Although the title names a dish developed in Mexico, the history behind this particular delicacy derives from the spit-grilled meat popular all over the world: shawarma from the Lebanese, döner kebab from the Turkish, and gyros from the Greek. Tacos al pastor are just a derivation of this particular style of cooking meat, most likely adopted from the wave of Lebanese immigrants who came to Mexico when their country – not yet an independent nation – fought in the 1948 Israel-Lebanon War & the Six-Day War.
Although traditionally lamb-based in the eastern countries before mentioned, Mexican tacos al pastor are made from pork meat marinated in spices, such as achiote, and pineapple. Placed on a vertical rotisserie, the layers of meat are slowly cooked; and sliced off thinly with a knife when ready. Served on thin tortillas, the meat is usually topped with chopped onions, fresh coriander, and topped with lime juice, hot salsa, & of course: guacamole!
For the Spit-Grilled Meat
- 1200g of boneless pork shoulder, OR boneless chicken breast
- 3 tablespoons of achiote paste
- 2 tablespoons of paprika
- 2 garlic cloves, sliced
- 1 tablespoon of oregano
- 1 tablespoon of ground cumin
- 1 tablespoon of salt
- 1 tablespoon of pepper
- 1/2 cup of white vinegar
- 1 cup of pineapple juice, OR orange juice
- 1 tablespoon of honey
- 1 pineapple, skinned and sliced into 1-inch rounds
- 1 thick wooden skewer, or 4 pincho-style skewers
Preheat your oven to 350°F (180°C). Slice the pork shoulder, or chicken breasts, into very thin slices. The size doesn’t matter, as long as they are about 1cm thick. In a large dish or bowl, combine the achiote paste, paprika, the sliced garlic cloves, oregano, cumin, salt, pepper, vinegar, the pineapple (or orange) juice, & honey. Mix until even.
I know achiote paste is really hard to find, it’s essential in many Latin American dishes, giving the food a distinctive red-orange color. This spice mixture usually includes annatto, oregano, cumin, clove, cinnamon, black pepper, allspice, garlic, & salt. So when you can’t get your hands on some achiote paste, adding a bit of any of the before-mentioned spices will do! Don’t fret though, the meat is guaranteed to be more than fine without achiote paste!
Place the meat into the marinade bowl and toss around until coated on all sides. Let marinate for at least 2 hours – & up to 3 days in the fridge! On a baking sheet lined with aluminium foil, place a wide and relatively thick pineapple slice. Take the wooden skewer(s) and push it down into the middle of the pineapple slice. Push the meat slices through the skewer, layering one after the other. Be sure to push them down firmly, but gently, so that they are tightly packed but do not tear. If they are not firmly packed, the meat spit is likely to topple over or become lose when cooking. Top the meat with a smaller pineapple slice through the skewer. Intertwining pork and chicken meat is a great option; also, adding bacon or ham in between slices will give the meat a wonderful kick!
Be sure to consider the height of your skewer in respect to your oven before pushing the meat through. Bake for an 1-1/2 hours, until slightly – but deliciously – charred! When done, place on the table on a wooden chopping block for a lovely center/master piece. When serving, slice off thin pieces of meat and place on a thin corn tortilla. Sprinkle white or red finely chopped onions and a pinch of fresh cilantro. Drizzle some red salsa and guacamole for the final touch! Buen provecho!