Creating recipes isn't a pastime—it's a passion. And a lot of fun.

The rules are few: Use 99% fresh ingredients (or thereabouts); make the dish simple but flavorful; make the dish flavorful but simple; be creative, not silly.

With this blog, I want to share new recipes, along with tips on ingredients and preparation, and, hopefully, show new cooks (and non-cooks) the pleasure in setting the table with a delicious homemade meal. The Briny Lemon is about fresh, simple, flavorful ingredients and easy cooking methods that help you bring the best to your family table. Your comments are welcome!

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Tacos al Pastor

Tacos al pastor (roughly, tacos of the shepherd) derives its name from the dish’s inspiration: early Lebanese settlers who brought with them to Mexico traditional Middle Eastern “shawarma”—a typically lamb-based (thus, the “shepherd”) dish and method of preparation by the same name. Traditional shawarma involves cooking meat on a vertical spit and shaving ultra-thin slices as it revolves to build sandwiches, typically wraps and pitas.

In Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisine, shawarma is usually served with a variety of sauces made with tahini or yogurt, as well as a variety of vegetable toppings such as tomatoes, onions, cucumbers, and eggplant.

Now to Mexico—where authentic tacos al pastor are also made on a vertical spit with meat shaved very thinly to fill tortillas. But the meat here is pork. Pork shoulder—that beautiful braising cut—is commonly used, along with a dried-chile sauce, pineapple, onion, and cilantro. Like any other dish, however, there are many varieties of tacos al pastor, and if you’re making it as a home cook, you’ll probably prepare it without a vertical spit. I certainly don’t have one.

And that’s where pork shoulder steaks come in. This relatively inexpensive cut of meat is very marbled (and edged) with fat, so plan to purchase several steaks because you’ll be cutting out the fatty pieces when slicing the cooked meat.

Pork Shoulder Steaks
Key here: a piping-hot cast-iron skillet. High-heat cooking locks in the juices of the seared steaks—and adds pretty color to the pineapple chunks (which get a good searing too).

Another key: a flavor-packed sauce that plays two roles in this dish—a marinade to slather on the meat before searing, and plenty left over to serve as a drizzling sauce on the tacos. I used fresh chiles for this recipe, but a dried chile sauce would be good too (and closer to the real thing in Mexico).

Makes 14-16 tacos

  • 3 tbsp olive oil, divided
  • 1 serrano chile, seeded and finely chopped
  • 1 habanero chile, seeded and finely chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped red bell pepper
  • 1/3 cup finely chopped onion, plus more for serving
  • 1 cup tomato sauce
  • 1/2 cup chicken broth
  • 1/2 tsp chile powder
  • sea salt
  • 6 6-oz pork shoulder steaks, 1/2-inch thick
  • 1 small pineapple (about 2 lbs whole), cored and cut into 1/3-inch-thick pieces
  • warm 6-inch tortillas, lime wedges, and cilantro leaves, for serving
Prepared Ingredients
Pineapple Pieces
  1. Heat a saucepan over medium heat and add 1 tablespoon of oil. Add the serrano and habanero chiles, garlic, bell pepper, and 1/3 cup chopped onion. Sauté 3 minutes.
  2. Add the tomato sauce, broth, and chile powder and season with salt. Bring to a simmer, then reduce the heat to low and cook 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool 10 minutes.
  3. Transfer the chile mixture to a food processor and process until the solids are pureed. Reserve 6 tablespoons of the sauce for brushing the meat. Return the remainder to the pan and re-warm gently just before serving.
Vegetables Beginning to Cook
Sauce Beginning to Cook 
Cooked Sauce Ready to Puree
  1. Heat a large, heavy skillet (preferably cast-iron) over medium-high heat and add 1 tablespoon of olive oil, swirling to coat. 
  2. Brush 3 pork steaks on both sides with half the reserved sauce and place in the pan. Sear until well browned on the bottom, 5 minutes (lay a sheet of aluminum foil lightly over the pan, if desired).
  3. Turn the steaks and sear until cooked through, 4-5 minutes. Transfer to a cutting board and let rest 5 minutes. Repeat with 1 tablespoon of oil, pork, and reserved sauce. 
  4. After the steaks rest, slice them very thinly across the grain, discarding fatty pieces.
Steaks Beginning to Sear 
After Turning 
Rested Steaks 
Thinly Sliced Pork Steaks
  1. Meanwhile, add the pineapple pieces to the oil remaining in the pan. Sear until charred in places, 2-3 minutes per side. Transfer to the board and cut into bite-sized pieces.
Pineapple Beginning to Sear
Seared Pineapple
Cut into Smaller Chunks
Note: The pork will be very cool by now. To serve it hot, return it along with the pineapple to the skillet until warm throughout.

Serve the pork and pineapple with warm tortillas, chopped onion, lime wedges, and cilantro leaves.

Tacos al Pastor

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