Sep 20, 2016

Braised Tacos Al Pastor

Prep Time: 10 mins
Cook Time: 2 hrs 30 mins
Al pastor tacos consist of an amazing blend of marinated, tender and aromatic pork with pineapple.

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Al pastor tacos consist of an amazing blend of marinated, tender and aromatic pork with pineapple. The meat is similar to shawarma (and actually inspired by the method) since it is typically slowly cooked on a vertical rotisserie. It is delicious but unfortunately it is difficult to replicate at home without special equipment.

For this version of al pastor, instead of spit-roasting the pork slices, I braise the meat in the oven in a flavorful spiced sauce. While this preparation is not traditional, you get the tender braised meat without the hassle and the need for extra equipment. Check out my other braise recipes here.

Braised Tacos Al Pastor

braised tacos al pastor with avocado tomatillo salsa

What is al Pastor?

Al pastor is a Mexican preparation of pork seasoned and cooked on a vertical spit. It’s frequently sold as a popular street food. Served shaved off the vertical spit with a sharp knife and onto corn tortillas for tacos with a simple topping. Common pairings with the tacos are pineapple, onion, cilantro, jalapeño and a squeeze of lime juice.

Key Ingredients in This Recipe

  • Pork – Pork shoulder comes from the front shoulder of a pig. It’s best slowly cooked so the meat has a change to break down and become tender. Pork butt also work in this recipe. When buying pork for this recipe know that you are going to end up with roughly half of the weight in the finished meat as it cooks and the fat renders or fatty pieces are discarded.
  • Pineapple – Pineapple juice is used in the braising liquid for the pork while grilled pineapple is later chopped and added to the top of the tacos. Pineapple slices are typically cooked on the spit with al pastor pork so I tried to mimic that flavor.
  • Chilies – The main flavors of the braising liquid in the pork comes from a combination of guajillo chilies and ancho chili. They add a smokey flavor and mild heat to the recipe. Dried chilies are often found on the end-caps of aisles in grocery stores or by the Mexican ingredients. If you cannot locate the dried chilies in stores I recommend ordering them online. Reconstitute the chilies in hot water to soften them again before blending them in the sauce.
  • Seasonings – A combination of annatto (achiote), oregano, cumin, black pepper, cloves and cinnamon seasons the pork, complementing the chilies and pineapple. The annatto or achiote (the two names are interchangeable) is what gives the al pastor pork the signature bright red color. It can be found in the spice aisle of most grocery stores or at a Mexican market. If needed it can be substituted with paprika.
braised tacos al pastor with avocado tomatillo salsa garnished with radish

How to Make Braised Tacos al Pastor

  1. Soften chilies. Preheat the oven to 325ºF (170ºC). Add the chilies a medium mixing bowl and top with hot water. Let sit until the chilies have softened, about 10 minutes. Remove the chilies and discard the water.
  2. Make the braising liquid. Add the reconstituted chilies, onion, garlic, annatto, oregano, cumin, pepper, cloves, cinnamon, pineapple juice, orange juice and vinegar to a blender. Blend until the mixture is puréed.
  3. Brown pork. Season the pork on all sides with kosher salt. Heat a 7.25-quart Dutch oven over medium heat, add the oil and heat through. Add the pieces of pork, working in batches and brown on all sides about 6 minutes. Set aside.
  4. Add ingredients to Dutch oven. Add the chicken stock to the pot to deglaze the bottom. Return the browned pork to the Dutch oven and pour the mixture over the top. Add the pineapple.
  5. Braise the pork. Bring the mixture to a simmer over medium heat. Move the Dutch oven to the oven and cook until the mixture is fork tender, about 2½ hours, rotating the meat halfway through cooking.
  6. Shred the meat. First, remove the meat, from the braising liquid and let cool. Second, use two forks to shred the meat then return to the braising liquid.
  7. Grill pineapple. Preheat a grill or griddle pan to medium heat. Brush the pineapple with oil and grill on both sides.
  8. Make onion topping. Remove, finely dice and set aside. In a small bowl stir together the onion, cilantro and lime juice. Season the mixture with salt and set aside.
  9. Warm tortillas. Heat a large skillet or griddle over medium heat and put two mini tortillas on top of each other, then warm the tortillas on both sides. Repeat with remaining tortillas.
  10. Serve. Use tongs to place about ¼ cup of meat on each tortillas. Top with a spoonful of pineapple, onion cilantro mixture and Avocado-tomatillo salsa verde (optional).

Tips and Tricks for This Recipe

Swaps and Substitutions
  • Substitute the annatto or achiote paste with paprika if needed for the marinade.
How to Prep this Recipe In Advance
  • The braising liquid can be made and stored refrigerated in an airtight container until ready to make the al pastor for up to a week in advance.
  • The pork can be made in advance and stored in a resealable airtight container for up to 4 days in advance.
How to Store Leftover Meat

Store leftover meat in a resealable airtight container with a few ladles of the braising liquid for up to 4 days in advance. To reheat either microwave or arrange on a baking sheet and broil in the oven until the meat is heated.

Other Recipes to Try

If you enjoy this tacos al pastor recipe, I recommend checking out some of these:

Braised Tacos Al Pastor

Print Pin
Prep Time 10 mins
Cook Time 2 hrs 30 mins
Serves 8

Ingredients:

For the al pastor pork:

  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 3 dried guajillo chilies
  • 2 dried ancho chilies
  • ½ medium yellow onion, roughly chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 2 teaspoons ground annatto, achiote*
  • 1 teaspoon chopped oregano
  • ½ teaspoon cumin
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • ½ teaspoon ground cloves
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ½ cup pineapple juice
  • ¼ cup orange juice
  • ¼ cup white vinegar
  • 4 pounds boneless pork shoulder, cut into 2” slices
  • Kosher salt, to taste
  • ½ cup chicken stock
  • cups diced pineapple

For serving:

  • 3 ( ½”-thick) slices pineapple, cored
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 cup diced white onion
  • 1/3 cup chopped cilantro
  • 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 36 small white corn tortillas
  • Avocado-tomatillo salsa verde, optional, for serving
  • Lime wedges, for serving

Instructions:

For the al pastor pork:

  • Preheat the oven to 325ºF (170ºC).
  • Add the chilies a medium mixing bowl and top with hot water. Let sit until the chilies have softened, about 10 minutes. Remove the chilies and discard the water.
  • Add the reconstituted chilies, onion, garlic, annatto, oregano, cumin, pepper, cloves, cinnamon, pineapple juice, orange juice and vinegar to a blender. Blend until the mixture is puréed.
  • Season the pork on all sides with kosher salt. Heat a 7.25-quart Dutch oven over medium heat, add the oil and heat through. Add the pieces of pork, working in batches and brown on all sides about 6 minutes. Set aside.
  • Add the chicken stock to the pot to deglaze the bottom. Return the browned pork to the Dutch oven and pour the mixture over the top. Add the pineapple.
  • Bring the mixture to a simmer over medium heat. Move the Dutch oven to the oven and cook until the mixture is fork tender, about 2½ hours, rotating the meat halfway through cooking.
  • Remove the meat, from the braising liquid and let cool. Use two forks to shred the meat then return to the braising liquid.

For serving:

  • Preheat a grill or griddle pan to medium heat. Brush the pineapple with oil and grill on both sides, about 1 minute each side.
  • Remove, finely dice and set aside. In a small bowl stir together the onion, cilantro and lime juice. Season the mixture with salt and set aside.
  • Heat a large skillet or griddle over medium heat and put two mini tortillas on top of each other, then warm the tortillas on both sides. Repeat with remaining tortillas.
  • Use tongs to place about ¼ cup of meat on each tortillas. Top with a spoonful of pineapple, onion cilantro mixture and Avocado-tomatillo salsa verde (optional).

Notes:

*Note: the annatto or achiote (the two names are interchangeable) is what gives the al pastor pork it’s signature bright red color. It can be found in the spice aisle of most grocery stores or can be substituted with paprika.

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  1. 5 stars
    These tacos are amazing! Our family and friends requested the recipe after trying it and make it now too. It is simple to make and comes out perfect every time. It yields a good portion so we always have leftovers. 10/10!!!

  2. This looks amazing. Can I prepare the meat the night before and then reheat? If so, how can I reheat it? Thanks!

    • Thank you! Yes, you can absolutely make it the night before. I’d recommend simply microwaving it in a microwave safe bowl and stirring every minute or so until it is completely reheated. You can also add it back to the pot and heat in the oven until the meat is warmed, about 30 minutes at 350º. Hope you enjoy!

    • If you don’t have a Dutch oven the best thing would be to use a big cast-iron pan or oven-safe pot and then rather than putting a lid on, cover it tightly with a few sheets of aluminum foil. Hope this helps!