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Cooking With Dried Chilies, Part 3: Barbecued Pork al Pastor

Barbecued pork al pastor all chopped up and ready to eat.
Barbecued pork al pastor all chopped up and ready to eat.
John Linn

Welcome back to Charlie's dried chili adventure. In previous installments, we talked about how to prepare dried chilies as powder or puree and how to transform those ingredients into award-winning chili con carne. Today, we're going to use our chilies to make pork al pastor, a Mexican dish I put a little twist on.

Classic al pastor is a spicy, tangy preparation of pork that is roasted on a vertical spit a la gyros or shawarma. The meat is marinated with a spicy paste with ingredients like chili, pineapples, orange juice, and even soda. Pastor makes fantastic tacos and burritos since the meat has so much flavor -- a number of local taco joints such as Tacos al Carbon and Dona Raquel make fabulous al pastor.


Since I didn't have access to a shawarma-style spit, I decided to put a

twist on al pastor and barbecue it slow and low for hours. I hoped the

results would be the same: tender meat that comes apart with a fork,

the tangy, spicy flavor of the marinade seeping in over time. To put

another twist on the dish, I decided to not only marinate and smoke an

eight-pound pork butt but also an entire leg of lamb to go with it.

I

started out using a recipe given to me by reader Freakerdude, which

uses the chili paste I made from dried cascabel and ancho chilies

(details in Monday's post). The recipe is as follows:

4 pasilla chilies, hydrated and pureed

4 guajillo chilies, hydrated and pureed

4 ancho chilies, hydrated and pureed

3 garlic cloves

1/3 cup cider vinegar

1/4 cup orange juice

1/4 cup Coca-Cola

1.75 oz. El Yucateco achiote (half of a 3.5-oz box)

1 tsp. cumin

4 cloves

chipotle chili powder for a bit of spice

salt

Combine the above ingredients in a food processor and blitz. Since I

had already purchased arbol, ancho, and cascabel chilies, I used those

instead of the pasilla and guajillo. After you've pulsed the above

ingredients, the marinade should be thick and brick-red. You'll want to

strain it to remove any excess skin or seeds that we didn't remove

beforehand, but if you already did that with your chili puree, you

should be in the clear.

I completely coated the surface of the pork butt in brick-red al pastor paste, then wrapped it tight with plastic wrap to marinate overnight.
I completely coated the surface of the pork butt in brick-red al pastor paste, then wrapped it tight with plastic wrap to marinate overnight.
John Linn


Next, coat the meat in your marinade and wrap tightly in clear film. I

like using this method better than using a freezer bag because (a) the

marinade maintains surface contact with the meat, leaving air out of

the equation, and (b) it works better with large pieces of meat that

won't fit into bags or containers. Place the wrapped meat in a large

baking dish (to collect juices that run off) and refrigerate overnight.

I convert my propane grill into a makeshift smoker using wood chips, a large chaffing pan filled with water, and the top racks of the grill.
I convert my propane grill into a makeshift smoker using wood chips, a large chaffing pan filled with water, and the top racks of the grill.
John Linn


The next day, I removed the pork and lamb from the fridge, and they were

a beautiful bright red. I warmed up my propane converted smoker using

the method detailed in this post.

I used a bag of hickory chips for smoke flavor and set up the bad boys

to cook for eight hours. Some of the marinade had drained off the meat

into the baking dish (plus I had a little left over), so I put that

together in a bowl to save for later.

This is the meat five hours in. I added a rack of ribs just below the pork and lamb for good measure.
This is the meat five hours in. I added a rack of ribs just below the pork and lamb for good measure.
John Linn
Here's the finished shoulder, resting. The crust was amazing, very crisp and full of spice.
Here's the finished shoulder, resting. The crust was amazing, very crisp and full of spice.
John Linn

After eight hours, the meat was done. I wasn't sure how the flavors of

the al pastor would hold up to such long cook times. But as you can

see, the pork formed a thick, deeply red crust that was spicy and full

of chili flavor. It was also nice and crunchy, like good bark on

barbecue is. I removed it from the smoker and allowed to rest for about

20 minutes (that stuff is hot). Then I chopped it up into half-inch

chunks, mixing around the smoky bits by the surface, the bark, and the

tender meat from the center of the shoulder.

Cooking With Dried Chilies, Part 3: Barbecued Pork al Pastor
John Linn

The flavor was great -- porky, juicy, fatty, and spicy. I took the

marinade that I had set aside and simmered it in a saucepan until it

was cooked completely, then set that on the side for people to add to

their tacos as they liked. The proper method would be to cook the

marinade into the chopped meat again in an oven or under the broiler,

but I wasn't sure all my guests would want their meat that spicy.

To make tacos from the pork, I purchased a few big bundles of corn

tortillas from Dona Raquel, as well as a quart of their vibrant green

tomatillo salsa. I chopped up a whole mess of white Spanish onion and

cilantro and set that to the side along with some crumbled queso

fresco, sour cream, and homemade guac. The results were incredible.

The pork made fantastic tacos, with the spicy/smoky flavor working

great with the additional ingredients. My guests ate the entire pork

shoulder in a matter of 20 minutes.

A couple of tacos with the barbecued pork al pastor. Dig in!
A couple of tacos with the barbecued pork al pastor. Dig in!
John Linn

How about the lamb? Well, here's the sad part. Somehow, the lamb leg I

had purchased from Publix just the day before was bad. I mean funky bad... like rotten. I guess I

hadn't noticed when I washed and cleaned the meat -- it didn't smell

all that gamy for a piece of lamb. But yeah, it was wasted, just inedible.

Really sad, since I had double-checked the use-by date in the store (it

was two weeks away) and it cost more than $25. All I can say is, I probably

won't be buying any meat from Publix again, especially meat like the

lamb legs that come pre-packed in a vacuumed bag. In retrospect, I probably should have gone to a butcher or a reputable meat market. Next time I will.

Still, the pork was great, and I'd definitely make it again. Thanks to

Freaker for supplying the recipe and my guests for eating it up.



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