Makes:10 tacos (5 servings)
Al pastor (or “shepherd’s style”) is pork that’s been marinated in chile and spit-grilled. The traditional Mexican method has slabs of pork marinated for one to two days in a chile sauce, then stacked on a spit and slowly cooked using a gas flame. A pineapple is placed on top of the spit, the juices of which drip down the pork, tenderizing and flavoring the meat. Since most home cooks don’t have access to a spit, we’ve adapted the technique for the home grill. The results come deliciously close to the real deal. The tacos are just small tortillas filled with the meat and topped with a warm slice of pineapple, fresh cilantro, and onion.
What to buy: Chile negro (also called a pasilla chile or pasilla negro) is the dried version of the chilaca chile. It can be purchased at most Mexican grocers or online. Note that ancho chiles are often mislabeled as pasillas. If you cannot find chile negro, you can use ancho chiles or mulato chiles instead.
Mexican oregano (a relative of lemon verbena) can be found in Latin markets or the Latin section of your supermarket.
Game plan: If you can, make the marinade the day before, coat the pork in it, and refrigerate overnight. If you are pinched for time, you can marinate the meat for less time, but no less than 4 hours.
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice (from about 1 medium lime)
2 teaspoonskosher salt, plus more as needed
2 to 2 1/2 pounds boneless pork loin, sliced crosswise 1/3 inch thick
10 (6-inch) soft corn tortillas
Vegetable oil, for grilling
1/2 cup packed coarsely chopped fresh cilantro
Hot salsa, for serving (optional)
Lime wedges, for serving (optional)
Place the cumin seeds in a medium frying pan or cast iron pan and toast over medium heat, shaking the pan often, until fragrant, about 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer to a spice grinder and let cool slightly. Set the pan aside. Add the cloves and oregano to the spice grinder and process to a fine powder; transfer the spice mixture to a blender and set aside.
Rinse the chiles under cold running water, then dry well with paper towels. Place the chiles in the pan used to toast the cumin and roast over medium heat, turning occasionally, until fragrant, about 3 to 5 minutes.
Transfer to a cutting board to cool. Wearing rubber gloves, cut the chiles in half lengthwise and discard the seeds and stems. Place the chiles in a medium saucepan, cover with water, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium low and simmer until softened, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Set aside 1/2 cup of the chile cooking liquid and let cool. Let the chiles sit in the saucepan of hot liquid for 5 minutes more. Drain the chiles and let cool.
While the chiles are cooking and cooling, peel the pineapple and cut it in half lengthwise. Set one half in the refrigerator for later use. Cut the remaining piece in half lengthwise again; remove and discard the core. Cut the pineapple into rough chunks and place in the blender. Cut the onion in half. Place one half in the refrigerator for later use. Coarsely chop the remaining half (you should have about 1 cup) and add it to the blender. Add the garlic, cider vinegar, lime juice, measured salt, cooled chiles, and cooled chile liquid to the blender and blend on high to a smooth purée.
Place the pork slices in a large resealable plastic bag. Pour the purée over the pork, making sure each slice is coated with the marinade. Seal and let marinate in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours or overnight (overnight is ideal).
When the pork is ready, cut the remaining pineapple half crosswise into 1/2-inch-thick slices and remove the core from each slice; set aside. Finely chop the remaining onion half and place in a small bowl; set aside.
Transfer the pork slices from the bag to a medium bowl, leaving as much marinade as possible in the bag. Strain the marinade through a fine-mesh strainer set over a small saucepan; discard the solids. Place the saucepan over medium-high heat and bring to a rolling boil. Lower the heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 2 minutes. Taste and season with salt as needed. Remove from heat and set aside.
Meanwhile, heat a grill pan over high heat until smoking or an outdoor grill to between 600°F and 800°F.
In a cast iron skillet, warm the tortillas one by one. Transfer to a warm plate and cover with a towel.
When the grill or grill pan is hot, use tongs to rub the pan or grate with a towel dipped in vegetable oil.
Season the pineapple slices with salt and grill until lightly charred on both sides, about 4 minutes per side. Cut into small dice, place in a small bowl, and set aside.
Season the pork slices on each side with salt and grill until lightly charred, about 1 to 1 1/2 minutes per side. Transfer to a clean cutting board and cut against the grain into 1/3-by-2-inch slices; transfer to a medium bowl. If you choose, add 1/3 cup of the reserved marinade to the pork and toss to coat.
To serve, place 1/4 to 1/3 cup pork in each tortilla. Top each with about 2 tablespoons of the grilled pineapple and a sprinkle each of the onions and cilantro. Serve immediately with, if you choose, salsa, lime wedges, and the last of the reserved marinade.