Tacos Al Pastor, The Best Tacos In The World!

>> Sunday, June 5, 2011

*This article and recipe was featured on "Mexico On My Plate" column at Honest Cooking.*

Tacos al Pastor; Mexican; food; tacos; pineapple; pork taco meat; pork; onions; cilantro; coriander; lime; red sauce; Spicie Foodie; mild; mild salsa; mild tacos; Spicie Foodie; recipes

(The Spanish word Pastor means shepherd, so these tacos translate to shepherd style tacos.) Have you ever tried Tacos Al Pastor? If you have then I'm sure you'd agree that they are the best tacos in the world! Those of you that have never tasted Tacos Al Pastor have been missing out. These tacos are unlike any other tacos both in taste and origin. First let's talk about their origin, tacos al pastor are the new world cousin to the Lebanese Shawarma. Lebanese immigrants, to Mexico, introduced the method of cooking meats on vertical spits, like Shawarma or kebabs as is typical in the middle east. And this is how tacos al pastor were born. The Lebanese immigrants cooked lamb that was marinated with local Mexican herbs and spices then pineapple was placed a top the spit. The meat is cooked on the spits and thinly sliced to be served on top of corn tortillas as tacos. Over time the meat changed from lamb to pork, more typical of Mexican cuisine.
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The popularity of these tacos grew and overtime spread around the country. Different regions of Mexico will incorporate or change the recipe to use ingredients typical to the region. Tacos Al Pastor are one of those dishes where everyone has their own guarded personal recipes. In fact taquerias ( taquerias are restaurants specializing in tacos ), highly guard their secret recipes and will never share what makes their tacos taste better than or unique from the taqueria down the street. The tacos can have an array of ingredients such as oregano, cumin, cloves, chile guajillo, chile ancho, vinegar, pineapple juice, or fresh pineapple, orange juice, soda and/or achiote paste. It is these combinations of herbs, spices, juices, and cooking method that give tacos al pastor their unique taste. They are mild, tender with a hint of sweet pineapple and guaranteed to satisfy every palette.

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My recipe is a slightly evolved recipe that I was given by one of my sisters. This is a 2 day process and I highly recommend that you do not cut the marinading time short. The flavors of the chiles and spices will be best absorbed by the pork. Also allowing for the long marinading time will allow the the Bromelain in the pineapple to tenderize the pork. Since the tacos are mild I will, depending on my mood, add a couple/few chiles de arbol to spice it up. I've also read some recipes where people have used chipotle chiles to make the tacos spicier. I wouldn't recommend the chipotles because while they taste great, they will overpower the other chiles and spices. Another ingredient I will occasionally add is achiote paste for a more vibrant color. This is completely optional and will not affect the taste either way. You all know that Mexican tacos are always topped with finely chopped cilantro and onion, the same applies here. Some people also like to add fresh finely chopped pineapple to the tacos, I never do but it's your choice. Oh yes and don't forget to serve a salsa on the side, green will go great. What the heck add an ice cold Corona for a truly heavenly experience.
Tacos al Pastor; Mexican; food; tacos; pineapple; pork taco meat; pork; onions; cilantro; coriander; lime; red sauce; Spicie Foodie; mild; mild salsa; mild tacos; Spicie Foodie; recipes

Tacos Al Pastor Ingredients :
Serves 4-6
1 kilo or 2.2 lb pork, boneless, skinless and extra fat removed, chopped into bite size pieces
3 chile guajillos
2 chiles anchos
2 chiles de arbol, extra spicy optional
1 tomatoe
1 tsp whole cumin seed
3 garlic cloves
1 small white onion, peeled and halved or 1/4 of large onion
pinch black pepper
1 tsp sea salt or salt
1 cup fresh pineapple, finely chopped
Corn Tortillas, (they are gluten free)

fresh finely cilantro
fresh finely white onion
lime wedges

*All chiles are dried.

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1. Soak chiles in hot water for 15 minutes. In mean time blacken the tomato, onion and garlic cloves on top of a hot griddle or grill. Peel the tomato skin and remove seeds, place in blender. Add the onion and garlic cloves to the blender as well as the spices. Remove the chiles from the hot water and reserved the water. Remove the stems and seed from the chiles then place in blender. Add about 1/3 cup of the boiling water to the blender. Blend into a smooth salsa.
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2. Place the bite size pork pieces and pineapple inside a container. Pour the salsa over the meat and add the pineapples. Stir until well combined, cover and place in the refrigerator overnight.
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3. Next day, drain extra liquid from the meat. Heat a little bit of corn or vegetable oil in a large pan. Cook the pork until it has cooked all the way through. About 20 minutes. Allow to simmer under low heat until ready to serve.

4. Scoop a small amount into the middle of a corn tortilla, top with finely chopped onion, cilantro and lime wedges on the side. Please notice that a standard Mexican taco tortilla is smaller than a more common commercial sized corn tortilla, if using the smaller tortillas two can be/are stacked on top of each other before topping with the filling.
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Buen Provecho!


claudia lamascolo June 5, 2011 at 7:36 AM  

As usual exquisite presentation and this looks hot hot hot! In a good good way!!!!

Nancy June 5, 2011 at 7:48 AM  

Hi Claudia, Thank you :))!

Anonymous,  June 5, 2011 at 7:53 AM  

How have I never heard of these? I love tacos and I love shawarma - you just made my day!

Nancy June 5, 2011 at 8:28 AM  

Hi Ruby, They don't seem to be too well know by many non-Mexican. I'm not really sure why. But either way glad to hear it and I hope you will try them soon.

Frank June 5, 2011 at 9:07 AM  

Simply beautiful! I've enjoyed tacos al pastor before, or something called that, but it was much plainer than this, made with grilled meat much like tacos al carbón. Also good, but this is a must try!

By the way, I always wondered about the name... Shouldn't shepard's tacos be made with lamb?

Nancy June 5, 2011 at 9:24 AM  

Hi Frank, Yes the shepherd name stuck or comes from the original way they were made with lamb by the Lebanese immigrants to Mexico. But Pork is more common than lamb so pork is what became the standard meat to use.

Liz That Skinny Chick Can Bake June 5, 2011 at 11:07 AM  

Stunning photos!! These tacos look amazing...and I love the use of pineapple to tenderize...mmmmm.

Nancy June 5, 2011 at 11:37 AM  

Hi Lizzy, Thank you :)

pigpigscorner June 5, 2011 at 12:02 PM  

Beautiful! One of the best tacos I've ever seen!

Kulsum@JourneyKitchen June 5, 2011 at 12:17 PM  

Wow I never knew this connection between mexico and lebanese! What would you suggest as meat of choice if one doesn't eat pig?

Cooking Gallery June 5, 2011 at 12:32 PM  

I've never tried making tacos myself, only burritos so far ;). Your tacos look simply divine...:)!!

Nancy June 5, 2011 at 12:48 PM  

@pigpigscorner, Thank you!

@Kulsum, You can try chicken, that should be a good substitute :)

@Cooking Gallery, Thank you and you should make some tacos soon :)

Magic of Spice June 5, 2011 at 2:07 PM  

Just gorgeous! The preparation is filled with love...the boys will be nuts over this :)

Erin June 5, 2011 at 3:57 PM  

Love Tacos - these sound amazing! Your pictures are stunning!

Belinda @zomppa June 5, 2011 at 4:05 PM  

It's weird to salivate, is it? Too late. I am.

KEcker June 5, 2011 at 4:32 PM  

These look so delicious! You went through a lot of trouble to make these too:o) I love Tacos al Pastor, I will have to try making these sometime soon. Thanks for the inspiration!

Michelle Chin June 5, 2011 at 5:20 PM  

The pineapple sure adds a zing into the dish!

Sandra June 5, 2011 at 5:35 PM  

I got hungry right now looking at your photos! What an awesome recipe, really!! My kids will love this..I will have to try it soon!!! Yummy!

muppy June 5, 2011 at 6:17 PM  

Love the story behind it, these look so tasty :)

PolaM June 5, 2011 at 8:10 PM  

I had no clue how tacos al pastor are made, this is all very interesting!

Maria June 6, 2011 at 4:32 AM  

They certainly look and sound so tasty!

Meagan @ Scarletta Bakes June 6, 2011 at 11:58 AM  

Nancy, I absolutely love your take on this classic dish.

Delicious and gorgeous as always. Thank you for the post!!

spcookiequeen June 6, 2011 at 3:15 PM  

These are my husbands' favorite tacos. He would be so happy if I made these for him. Can't wait, I will make a special trip to the Mexican market for some supplies. Hope you have a wonderful week.

Patty Price June 6, 2011 at 5:04 PM  

Buen Provecho is right! The history of Tacos Al Pastor is an interesting one, they look beautiful and delicious. I would love to try them, maybe Gina will invite me over for dinner when she makes them for her husband;-)

The Culinary Lens June 6, 2011 at 7:51 PM  

People may think calling these The Best Tacos in The World an exaggeration but trust me it's not. This recipe strikes me as delicious.

Unknown June 6, 2011 at 10:04 PM  

Yum, yum and more yum. It sounds like the way we like gyro meat. We won't eat it unless they carve it off a vertical spit. This looks so amazingly wonderful. Thank you for sharing the history and the recipe.

Jill | Dulce Dough June 6, 2011 at 10:27 PM  

I have never tried tacos al pastor before, but they look so good! Your post was so interesting and your photos are beautiful!

FamilySpice June 7, 2011 at 6:33 PM  

This looks amazing! Better than what we see in our restaurants here in San Diego!

Tanantha June 7, 2011 at 7:13 PM  

Man, this sounds really good! Taco pastor is one of my favorite tacos (and steak taco)! Meat in a sauce looks super appetizing. I know the hubs will go crazy over this!

Amy June 8, 2011 at 12:35 AM  

These look out-of-this-world delicious. I've always loved tacos al pastor, but I've never made them for myself. . . yet! ;) Thanks for the recipe--and beautiful photo tutorial.

sweetlife June 8, 2011 at 6:46 AM  

Tacos de pastor are my papi's favorite!! Every winter when we stayed with my grandmother in Matamoros we had these at least once a week. Thanks for sharing, I really should make these for father's day!

Hester Casey - Alchemy June 8, 2011 at 8:34 AM  

Nancy, this looks amazing and well worth the two-day marinade. Really interesting background on tacos too!

Lazaro Cooks July 5, 2011 at 7:35 PM  

Amazing that in the age we live in you have to warn people against skipping on marinading. Because we live in a 30 minute meal society. Sad.

The marinade, balance of spice, and cooking is on point.

Well done.

Hester aka The Chef Doc July 26, 2011 at 11:34 AM  

This is ridiculous! I LOVE tacos al pastor! They're way better than that shredded carnitas stuff. OMG, I can just taste the flavors. They're sooooooooo good! I must ask you--what kind of pork did you use in your recipe? Because you didn't specify what cut and I'd like to make some of this :-) I love a good pork shoulder.

Nancy July 26, 2011 at 11:36 AM  

Hi Hester, Glad to hear you love them too :) Really any cut that is lean will do but YES pork shoulder will work great. I hope you enjoy them.

Christina,  August 2, 2011 at 6:51 PM  

Hey, these look great! I just have a quick question about your recipe. You call for adding a little oil to the pan before cooking the meat. Do you mean in a separate pan heating oil and adding meat to gently fry/saute it, or removing the liquid from the marinating meat and adding oil to the original pan and cooking it? If it's the latter, is it necessary?

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