We began the New Year by discovering a smattering of mold, a constellation of green and black across a metre of bubbled paint, on our living room wall, right behind the couch.
Yey, a new year! A fresh start! With some health-compromising fungus! Cool!
I’m trying not to see it as a bad omen, a bad start to the year; trying not to think about the fact that this nagging cough from my cold has hung on longer than usual; trying not to think about the cost of a dehumidifier in the days after the financial haemorrhage that is Christmas; trying not to be annoyed that our landlady’s solution to the humidity is to Pfft, just turn up the heat!, which only makes things worse by turning our place into a sauna any time we cook, hang laundry and shower within the same 48 hours (partly because our apartment wasn’t outfitted with a bathroom fan, nor a kitchen fan.)
But I’m trying – really hard – not to think about any of that, right after my man bleaches down the wall and sets up the rotating space heater, and I recount the time someone I knew had to be operated on because he had fungus growing under his cheeks, in his sinus cavity. La la la.
To distract myself, I’m writing this post, which WordPress tells me is my 100th. They even sent me a notification with an image of a miniature trophy and an exclamation mark. So I guess that means we should celebrate? You, me and this 100th batch of words? Let’s forget about fungus. Let’s instead turn our attention to tacos. Because in an ideal world, I think most celebrations would start with tacos. Don’t you?
I’ve actually been hanging onto this recipe for a few weeks now, from early December, when we had a bunch of people over for a two-cake, Planter’s punch, tacos-with-all-the-fixings-fiesta for my man’s birthday. It seemed fitting seeing that at the same time last year, we were in Tulum, beach combing, laying under palm trees, speaking broken (very broken) Spanish, and eating our weight in tacos.
We were partial to one thatch-roofed taqueria/bar right off the beach called La Eufemia; what they offered was straightforward, cheap, and more authentic than the Italian and Asian-fusion stuff the guys down the road were shilling. So it became a bit of a daily ritual – 2 Coronas and three or four tacos each, then a walk on the beach, or along the tiki torch-lined road. Simple, but perfect.
The fish tacos (pictured above) might have been La Eufemia‘s crowning glory, but their al pastor were pretty great too – pork shoulder rubbed in a mix of chiles, then slowly grilled until tender, served on tortillas with chopped onion, pineapple, and cilantro. We wanted to re-create something at home along the same lines, but without a grill or rotisserie, char-grilling the meat didn’t seem feasible. The other option was to slice the meat, then grill it, but seemed like a sure-fire way to dry it out. So instead, we left the pork shoulder intact, marinated it overnight (in the traditional al pastor spices), slow-cooked it, then once it was out of the oven, pulled the whole thing apart with two forks, and served it with fresh cilantro, onion and the pineapple it had been cooked with. The whole thing was smoky and sweet, tender and caramelised. We had leftovers for the better part of the week, but we didn’t complain because each time we put one together, it was like a little party, a fiesta, a miniature escape…
(…like the one this blog post gave me from that fuzzy, fungal surprise we found behind the couch. Thanks for bearing with me. Now you will be rewarded with tacos.)
Slow-Cooked Pork Tacos – marinade from Food & Wine
1- this recipe easily doubles if you’re cooking for a crowd
2- the pork needs to marinate overnight, so plan accordingly
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil, plus more for brushing
- 3 garlic cloves
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
- 4 fresh guajillo chiles—stemmed, seeded and cut into 2-inch pieces
- 1/3 cup pineapple juice
- 1/4 cup white vinegar
- 2 tablespoons chipotle in adobo, chopped (original recipe calls for achiote paste, but I wasn’t able to find any)
- Sea salt
- 2 pounds boneless, whole pork shoulder
- 1/2 medium pineapple, peeled and sliced 1/2 inch thick
- 1 medium red onion, sliced crosswise 1/2 inch thick
- Warm corn tortillas, chopped cilantro, thinly sliced red onion, lime wedges for serving*
*Other (possibly inauthentic al pastor toppings): queso (or feta), shredded red cabbage, quick-pickled radishes, chipotle powder
1) Preheat the oven to 325°F
2) In a medium saucepan, heat the 1 tablespoon of oil. Add the garlic and cook over moderately high heat, turning occasionally, until lightly browned, about 1 minute. Stir in the oregano, cumin, pepper and cloves and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the chiles and cook, stirring, until blistered in spots, about 30 seconds. Add the pineapple juice, vinegar and achiote paste and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat and let stand for 5 minutes.
3) Transfer the chile mixture to a blender and purée until smooth. Season with salt. Scrape the marinade into a large, sturdy plastic bag. Add the pork and turn to coat. Set the bag in a small baking dish and refrigerate overnight.
4) Preheat a grill pan. Brush the pineapple and onion with oil. Grill over medium-high heat, turning once, until lightly charred and softened, 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer to a roasting pan.
5) Remove the pork from the marinade. In the same pan used for the pineapple, grill the whole pork shoulder over medium-high heat until browned on all sides. Transfer to the roasting pan, nestling it among the pineapple and onion wedges. Pour remaining marinade from bag on top. Cover loosely with foil and bake in the preheated oven for approximately 3 hours (let the pork cook undisturbed for 2 hours, then begin checking it every half hour. The pork is done when it is fork-tender, in other words, when it easily falls apart.)
6) Shred pork with two forks; season with salt. Serve with warm corn tortillas, chopped cilantro, sliced red onion and lime wedges (and/or any other toppings of your choice).