A great way to celebrate National Taco Day, which is October 4, (but any day can be Taco Day, can’t it?!) is with some jazzed up flavorful tacos that go way beyond ground beef. Throughout Mexico and Mexican neighborhoods in the United States, Tacos Al Pastor are a popular treat. Typically Al Pastor is made from thin slices of pork shoulder rubbed with a chili paste, stacked, and grilled on a vertical spit similar to Turkish doner kebabs, notes meat expert Bruce Aidells, who contributed this recipe to Real Food. To prepare a taco, the cook simply slices pork from the outer edge, coarsely chops the meat, and stuffs it into a tortilla. Often a whole, peeled pineapple crowns the top of the spit, and a few pineapple chunks are added to the taco. He’s found that Al Pastor can be made simply by grilling thin cutlets of pork cut from the pork shoulder butt with great results. You also can use thin-cut boneless pork chops. Al Pastor also makes a great filling for burritos and tortas. Happy National Taco Day!
October 4 is also National Vodka Day, which we celebrated here last October, so you may want to whip up a tasty cocktail to raise a glass to both “holidays”!
Tacos Al Pastor (Chili Marinated Pork Tacos)
Makes 4 to 6 servings
Al Pastor Paste (Red Chili Paste)
1 tbsp. minced garlic
2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1⁄4 c. Ancho, New Mexico, or California chili powder
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. dried oregano
1⁄4 c. red wine vinegar
1 tbsp. olive oil
2 lb. boneless Boston butt (pork shoulder butt), cut in 1⁄4-inch cutlets
12 to 18 corn tortillas
Garnishes, if desired
finely chopped red onion
shredded jack or cheddar cheese
chopped green onions
salsa verde (see below)
Pico de gallo (see below)
guacamole (see below)
fresh pineapple, diced
For the Al Pastor paste: Combine all ingredients except pork in a small bowl and whisk to form a smooth paste. Generously smear paste over entire surface of cutlets. Place pork in a zipper-lock bag and marinate at room temperature 2 hours (or in refrigerator overnight).
Build a charcoal fire, spreading coals so some areas are thicker. When thicker layer is medium-hot, fire is ready. If using a gas grill, heat to medium-hot.
Remove pork from bag, leaving paste on meat. Place meat directly over flame. Grill 1 to 2 minutes per side. If flaming occurs, move to a cooler part of grill. Meat is done when firm to the touch. If necessary, cut into a cutlet to check for doneness; center should be faintly pink.
Transfer meat to a cutting board and let rest 5 minutes. Chop into 1⁄2-inch pieces and transfer to a serving bowl. Serve 3 tacos per person, letting guests dish up their own garnishes.
Makes 1 cup
6 medium tomatillos, husked, washed, and diced, or 6 canned tomatillos, chopped
2 jalapeños, stemmed, seeded, and coarsely chopped
1 clove garlic, peeled
1 tbsp. fresh lime juice, or more to taste
3 tbsp. cilantro, finely chopped (optional)
In a small saucepan, boil tomatillos and jalapeños 5 minutes with enough water to cover, until soft. (If using canned tomatillos, only boil jalapeños.) Drain and let cool.
In a blender jar, combine all ingredients with 1⁄2 tsp. salt. Blend until smooth and season to taste with lime and salt. Will keep refrigerated 2 to 3 days.
Pico de Gallo
Makes 2 cups
3 medium ripe tomatoes, stemmed and diced
1⁄2 c. sweet red onion, finely chopped
2 jalapeños, stemmed, seeded, and finely chopped
1 tsp. sugar, or more to taste
2 tsp. olive oil (optional)
1 c. chopped cilantro
In a small serving bowl, stir all ingredients until combined. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and sugar. Will keep refrigerated up to 1 day.
Makes 1 to 2 cups
1 large ripe Haas avocado, seeded and peeled
1⁄4 c. ripe tomato, diced
1⁄4 c. red onion, finely chopped
2 tsp. fresh jalapeño, stemmed, seeded, and finely chopped (optional)
2 tsp. fresh lime juice, or more to taste
1⁄2 tsp. salt
Place avocado into a medium bowl and mash coarsely with a fork or potato masher. Do not over mash; texture should be quite lumpy. Stir in remaining ingredients and season with lime juice, salt, and pepper to taste.
Nutrition info Tacos al Pastor: (Per serving, without garnishes): Calories 500 (208 from fat); Fat 23g (sat. 7g); Chol 97mg; Sodium 965mg; carb 36g; Fiber 6g; Protein 37g