Firing up the grill is a time-honored tradition for the Fourth of July, but before you plan on the traditional menu of burgers and hot dogs, check out this delicious and stunning version of tacos al pastor.
Al pastor translates to “shepherd’s style,” and this spit-roasted dish is a direct descendant of shawarma, which was introduced to Mexico by Lebanese immigrants.
Authentic al pastor is made by skewering marinated pork on a vertical spit that spins (known as a trompo, which is Spanish for “spinning top”). Cooked the same style as a doner kebab or gyro, it rotates by an open flame or heat source, which slow cooks the inside of the meat stack while creating a crisp and charred exterior that is carved off and served in flour or corn tortillas.
While the pork is the star of the show, it’s often paired with pineapple, which adds a delicious sweetness to it. It tops off the skewer, allowing the pineapple juices, along with fat, to drip down the meat as it cooks, creating a flavorful and caramelized exterior.
Pineapple juice also is used in the marinade, which calls for a blend of lime juice, garlic, onions, cilantro, adobo sauce and seasonings. It creates a mouthwatering mix of sweet, savory and zesty with hints of spice. If you prefer more heat, chilies can be added.
Sandwiched between pineapple salsa and a warm tortilla, you will quickly discover why tacos al pastor is one of Mexico’s most popular street foods. (It also was ranked as the best food in the world by Taste Atlas last year.)
So fire up that vertical spit and get cooking! Just kidding – I know that’s not an everyday appliance in our kitchens, but with this little twist on the trompo, it can easily be made at home.
A skewer is placed in the bottom half of a pineapple, and the marinated meat is stacked on it. It is placed, standing, in a cast iron skillet or rimmed baking sheet and can be cooked on a grill or in an oven. Just make sure to adjust your racks accordingly so it fits. If your stack is too tall, just divide it into two.
Grilled Pineapple and Pork Spit
Adapted from foodnetwork.com.
For the marinade:
1 cup pineapple juice
Juice and zest of 1 lime
3 cloves of garlic, minced
½ onion, sliced
¼ cup cilantro, chopped
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons white vinegar
2 tablespoons adobo sauce
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 tablespoon cumin
1 tablespoon oregano
2 teaspoons garlic powder
2 teaspoons paprika
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon pepper
3-4 pounds of pork butt sliced ½-inch thick
1 large pineapple
3 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter, cut into 3 pieces
For the pineapple salsa:
2 cups fresh pineapple, diced small (using leftover pineapple from above)
1 cup red bell pepper, diced
¼ cup red onion, finely diced
½ cup cilantro, chopped
1 jalapeño, seed and finely diced
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon lime juice
½ teaspoon garlic powder
½ teaspoon cumin
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
In a large glass dish, make the marinade by combining all the ingredients from the pineapple juice to the pepper. Whisk to blend, then add in the sliced pork and toss to coat thoroughly. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 3 hours or up to two days.
Preheat a grill or an oven to 375 degrees and line a cast iron skillet or rimmed baking dish with foil.
Cut the leafy top off the pineapple and reserve. Peel the pineapple and cut in half crosswise. Slice three ⅛-inch-thick rounds from the top half of the pineapple and set aside. Place the bottom half of the pineapple in a skillet, or baking dish, and insert a long wooden skewer pointed tip up into the core of the pineapple. Thread ¼ of the marinated pork on the skewer, then slide on 1 cube of butter. Repeat with the remaining pork and butter, ending with the meat on top. Press the meat firmly down to compress the layers and top with the three pineapple rounds.
Carefully place in the oven, or grill, and cook for about 1½ hours, until the pork is golden and slightly charred on the edges.
Meanwhile, make the salsa. In a medium bowl, combine all the pineapple salsa ingredients. To allow the flavors to blend, chill for 30 minutes or until serving time.
Rest the meat for about 10 minutes, then thread the reserved pineapple top on the skewer and hold that to stabilize the stack while you carve off thin slices of pork and roasted pineapple with a knife.
Serve with warm tortillas, pineapple salsa and lime wedges.
Audrey Alfaro can be reached at email@example.com.
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