Monday, August 9, 2010

Mark Miller's Tacos Al Pastor with Roasted Pineapple-Habanero Chile Salsa, and David Leite's Pine Nut & Orange Cookies

There are times when a woman needs her alone-time, and this weekend happened to provide several precious hours while John spent overdue father-son time with Alex, who is visiting from Texas. The boys went off to play airsoft on Sunday, leaving me to play in the kitchen with Mark Miller's Tacos Al Pastor recipe. I got lost in Keith Urban, and sipped wine, all the while stemming and seeding 80 dried chiles. Yes, 80! I'll revisit that number, shortly.

I've been eyeing this recipe, featured on the cover of Tacos, since falling in love with El Agave's version.  I love to escape to El Agave for lunch, typically on a one o'clock Friday (i.e., when I've had enough of the law for the week and am ready to start my weekend early). El Agave is known for its tequila collection and moles. For the longest time, I ordered enchiladas with mole verde, but lately I've been all over their Tacos al Pastor.

I've tried a few of the premium tequilas, which are so smooth and meant to be sipped like fine wine, but I prefer my tequila mixed in the bartender's very special Cadillac Margaritas.

With Tacos as our theme for this past week's Concert in the Park, it was the perfect opportunity to try the cover recipe of Tacos.  In the process, I stumbled upon Gonzalez Northgate Market, a wonderful Mexican market about 10 minutes away, where I was able to find everything I needed, including three varieties of dried chiles, and fresh, warm, corn tortillas from the tortilleria.  I bought blue corn for homemade chips and small 5 1/2 inch white corn for the tacos.

Tacos Al Pastor
Adapted from Mark Miller's Tacos
(Makes 24 tacos**)

**Note:  This recipe makes approximately 12 cups of marinade, really enough to marinate pork for about 100 tacos.  I strongly felt 3 cups was plenty to marinade the 4 pounds of pork cubes and just couldn't see wasting all that extra chile goodness. The pork would have been absolutely drowning in the marinade, which is then drained off before cooking. Therefore, I used 3 cups for the 4 lbs. of pork, and froze three containers, with 3 cups in each container, for future tacos. Don't try to reduce the other ingredients to make a smaller portion; the labor of this recipe is so worth having leftovers in the freezer.


40 dried guajillo chiles
20 dried ancho chiles
20 dried pasilla negro chiles

2 1/2 cups fresh orange juice
Grated zest of 1 orange
1/3 cup firmly packed brown sugar
9 cloves garlic
1 1/2 tablespoons cumin seed, toasted and ground
1 1/2 tablespoons dried Mexican oregano, toasted and ground
1 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon black pepper
1 1/2 tablespoons distilled vinegar
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
6 ounces cola
8 ounces Mexican beer
4 pounds pork shoulder, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
24 (5 1/2 inch) soft white corn tortillas, for serving

Stem, seed, and rehydrate the dried chiles. To rehydrate, I simply steamed the chiles for about 25 minutes. Drain and set aside, reserving the steaming liquid.

In a small saucepan, simmer the orange juice over medium-low heat until reduced by half; set aside. In the jar of a blender, puree the rehydrated chiles until smooth, adding some of the steaming water, to achieve a smooth consistency.

In a large bowl, add the reduced orange juice, pureed chiles, orange zest, brown sugar, garlic, cumin, oregano, salt, black pepper, vinegar, lime juice, cola, and beer and stir to mix well. Add 3 cups of the chile sauce to the pork, cover, and marinate in the refrigerator overnight. Again, I froze the remaining 9 cups of sauce for future use.

When ready to cook, remove the pork from the marinade and drain well (my chile marinade was fairly thick, so it didn't really "drain well.")  If cooking the pork on the stove-top:  In a large, heavy skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Saute the pork pieces until meat is cooked through, about 7 minutes. Remove from heat and serve right away, or keep warm in the pan until ready to serve (I grilled the pork at the park, on the cast iron reversible griddle insert for our grill.  The aroma of chiles drifted across the crowd, luring a few curious onlookers who always inquire if our food is for sale).

To serve, lay the tortillas side by side, open face and overlapping on a platter. Divide the filling equally between the tortillas and top with pineapple-habanero salsa. Grab, fold, and eat right away. Or build your own taco; lay a tortilla, open face, in one hand. Spoon on some filling, top with salsa, fold, and eat right away.

Mark Miller suggests his Roasted Pineapple-Habanero Chile Salsa as an accompaniment to these tacos. Don't question the man, just do it. The heat level of the chiles in the Tacos Al Pastor is fairly mild, 3-4 on a scale of 1-10, but this salsa will kick it up to an 8-9, thank you to just ONE of these dry-roasted babies.

Roasted Pineapple-Habanero Chile Salsa
Also from Mark Miller's Tacos

1 pineapple (about 3 1/2 pounds), peeled, cored, and cut into 1/4-inch thick rings
1 orange or red habanero, roasted, seeded and minced
1 sweet red bell pepper, cored, seeded and cut into 1/8-inch dice
1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro leaves
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice

In a large, heavy nonstick dry skillet, cook the pineapple slices (in batches, if necessary) over low heat until caramelized, 6 to 7 minutes per side. (It is important to cook the pineapple on low heat so the sugars in the fruit develop deep flavor, without any burning.) Remove from the heat and cut the pineapple into 1/8-inch dice.

In a large bowl, mix the diced pineapple with the chile, bell pepper, cilantro, and lime juice. Serve immediately for the freshest flavor, but you can make this salsa 1 to 3 hours ahead.

See the Taco Update at the end of this post for the leftovers!

For dessert, from the latest issue of Fine Cooking, I baked Pine Nut and Orange Cookies, from David Leite's New Portuguese Table.  I highly recommend these cookies, and they worked wonderfully with the southwest-inspired menu!

Pine Nut and Orange Cookies
Slightly adapted from David Leite's The New Portuguese Table: Exciting Flavors from Europe's Western Coast
Makes 2 dozen cookies


1/2 cup pine nuts
6-3/4 oz. (1-1/2 cups) unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar; more for rolling
3 Tbs. finely grated orange zest (from 2 medium oranges)
1/4 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
1/8 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 large egg, beaten
1 tablespoon Grand Marnier liqueur


Position a rack in the upper third of the oven and heat the oven to 375°F.

Toast the pine nuts in a pan over medium heat, or on a rimmed baking sheet, stirring occasionally, until fragrant and golden, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a small bowl to cool.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, zest, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and pine nuts.

In a small bowl, whisk the oil, egg and Grand Marnier, and add to the dry ingredients.

Mix with your hands until the dough is evenly moist and holds together when squeezed, 1 to 2 minutes.

Fill a small bowl with about 1/2 cup sugar. Pinch off 1 rounded teaspoonful of dough (about 1/2 oz.). Shape it into a ball, coat it in the sugar, and set it in on a light-colored nonstick cookie sheet. Dip the bottom of a drinking glass in the sugar and flatten the cookie to slightly less than 1/4 inch thick. Repeat to make 11 more cookies.

Bake until the tops are golden and the edges are golden brown, 9 to 13 minutes. Let the cookies cool on the sheet for several minutes, then transfer them to a rack to cool completely (the tops don't get brown, just a little around the edges, but the bottom is golden brown).

While the first batch of cookies bakes, shape the remaining dough into cookies and arrange on a second cookie sheet. When the first batch is done, bake the second batch. The cookies will keep in an air-tight container at room temperature for up to 3 days.

Our Concert group was light this week due to the lucky ones who are traveling. However, we never fail to go hungry, and this week was no exception. After our Tacos Al Pastor, we stuffed our faces with nibbled on my Pine Nut and Orange Cookies and Carmen's dessert tacos, filled with exotic fruit, custard sauce, warm chocolate sauce, and whipped cream.

For the next concert, by the Lamb's Players Theatre, we decided on dishes inspired by Broadway plays and musicals....please, no cats.

TACO UPDATE:  We didn't cook all of the marinated pork at the park, so we were lucky enough to have Taco Tuesday!  This time, I cut the pork in a little smaller pieces and cooked it in a skillet on the stove.  I rewarmed a few tortillas, served the leftover Pineapple Habanero salsa on the side, and fell in love all over again!


Mom said...


Delightful! Your Tacos Al Pastor are a deliciously sophisticated array of peppers, spices, and savory sauces. Very authentic, beyond fresh and packed with incredible, creative flair and flavor. The tastes are so delicate, so unusual, they're every bit Mexican haute cuisine! Could have nibbled at those Pine Nut & Orange Cookies all night long...actually, I think I did. As always, great work and beautiful photography.

Buen apetito!

David Leite said...

I love the addition of Grand Marnier. I'll have to try it when I make the cookies again. So glad you like my recipe!

Denise said...

Thank you, David! I just bought your cookbook a few days ago. In fact, this Sunday, our Concert in the Park culinary group is doing Portuguese cuisine and I'll be trying a few more of your recipes. The book is beautiful!

Anonymous said...

Susan said...

We, too, tried the Tacos Al Pastor from Mark Miller's Tacos book. We were stunned at the quantity of chiles called for and wondered if it was a printing error in the cookbook. Delicious outcome; however, we wasted a lot of marimade. Has anyone verified that it was not a printing error?

Denise said...

Susan - Thank you for visiting. No, I've never tried to verify if the number of chiles is accurate, and I think we still have those frozen containers of leftover marinade buried in the freezer, somewhere...

Unknown said...

Those are some tasty looking tacos!

Anonymous said...

Denise-I stumbled on to your blog while searching for a pine nut and orange cookie recipe. Even though this sppears to be an older post, I couldn't help but tell you what a coincidence this is that I just returned from beautiful Coronado - my fiance, Jon, and I are hosting a tapas night in our loft this weekend and our typical cuisine is portuguese. We live in Dayton, OH so I am admittedly jealous of the great resources you have in SD. Best wishes on all your endeavors and check out our new blog if you'd like -