Karl’s Weekday Tacos al Pastor (Two Versions)

For weekday meals I sometimes take shortcuts, like buying pre-seasoned meat from an ethnic market. Being Californians, tacos are very popular in my house, but when I take short cuts I usually do not post about it.  However, this one has been requested. If you happen to have a Hispanic market near you, like Chavez Market, these tacos are worth a few short cuts.

Karl’s Weekday Tacos al Pastor

Karl’s Weekday Tacos al Pastor

While I am usually all about fresh and homemade, sometimes quick and pre-seasoned is good. When we lived in Hong Kong, one of our favorite dinners was the tandoori chicken from the market down the hill. It was raw chicken covered in spices and lemon juice in a cellophane wrapped tray—it could have been something from an American market. A bit of time in the oven produced a delicious meal—nothing like the tandoori chicken from a restaurant, but still good.

Many Hispanic markets, in California, have pre-seasoned meats in their butcher sections. Authentic al pastor is marinated for at least a day—in blend of chilies and pineapple juice—and then roasted on a vertical spit like shawarma. This device is out of the range of most home cooks, so usually the meat is simply fried—not perfect, but still tasty.

Note: I have came across one chef who has found work-a-rounds to all of the problems of making al pastor at home. With his technique, you do not need expensive specialized equipment nor do you need to make enough to feed an army. Still, it looks like it will produce the tender, crusty, flavorful pork that I am looking for—when I have the three days to devote to one meal.

It has been requested that I make this taco recipe simpler—for people who do not have the time for all of the roasting, peeling, and chopping of chilies and tomatoes. This post has two recipes. The first will be the super quick version for working people who want dinner fast and the second which is how I actually made this dish.

You may notice that there are no spices added to either of these recipes. The supermarket al pastor meat comes in half inch chunks of pre-seasoned pork and it provides quite enough seasoning for the entire dish. Adding any more “taco seasoning” would be over kill.

Note: Chavez market simply cuts up shoulder pork when they make their al pastor and they do not trim any of the fat. If you are watching your fat intake, you may wish to fish out some of the bits that are pure lumps of lard. Do not remove them all, fat is where flavor lives.

Many recipes for “taco meat fillings ” contain just the meat and seasoning. I usually pack a lot of vegetables into my taco fillings. This is both to stretch the meat and to increase the roughage and vitamins. When I serve tacos, I also always offer a selection of condiments. For pork tacos, I usually provide bowls of diced raw onions, grated cheese, fresh cilantro, fresh salsa, and fresh guacamole. The diners may choose to add any or all of these to their taco, as it pleases them.

Karl’s Weekday Tacos al Pastor (Super Quick Version)

Ingredients

1 lb.  pork al pastor
1 Tbs. corn oil (or vegetable oil)

1 cup red onion, diced
1 medium bell pepper, diced
1 Jalapeño chili, seeded and diced (optional)
½ cup cilantro stems
4 cloves garlic, minced

1 can (7 oz.) Ortega Diced Green Chiles
1 can (10 oz) Rotel Diced Tomatoes & Green Chilies

1 tsp. cornstarch mixed with 1 Tbs. cold water (optional)
2-3 tortillas per person

(Optional)

1 cup cilantro leaves, coarsely chopped
1 cup cheddar cheese, grated
½ cup red onion, diced finely
½ cup salsa (fresh or deli salsa, also available at Chavez Market )
¾ cup guacamole (fresh or deli guacamole, also available at Chavez Market )

Directions

1. Form the meat into a single large patty.

2. Put the corn oil in a large skillet over a medium high heat and brown one side of the meat patty until it is well browned, about 6-8 minutes.

Tip: This is an America’s Test Kitchen technique that allows you to get the flavor benefit of the Maillard reaction without turning all of your pork into dry, hard, little rocks.

3. Flip the patty over and brown the other side, about another 5-6 minutes.

Tip: The meat patty will not usually hold together, so you may need to flip it in pieces.

4. Transfer the meat to a plate.

Tip: When it has cooled off, break the patty into pieces.

5. Remove any excess grease from the pan.

Tip: What constitutes “excess fat” is a personal choice. There are some who would never remove any of this flavorful grease. I am forced to limit my use of oils, because my wife gets ill if she eats too much fat—I personally think she took participant observation of the Chinese medical system way too far, when she had her gall bladder removed while we lived there.

6. Add the onions, bell pepper, and Jalapeño, and cilantro stems to the pan and use the moisture released by the vegetables to deglaze the pan.

Note: After you have coarsely chopped the leafy part of the cilantro for the topping, mince the stems finely to add to the filling.

7. Sauté the vegetables until soft, about five minutes.

8. Pull the vegetables to the sides of the pan and sauté the garlic in the hole in the center, about one minutes until fragrant.

9. Stir in the cans of chilies and tomatoes.

10. Return the pork to the pan and simmer for 5-10 minutes to reduce the liquid and meld the flavors.

11. (Optional) If you feel your sauce is still too thin, you may add some cornstarch mixed with water and continue to cook the filling for another two minutes until it has thickened.

12. Wrap the tortillas in 2 sheets of paper towel and microwave them for one minute to steam them.

Tip: Open the paper towel package and use a knife or fork to peel the tortillas apart right after you remove them from the microwave. This prevents them from gluing themselves into a solid block as they cool. Re-wrap the tortillas to keep them warm.

13. Transfer the filling to a serving bowl.

14. Serve warm with tortillas and a selection of condiments.

 

Karl’s Weekday Tacos al Pastor (as I made it)

2 Poblano chile
1 large bell pepper
1 large tomato

1 lb. pork al pastor
1 Tbs. corn oil (or vegetable oil)

1 cup red onion, diced
1 Jalapeño chili, seeded and diced
½ cup cilantro stems
4 garlic cloves, minced

1 tsp. cornstarch mixed with 1 Tbs. cold water (optional)
2-3 tortillas per person

(Optional)

1 cup cilantro leaves, coarsely chopped
1 cup cheddar cheese, course grated
½ cup onion, diced finely
½ cup Karl’s salsa fresca
¾ cup Karl’s guacamole

Directions

1. Rinse the peppers and tomato, cut them in half and deseed the peppers

2. Lay the vegetables, cut side down, on a Pam-ed baking sheet.

3. Broil the chilies, green pepper and tomato 4 inches from the heat element.

4. Remove the tomato after 5 minutes.

5. Turn the chilies about every five minutes until they are well charred on all sides.

6.  Remove the tomato to a bowl, seed, and chop it coarsely.

Tip: Scrape the seeds into a sieve to save the flavorful jelly.

7. Remove the chilies from the oven and put them in a plastic bag until they are cool enough to handle.

Tip: The plastic bag continues to steam the chilies and makes it easier to remove the tough skins.

8. Skin the chilies and dice them. Reserve the chilies until later.

9. Form the al pastor meat into a single large patty.

10. Put the corn oil in a large skillet over a medium high heat and brown one side of the meat patty until it is well browned, about 6-8 minutes.

Tip: This is an America’s Test Kitchen technique that allows you to get the flavor benefit of the Maillard reaction without turning all of your pork into dry, hard, little rocks.

11. Flip the patty over and brown the other side, about another 5-6 minutes.

Tip: The meat patty will not usually hold together, so you may need to flip it in pieces.

12. Transfer the meat to a plate.

Tip: When it has cooled off, break the patty into pieces with a pair of forks.

13. Remove any excess grease from the pan.

Tip: What constitutes “excess fat” is a personal choice. There are some who would never remove any of this flavorful grease. I am forced to limit my use of oils, because my wife gets ill if she eats too much fat—I personally think she took participant observation of the Chinese medical system way too far, when she had her gall bladder removed while we lived there.

14. Add the onions, bell pepper, and Jalapeño chili, and cilantro stems to the pan and use the moisture released by the vegetables to deglaze the pan.

Note: After you have coarsely chopped the leafy part of the cilantro for the topping, mince the stems finely to add to the filling.

15. Sauté the vegetables until soft, about five minutes.

16. Pull the vegetables to the sides of the pan and sauté the garlic in the hole in the center, about one minutes until fragrant.

17. Stir the pork, chopped chilies, and tomatoes into the vegetables and simmer for 5-10 minutes to reduce the liquid and meld the flavors.

18. Use this time to prep the rest of the condiments, if you have not done so already.

Tip: After you have diced the avocado squeeze one tablespoon of lime juice on it and toss to coat. This prevents it from turning brown.

19. (Optional) If , after ten minutes, you feel your sauce is still too thin, you may add some cornstarch mixed with water and continue to cook the filling for another two minutes until it has thickened.

20. Wrap the tortillas in 2 sheets of paper towel and microwave them for one minute to steam them.

Tip: Open the paper towel package and use a knife or fork to peel the tortillas apart right after you remove them from the microwave. This prevents them from gluing themselves into a solid block as they cool. Re-wrap the tortillas to keep them warm.

21. Transfer the filling to a serving bowl.

22. Serve warm with tortillas and a selection of condiments.

1 Comment

Filed under Main Dishes, Pork, Sauces and Spices

One response to “Karl’s Weekday Tacos al Pastor (Two Versions)

  1. Pingback: Karl’s al Pastor Taco Salad with Hot-Pan Salsa | Jabberwocky Stew

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