Growing up in the foothills of the San Gabriel mountains east of Los Angeles, I was close to the primarily Latino areas of Eagle Rock and Highland Park. My sensibilities about Mexican food are shaped by the latinos I grew up with and the small restaurants and food trucks operated by people largely from the Mexican states of Michoacan and Oaxaca. My favorite dish was tacos al pastor - a delicacy from Mexico City with recipes so prized and guarded, its taken a couple of decades to approximate what I've come to expect from carne al pastor.
In Mexico City, you'll find whole taquerias dedicated to al pastor which is cooked and served much like a gyro: A large mass of marinated pork is turned vertically on a rotisserie while it cooks, with pineapple atop the skewered meat. Displayed proudly to call in the customers, the meat is carved right off the rotisserie on to the tortilla, making a small two-bite soft taco served only with white onion, cilantro and a little pineapple to adorn it. Hot sauce, too, of course.
This is a very flavorful dish and worth the trouble of buying and preparing five different types of dried chiles and the achiote paste. If you have trouble finding these in your local market, they're readily available via mail order.
3 California chiles
1 ancho chile
1 guajillo chile
1 cascabel chile
1 chile de árbol
1 bay leaf
¾ cup orange juice
¼ cup pineapple juice
1 tbsp white vingar
1½ teaspoons cinnamon
1 tsp sea salt
1 clove garlic
2 tbsp salt
¾ tsp pepper
¾ tsp garlic salt
¼ tsp Mexican oregano
¼ teaspoon achiote condimentada (seasoned achiote paste - you want rojo not verde)
1 onion, sliced thin, divided
5 pounds boneless pork butt, cut into 8 chunks
½ pineapple, peeled, sliced ½ inch thick,and cut into quarters
- Combine 5 cups of water, the California, ancho, guajillo and cascabel chiles, the chile de árbol and the bay leaf in a large pot and bring to a boil. Boil for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand until softened, about 5 minutes. Drain the chiles, discard the bay leaf and remove and discard the stems and seeds of the chiles.
- Place the softened chiles in a food processor with the orange and pineapple juices, vinegar, cinnamon, sea salt, garlic, salt, pepper, garlic salt, oregano, achiote paste and half the onion. Pureé until smooth.
- Pour the marinade into a large resealable plastic bag, add the meat and toss to coat. Refrigerate 24 hours.
- Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Place half the pineapple in an even layer in the bottom of a roasting pan. Place the pork on top, followed by the remaining pineapple and the remaining sliced onion. Cover with foil and roast until meat breaks apart with a fork, about 2 to 2 1/2hours. Remove the meat from the pan, discard the pineapple and set aside the pan juices.
- Put the meat on a rack in a baking pan, baste it with the pan juices and place under the broiler to crisp the edges of the meat, about 3 minutes. Turn and cook for a few more minutes.
- Remove the meat from the oven and let stand until cool enough to handle, then, with a fork, shred and pull it apart and place on a serving platter. Spoon pan juices over to moisten. Serve with corn tortillas and condiments, allowing everyone to make their own tacos.