Mariel here. Last weekend my old man came into the city for an impromptu family dinner. When I dine with my dad, he never strays too far from his favorites so I wasn’t surprised when he honed in on a local Mexican joint. He also makes a point of requesting the hottest, spiciest, most sweat-inducing jalapenos north of Tijuana and then revels in our shock as he spreads them on whatever adorns his plate.
Like my pops, I’ve been known to dabble in predictability when it comes to restaurant dining. I cook so often that when I do get cooked for, I’d rather not be disappointed. So when I head for the border, I always order Tacos al Pastor: zesty roasted pork marinated in “secret” spices and served alongside pineapple and cilantro. While it’s tough to ape this authentic dish at home – unless you have a standing rotisserie – I decided to try my hand at a Feast-ified version easy enough for a fledgling chef with a wee-little kitchen that’s depressingly devoid of a proper spit.
The results were outstanding. Taking a cue from my mom’s Chipotle-Spiced Pulled Pork, I marinated the pork shoulder in a sprightly mix of pineapple juice, pineapple chunks, jalapeno, fresh garlic and green chiles, then slow-roasted it in a big fat Le Creuset French Oven. After 3½ painstakingly slow hours of whiffing the most incredible aroma known to man, I was delighted to find that the pork was so tender it was falling off the bone, unprompted. That’s when the real magic happens. I shredded the meat, returned it to the pan to sop up every last drop of pineapple then splayed it out on warm tacos and garnished it with fresh cilantro, julienned mango, lime wedges and a dollop of homemade Roasted Tomato Salsa, which I’ll share next week. Heaven. HEAVEN. I’ve been enjoying the leftovers the past week and each day it gets better than the last.
Sweet & Spicy Pineapple Pulled Pork Tacos
Serves 6-8, depending on your appetite
Reheating note: After a day in the fridge, your pork may appear dry. It isn’t – the fat and drippings have congealed, that’s all. Rather than reheating the pork over a big bright flame, gently warm it up over a very low flame on the stovetop, stirring frequently. All those delicious juices will magically reappear, they just take a little coaxing. If you absolutely must, add a splash of chicken broth (but I reheated my pulled pork for four days and didn’t have to do this, but hey, no judgment).
4-5 lb pork shoulder, bone in – $7.60
20-oz can of pineapple chunks in natural juices (avoid the stuff in heavy syrup!) – $2.39
½ to 1 whole large jalapeno, de-seeded and roughly chopped (depends on how hot you like it) – $0.75
1 large sweet onion, chopped – $0.89
1 clove of minced garlic – stock
4-oz can of chopped green chiles – $1.49
2 teaspoons of salt – stock
1 teaspoon of black pepper – stock
2 teaspoons of cumin – stock
1 teaspoon of chili powder – stock
1 Tablespoon of olive oil – stock
Taco tortillas – $1.49
1 ripe mango, julienned (optional) – $1.49
2 Tablespoons of fresh cilantro, chopped (optional) – $0.89
2 limes, cut into wedges (optional) – $0.49
Grand total assuming well-stocked kitchen (not including optional toppings): $14.61
Cost per serving: $2.43
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
2. In a bowl, combine the pineapple and every last drop of its juice, the jalapeno, green chiles and minced garlic. In a separate smaller bowl, prepare your dry rub: toss together the salt, pepper, chili powder and cumin.
3. Trim the excess fat from the pork shoulder (and stifle your gag reflex for this part, ick). Massage the dry rub all over the pork.
4. In a large heavy French Oven (or a lidded stockpot or deep casserole pan), heat the olive oil over medium-high flame. Once piping hot, brown the pork shoulder on all sides, ’til it reaches a nice golden tone. This takes about 10-12 minutes, total. Remove the pan from the hot burner. Scatter the chopped onions around the pork, then pour in the pineapple-y marinade, taking care to spoon some of it on top of the pork itself.
5. Cover the pot (or seal tightly with tinfoil) then pop it in the preheated oven. Roast for 3 to 3 ½ hours, or until the pork practically starts falling all over itself when you jab it with a fork.
6. Once cooked, shred the pork with two forks (since the meat is hot-hot-hot), and discard the bone and any excess gristle – i.e. if you don’t want it in your taco, trash it. Return the shredded pork to the pot with all the delicious pineapple drippings and give it a good stir before transferring to a large bowl.
7. If you have a lot of crispy drippings stuck to the bottom/sides of the pan, consider de-glazing it with a little bit of chicken stock or white wine. If you’re new to de-glazing, this entails pouring about 1/4-cup of the aforementioned liquid into the pan, then heating it over med-high on the stove top taking care to scrape up anything stuck to the bottom/sides. You’ll create a super-flavorful pan sauce that you can then pour over the pulled pork.. This isn’t a necessary step, but it’s a delicious one.
8. Finally (if desired), warm your taco tortillas in a skillet over a gentle flame, then add the pork and whatever toppings you crave: I suggest cilantro, julienned mango, lime wedges and homemade salsa, as referenced above.