Slow Cooked Al Pastor-style Pork

Al pastor with slaw and salsa

This summer is passing much too quickly for my taste. I can’t believe my birthday has come and gone, and even worse, that it’s taken me over a week to blog about this year’s pork spectacle. I’m not sure when or how I decided that my birthday was an ideal occasion for very large, fatty pieces of pork to be slow cooked in various ways, but that seems to be the new tradition, and I’m already plotting next year’s preparation of the other white meat.

But I am getting ahead of myself. This year I got it into my head that I wanted to make al pastor. I’m not quite sure why. In fact, I had never had al pastor. When I was a kid in San Diego, I was a pretty firm believer that carne asada burritos were the only respectable way to go. And al pastor is meant to be cooked on a vertical rotisserie. It’s not like I have one of those sitting around. Whatever the reason, I couldn’t stop thinking about al pastor for weeks, and it seemed as though I would really have no choice for the birthday feast: al pastor it would have to be.

It was a bit difficult to find a recipe considering that I really had no idea what al pastor usually tastes like, and what elements should be included. I knew it was usually roasted with a pineapple slice on top, but other than that, I had not a clue. I read through seven or eight recipes, trying to find the common denominators and to re-work them all for a slow cooker, and what I came up with might not be authentic al pastor, but damn. It was delicious.

Slow cooking with pineapples

Of course now I can’t find the scrap of paper on which I wrote my final recipe, so what I’m sharing with you now is a re-creation as best I can remember. I’m getting senile in my old age.

Al pastor-style Pork

  • 5 dried pasilla chiles
  • 5 dried guajillo chiles
  • 1 c. distilled white vinegar
  • 3 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 T. cumin
  • 1/2 T. adobo seasoning
  • 1 tsp. ground annato seeds (achiote)
  • 1/2 T. dried Mexican oregano
  • salt and pepper
  • about 2 lb. boned and trimmed pork shoulder
  • about 4 or 5 slices of pineapple
  • 1 medium yellow onion
  • cilantro, salsa, guacamole, tortillas, and other taco adornments

Soak the dried chiles in hot water (with just a splash of white vinegar) for about half an hour, until they are softened. Remove the stems and as many seeds as you can, though this can be tricky when they’re all soft and squishy. Mix the peppers, vinegar, garlic, cumin, adobo, annato, oregano, and a bit of salt and pepper together and blend into a fine puree in a blender or a food processor. (Yay, Eunice, for getting me a blender for the birthday! You are awesome!)

Pour the marinade into a small sauce pan, and let it cook over medium heat for about ten minutes, so the flavors get a little “cooked” and meld together. Ok, I actually have no idea what the marinade is supposed to be cooked, or even if it really matters that much, but I did it anyway. I am such a follower!

You want to cut the pork shoulder into slices, about 1/4 inch thick. I had a tough time with the pork shoulder, so I had some big chunks and some slices and some little bits. It all ended up falling apart in the end, so I’m not sure how crucial the slicing is. Just do what makes you happy.

Mix the marinade and the pork pieces in the bowl of a slow cooker, and set it all in the refrigerator overnight to marinade and get all happy. In the morning, just set the bowl into the cooker apparatus, and place a few slices of pineapple on top of the pork. Cover it up and let it cook a low for about seven or eight hours.

Now it’s time for a little disquisition on the slow cooker: I have only used mine twice, and I think that’s quite a shame. But I feel at a loss when I’m faced with the slow cooker! I just can’t think of what, other than a large hunk of meat, I should put in the thing, and I don’t often cook large hunks of meat. The slow cooker could be a total life saver in the summer, as it doesn’t generate as much heat as the oven or even a skillet on the stove top. But most slow cooker recipes I’ve seen just aren’t that appealing. And what about leaving it on to cook up your dinner while you’re at work? Is that something people do, or is it generally frowned upon as a potential fire hazard? I guess what I’m saying is, I’m trying to figure this whole crock pot thing out, and would love some interesting recipes and/or general helpful information, if anyone has it. I guess that wasn’t really a disquisition, was it? Whatever, back to the slowly cooking pork.

Cooking al pastor in the skillet

When the pork is falling apart into almost-liquid strings, it’s ready. Now you want to cook it in batches in a skillet, so it gets just a touch of crustiness. Actually, that was my theory, but it didn’t really work out like that in the end. It didn’t get crusty at all, but it is a good way to cook in the onions without letting them lose all their onion-y flavor like they would if they cooked for eight hours in a slow cooker. Just slice the onion into biggish pieces and mix it up with the pork in the skillet. Cook for about six or seven minutes, just long enough for the onion to become a little transclucent. Then you can throw it back into the slow cooker to keep it warm, or serve it in a bowl or a platter.

This stuff was really amazing, but unlike last year’s pulled pork, which disappeared in literally twenty minutes, I still have leftovers! (I’m planning to put it on a pizza, so watch out for the update.) I’m not sure why it didn’t go as fast, but Mr. X’s theory is that the tortillas (homemade and perhaps my best batch yet) in which this pork was being eaten were smaller than the buns of last year’s feast, so people just didn’t eat as much.

Al pastor with slaw and salsa

Along with homemade tortillas and Pioneer Woman’s amazing stuffed jalapenos (I’ll share my version later this week), I made refried beans (sadly, not my best batch, but these things happen), Mr. X made a delicious red cabbage slow, Kate brought mango salsa, Dmitri brought his mind bogglingly good guacamole, Eunice brought carne asada to grill, and Jax brought me a beautiful ice cream cake (peanut butter chip, my favorite). And everyone brought tequila. It was a great birthday.

14. July 2008 by laura k
Categories: marinades and rubs, meat | 12 comments

Comments (12)

  1. That certainly looks delicious!
    Happy birthday!

  2. The next time we meet, you will have to bring the fixins and make this for us; it sounds and looks “yummy” I am glad that you had a good birthday; thought of you all day and wish you were here. love you Laura, gramma

  3. This stuff is the real deal. Delicious!

  4. This was a bit too vinegary for me. I think I’d relax on the vinegar and maybe substitute some lime in there- keep the acid up, but something with more flavor. Otherwise the marinade was very good. When I get my slow-cooker back to fully operational, I’ll let you know how I tweak the recipe. -L

  5. Instead of the vinegar I too would add fresh lime and also any juice from the pineapple.

    Also Al Pastor is usually slices, chunks or slivers as opposed to the consistency of shredded beef or pulled pork. Think about how it’s normally cut off a vertical rotisserie, like gyros meat (which shares a lot in common with Al Pastor)

    You may want to consider searing or browning the meat before you toss it in the slow cooker to give it some of the “crunchiness” and also pulling back on the time in the slow cooker. You really don’t want the fatty connective tissue to melt away (which gives you the stringy quality you get with pulled pork.) So rather check on it after 4 or 5 hours have gone by, maybe no more than 6. THEN you can pull it out, pat it dry, and slice or cube it into bite sized piece, and then finish it like you suggested with some oil in a frying pan. Just hit it really quick and try to get some more burned bits/crunchiness that you look for in good pastor. You may also want to reserve a few more pineapple rings and rather than using the mushed down pineapple from the slow cooker (good idea, btw) You can chop those rings into cubes, then heat some oil in a frying pan, fry/saute the pineapple for a minute or two THEN toss in the chunks of meat, trying to get some crispiness on the meat. After a couple minutes squeeze some fresh lime juice over it all to “deglaze” the pan and marry all the flavors) You could also add the onion into the pan before the pineapple and the meat.

    But overall the recipe looks great, and I am glad you posted it.

  6. Delicious recipe. I didn’t have limes when making the marinade so I substituted orange juice for 1/2 of the vinegar to prevent any over-vinegary flavor. I took the meat out after about 4 1/2 hours and cubed it (as the previous poster had suggested) and used the oil left over in the slow cooker to crisp it up on med-high heat. I topped it with cilantro-lime crema (mayo, sour cream, green onions, fresh cilantro, lime juice, salt and pepper), sauteed pineapple, and some cabbage slaw (shredded cabbage, lime juice, salt, pepper) and the tacos were fantastic. I will be checking back on your site to find more recipes for the 4lbs of pork I didn’t use!

  7. This was not our cup of tea. WAY too acidic… extremely disappointed. : ( It looked fabulous, but tasted terrible.

    • Sorry it didn’t turn out well! I remember our version being pretty delicious, but the recipe was kind of made up on the spot, so I can’t make any guarantees. I should try this again, take some of the suggestions other commenters have left, and see if I can’t re-create the recipe to be a little more fool proof.

  8. The 1 cup of vinegar should only be used to marinate the pork for about 2 hours. Drain well then add the pork to the slow cooker.

    • Thanks for the suggestion. I’m sure there are many variations; this version turned out pretty well. Someday I should compile all the suggestions in the comments and try it again.

  9. I’m definitely going to try this recipe but perhaps substitute some of the vinegar for orange juice and a bit of lime. If you want the cruncy yummy parts, try taking it out of the slow cooker a bit earlier, cube it up and spread it out on a cookie sheet and broil for a few mins. This is what I’ve done with carnitas and it’s awesome.