This recipe transforms very inexpensive or "scrap" meat into something really special. Although the total preparation time for the pork is lengthy, the actual hands-on time is very short. This recipe is well worth the effort and time because it's so yummy!
Traditionally al pastor tacos are made with pork that is marinated in some combination of achiote paste, dried chile paste, and/or pineapple or other fruit juice. Following is a technique I used to prepare tender, juicy pork, which was then combined with an al pastor style paste to make a flavorful filling for tacos and enchiladas.
CARNITAS DE PUERCO (the pork meat)
There are several tender, fatty, flavorful cuts of pork that can become Carnitas de Puerco. This time I used the meat from the ribs that I trimmed away from the pork bellies that we made into bacon and pancetta. But any fatty, tender pork, such as Boston Butt, would work for this recipe also.
The little racks of ribs that I removed from the pork bellies were just too good to waste. I sprinkled them with some yummy Penzeys spice rubs (use whatever spice rub you like) and let them sit uncovered in the fridge for about a day and a half. I then used a technique that I learned from my friend, Terri, braising the ribs in coffee. I put the ribs in a Dutch oven, poured some leftover coffee over them, added a few peeled, crushed cloves of garlic, a thinly sliced onion, a couple pinches of salt, a few grinds of pepper, and a big splash of Marsala.
I covered the Dutch oven tightly with aluminum foil to seal in all the liquid, and then put the lid on. Braised the ribs at 250 degrees for six hours, checking and stirring only every two hours. After six hours, I removed the Dutch oven from the oven and allowed the pork to cool. Once cool, I removed the meat from the bones, although it was so tender it practically fell off the bones of its own accord. I refrigerated the braising liquid, letting the fat rise to the top so I could skim off and discard the fat. (I actually saved the leftover braising liquid after preparing the al pastor pork and froze it to use later because it was so flavorful.)
AL PASTOR PASTE/MARINADE
2 dry chipotle peppers
5 dry guajillo peppers
3 dry ancho peppers
2 Tablespoons braising liquid or water
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/2 cup minced onion
4 minced garlic cloves
1/4 cup pineapple juice
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
2 Tablespoons tomato paste
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
Simmer the chipotle, guajillo, and ancho peppers in about 3 cups of water until soft and pliable. Drain and cool. Remove the veins and seeds from the peppers (use disposable gloves to avoid burning your hands). In a blender or food processor combine the chiles, braising liquid, kosher salt, onion, garlic cloves, pineapple juice, cumin, cloves, tomato paste, and cinnamon, and pulse to make a paste.
Warm one to two tablespoons of bacon grease (or other oil) in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the al pastor paste/marinade, and saute gently for about five minutes.
TACOS AL PASTOR
Stir a small amount of the al pastor paste/marinade into 1 to 2 pounds of carnitas de puerco and saute in a non-stick skillet over medium-high heat until pork is slightly crispy on the edges. Spoon pork into softened corn tortillas and top with your favorite garnishes, such as cheddar cheese, lime juice, diced fresh onion, and cilantro.
ENCHILADAS AL PASTOR
Leftover carnitas de puerco
Thinly sliced green onions
Leftover al pastor paste/marinade
Extra sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Add sliced green onions to shredded pork. In a skillet over medium heat mix leftover al pastor chile paste with bacon grease (or other oil). Spread a small amount of the chile/bacon grease mixture over the bottom of a glass casserole dish. One by one, dip corn tortillas into the remaining chile/bacon grease mixture in the skillet to soften the tortillas. Place about 1/3 cup of the pork/green onion mixture in the middle of each tortilla, followed by a sprinkling of shredded cheddar cheese. Roll up the tortilla and place seam side down in casserole dish. When casserole dish is filled with enchiladas, pour the remaining chile/bacon grease sauce over the enchiladas. Cover the enchiladas with shredded cheddar cheese and sprinkle with sliced green onions if desired.
Bake uncovered at 350 degrees until the enchiladas are hot and the cheese is bubbly and melted, 30-45 minutes.
If the tortillas appear to be getting too dry while baking, add 1/2 cup of chicken broth to the dish.