DIGEST: Al Pastor

Tacos Al Pastor are absolutely the most delicious taco, in my humble opinion, but ONLY if they are done correctly. They combine grilled pineapple and chili-spiced pork shavings to create an incredible balance of flavors and heat. When it comes to making the perfect Al Pastor at home, however, the problem is this: spit. A spit, I mean. The pork is sliced into thin cuts and stacked on top of one another on a metal rod situated above a flame, topped with a pineapple, that both breaks down the protein in the meat and creates a sweet glaze, and is slow-roasted while slices are shaved off. This means each taco has both the tender interior and crunchy outer layer.

Mark Miller, in his aptly named book, Tacos, says this of the origins:

The meat for these “shepherd’s” tacos is commonly seen roasting on vertical spits displayed with pride on street stands throughout Mexico. The spits are usually topped with a pineapple, which is thinly sliced and served in the tacos. This method of cooking meat is identical to that used for the spit-roasted lamb (shawarma) brought to Puebla, Mexico, by Lebanese immigrants in the 1930s. The technique was copied by the Mexican taqueros (taco masters), who substituted pork for lamb. The original stand for tacos al pastor still exists in Puebla, with vertical spits of pork still revolving in front of its huge wood-burning hearth.

Due to the fact that my kitchen is the size of a sink and I lack any outdoor space where I could possibly keep a grill, this week, I’ll be experimenting with an at-home version of the spitified meat. Tomorrow, I’ll also be sharing the most “authentic” version of the marinade I can find (which seems to be a well-kept secret for anyone worth their taco) and some info on the different types of dried peppers I’ll be using.

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