Taiwanese (1) tamales (3) Tambien (3) tapas (2) Taqueria el Valle Aurora (1) Taqueria el Valle Denver (1) tarta (1) Taste of Chicago (1) Taste of the Nation (2) Teleras (1) Telluride (1) Tepotzlan (1) teriyaki (1) Thai (5) Thai Avenue (1) Thai Flavor (1) The Bagel Deli (1) The Berkshire (1) The Biscuit Bus (1) The Corner Office (1) The Inventing Room (1) The Pasty Republic (1) The Red Claw (1) Thornton (1) Ticorito (1) Tin Star Cafe Donut Haus (1) Tocabe (1) Toluca (1) Toluca Mexican Restaurant (3) tongue (1) torta (5) torta ahogada (2) torta Cubana (1) torta de tamal (1) Torta Grill (2) torta poblana (1) tortilla (1) Tortisimas (1) travel (15) Tres Pupusas (1) truffle fries (1) Turtux (1) Udi's (2) US Thai (1) Utah scones (1) Venezuelan (2) Victoria (1) Vietnamese (3) vietnamese sandwich (1) vigaron (1) Walsenburg (1) Westword Best Food Blog (1) whiskey (2) Willy's Buffalo Style Hot Wings (1) Work & Class (1) Xiao Long Bao (2) yuca (1) zombies (1) Zorbas (1)