Tuesday, May 22, 2012

tacos al(most) pastor with chili sauce

I don’t even know what to think about carnitas anymore. At its best, it's a tender and porky affair with some crispy bits and a hintingness of orange. That's what it's supposed to be anyway. At its worst dry, a flavorless, mushy bit of unspeakable. Unfortunately, the latter is more often than not what gets served up everywhere from the taquerias to the ubiquitous upscale taco place
It is a hunk of pork shoulder slow cooked in lard with a bit of orange peel and then hacked to pieces and crisped under a broiler, on a griddle or left whole and crisped in lard before being hacked into pieces. Porky, succulent, crispy. Is that too much to ask?
don't get excited, they're dead.

Pastor tacos, on the other hand, are the more reliable taqueria pork offering (don't get me wrong- you find good carnitas, you eat that shit). Contemporary* "true" pastor, consists of thin slices of marinaded pork shoulder stacked on a vertical rotisserie with fresh pineapple on top, shaved right off the spit. Badass right? Shame. Unfortunately I don’t see too many fucking vertical rotisseries in east dallas. Or maybe it is fortunate. Rotisseries tend to turn me into, ummm, a simple person-- drooling and watching a rotisserie all day. They’re impossible not to look at. I had a little foreman rotisserie once and, well I lost a few years there. Ages 26-30, gone. Spun. Into rotating, roasty eternity like so many delicious delicious hens. The motor in the thing finally broke one day and I just walked away**. Had no idea where i was. I had to burn all of those clothes and my belongings and car from that era. It all smelled exactly like rotisserie chicken and, frankly, I missed it. the point is: if somebody had a vertical rotisserie in my neighborhood, I would know about it.
Absent a vertical rotisserie, most pastor tacos are pork shoulder, cubed and stewed in a chili based sauce, sometimes served with pineapple, always identifiable by their fiery red color. 
So that's basically what I’ve done here. Usually I’m more of a carnitas guy at home, but you gotta mix it up. Its not the fiery red that you get from the taqueria al pastor, because I didn’t use achiote. It does for the color red (and al pastor) what turmeric does for the color yellow (and chicken satay): stain food a vibrant vibrant color. but still... damn.
tacos al(most) pastor
(serves several, I hope you have friends)
for the pastor-
2lbs pork shoulder cut in 3/4" cubes
flour for dredging
bacon grease for browning
chopped pineapple (preferably grilled), which I didn't do. I'm working through the shame.

for the chili sauce:
3 tomatoes
a poblano stem, seeds, ribs removed
half an onion
all quartered
6 dried new mexico chilis, stems, seeds and ribs removed
2 cloves garlic
oregano leaves
powdered oregano

hydrate the dried chilies by covering with water, bringing to a boil, then capping and turning off heat. let sit for 30 minutes. they’ll become more red in color. 
put the chilies in a food processor with the garlic, spices (tsp-ish of each), some salt and 1/4 cup of the pepper water. puree until a smooth paste forms, thinning with more water if necessary***. at this point you could strain this sauce through a sieve and use it for enchilladas or whatever. new mexico chilies are kinda bitter, so that's why I’m incorporating some other flavors here. Sweetness and heat both work to take some of that edge off (I typically add a tiny bit of ketchup and a scoop of chili garlic sauce. you know, the kind you see at the pho place).
toss quartered veggies in oil and salt. roast under a broiler until you get some blackened edges, 20 minutes or so. 
let the veggies cool, then add them to the pepper puree. puree until smooth.
you’ll use about half this sauce stewing the pork. strain the other half through a sieve and use it on enchiladas or as a salsa or on your tacos.
now the pork-
dude, wait for it
brown the pork in batches. don’t crowd. you know the routine...

add all the pork back into the pot.

add half of the sauce. let it get about to a boil, cap it and pop it in a 400 degree oven (oh, i forgot to mention: you'll need to have your oven preheated to 400 degrees. whoops) for and hour.
when its done, the pork will be tender (NOT MUSHY don’t overcook it), but still have some texture from the browning. and it should taste like pork and chilies and roasted stuff. And you'll have done right with al pastor what few establishments seem to be able to get right with blessed carnitas.
Serve with the usual street taco garnish of cilantro, onion lime, plus fresh sliced jalapeno, crumbled cotija & more chili sauce or tha roostah.
Note- the stuff on the side in the first pic is instant rice, canned corn & roasted chickpeas tossed in a spoonful of cilantro pesto. not bad. if you want the recipe, you can mix up all the shit i just said and then say that you made it up. Congrats.
Morning after taco.... eat with the urgency you'd eat the morning after pill

*as opposed to olden fuckin' times pastor, which was usually goat or lamb shank.
**Actually, I left it in the abandoned lot across the street and somebody took it within half an hour.
***how do you know if it's "necessary" you ask? you fucking guess.


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    1. Joke's on you, sucka! I sold my soul for a handful of magic beans and some (now expired) handwritten coupons for a back rub. The silver lining: you can get the coupons and the magic beans right now for the low low price of eleventy bazillion dollars and ninety five cents. Call right now & I'll double your order (just pay two sets of shipping fees)!!