Tag Archives: tacos

Al Pastor, Always and Forever


So, this isn’t going to be true tacos al pastor.

For the absolute best version, you’d need at least 20 pounds of thin-sliced marinated pork, a charcoal-fired contraption like the ones used for roasting Greek gyros and a long knife to slice off slivers of the succulent roasty meat into waiting fresh corn tortillas.

Assuming you don’t have any of that, I’m going to offer up my backyard-grill version of Central Mexico’s most iconic taco, which food historians say came to Mexico after a great number of Middle Eastern immigrants brought vertical spit cooking.

Quick tip: The longer you marinate the meat, the more its texture will resemble cured ham; marinate for an hour or so for fresh-pork texture, overnight for cured texture. The marinade itself will hold for a week or more, covered and refrigerated.

And if you can’t find achiote paste locally, you might want to consider buying a pouch of Frontera Al Pastor marinade to do the work for you.

Tacos al Pastor
When I want to capture some of the tacos al pastor flavor in a hurry at home, this is how I do it. It's punchier with chipotle flavor than you typically taste from Mexico's tacos al pastor specialists, but it's delicious. This recipe is from from Season 7, Mexico—One Plate at a Time
Servings: 20tacos, enough to serve 4 to 5 as a main course


  • A 3 1/2ounce packageachiote paste
  • 3canned chipotle chile en adobo, plus 4 tablespoons of the canning sauce
  • 1/4cup vegetable or olive oil, plus a little more for the onion and pineapple
  • 1 1/2pounds thin-sliced pork shoulder (1/4-inch-thick slices are ideal—the kind Mexican butchers sell for making tacos al pastor)
  • 1medium red onion, sliced 1/4- inch thick
  • Salt
  • 1/4of a medium pineapple, sliced 1/4-inch-thick rounds
  • 20 warm corn tortillas
  • About 1 1/2cups raw tomatillo salsa


In a blender, combine the achiote paste, chiles, canning sauce, oil and 3/4 cup water. Blend until smooth. Use 1/3 of the marinade to smear over both sides of each piece of meat (refrigerate the rest of the marinade to use on other meat or fish). Cover and refrigerate for at least an hour.

Light a charcoal fire and let the coals burn until covered with gray ash but still very hot; bank the coals to one side and set the grill grate in place. Or, heat one side of a gas grill to high. Brush both sides of the onions slices with oil and sprinkle with salt. Lay in a single layer on the hot side of the grill. When richly browned, usually just about a minute, flip and brown the other side; move to the cool side of the grill to finish softening to grilled-onion sweetness. Oil and grill the pineapple in the same way. Finally, in batches, grill the meat: it’ll take about a minute per side as well. As the meat is done, transfer it to a cutting board and chop it up (between 1/4- and 1/2-inch pieces). Scoop into a skillet and set over the grill to keep the meat warm. Chop the onion and pineapple into small pieces as well, add them to the skillet and toss everything together. Taste and season with salt, usually about 1/2 teaspoon. Serve with the tortillas and salsa for your guests to make soft tacos.

Creamy Squash, Corn, Roasted Poblano & Squash Blossom Tacos

This is pure summer for me here in the midwest--perfect to prepare after a visit to the farmers market. Honestly, though, you can prepare it any time of year, though you'll likely be leaving out the squash blossoms. They add a vibrant color and luxurious touch, but aren't absolutely necessary. If you grow or can purchase epazote, chopping a few leaves to simmer with everything once the cream is added gives a very classic flavor. Another version of this dish replaces a couple of the poblanos with a generous cup of roasted, coarsely pureed ripe tomatoes.

It’s Taco Tuesday and it’s Time for Mexican-Style Zucchini Tacos

TacoTuesdayLogo_blueOK, this week’s Taco Tuesday takes me back to my time as a student living in Mexico City, where this mixture of tatume squash and roasted poblano in a tomato-crema sauce quickly became my go-to order at the taqueíra down the street.

Nostalgia aside, it’s still one of my favorite tacos of all time.

It all starts with the flavoring base, a simply satisfying tomato-onion-garlic mixture that serves as the foundation for the roasted chiles, corn and herbs. A big dollop of Mexican crema lends the mixture an irresistible richness. (If you stir it in al the very last moment, Greek yogurt can stand in for the crema.)

These are downright perfect as a vegetable option for dinner, but if your crowd is more carnivorous, these will be super good with the addition of small pieces of pork tenderloin (simmered along with the with the squash), shredded rotisserie chicken or, of course, some crispy fried bacon.

Tacos de Calabacitas a la Mexicana
Servings: 6


  • 1 1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1medium white onion, chopped
  • 1 pound (2 medium-large round or 6 to 8 plum) ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped OR two-thirds of a 28-ounce can good-quality fire-roasted tomatoes
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 2large fresh poblano chiles
  • 1large ear corn, husked and kernels cut off (about 1 cup) OR 1 cup frozen corn
  • 4medium (about 1 1/2 pounds total) zucchini—or use the Mexican round or teardrop-shaped, light green calabacitas—trimmed and cut into 1/2-inch cubes (about 5 cups cubes)
  • 1sprig epazote, leaves roughly chopped OR 3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
  • 2/3cup Mexican crema, crème fraîche or heavy (whipping) cream
  • 1/2cupcrumbled Mexican queso fresco, or other crumble fresh cheese, such as salted pressed farmer's cheese or feta
  • 24warm fresh corn tortillas


1. Preparing the flavoring base.  Measure the oil into a large (12-inch) skillet set over medium-high heat.  Add the onion and cook, stirring frequently, until richly browned, about 8 minutes.  While the onion is cooking, coarsely puree the tomatoes in a food processor or blender.  Add the garlic to the browned onion, cook 1 minute, stirring, then add the tomatoes.  Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. (Cover the skillet if you think it’s reducing and thickening too fast.) Remove from the heat.

2. Roasting the chiles. Roast the poblanos directly over a gas flame or on a baking sheet 4 inches below a very hot broiler, turning regularly until the skin has blistered and blackened on all sides, about 5 minutes for open flame, about 10 minutes for broiler. Cover with a kitchen towel and let stand 5 minutes.  Rub off the blackened skin, then pull out the stem and seed pod. Rinse briefly to remove stray seeds and bits of skin. Slice into 1/2-inch strips.

3. Finishing the dish. Uncover the skillet and raise the heat to medium-high. Stir in the poblanos, corn, zucchini, epazote (or cilantro) and the crema (or one of its stand-ins). Cook, stirring frequently, until the zucchini is crisp-tender and the liquid has thickened enough to coat the vegetables nicely, about 8 minutes. Taste and season with salt, usually about 1 teaspoon.  Serve in a decorative bowl, sprinkle with the crumbled cheese and pass the hot tortillas separately for do-it-yourself tacos.

Picnic-Perfect Napa Cabbage Salad Tacos

Mexican_lightblueLogo_POST_170x177-copyTypically, I like to populate our Mexican Weekend feature with recipes requiring just a little extra effort, like, say, grill-roasted ancho pork shoulder, seared scallops in tomatillo-olive sauce or red chile short rib soup.

But we’re throwing that formula out the window this weekend.

This weekend, it’s all about simplicity.

We’ll find it in this unexpected, wonderfully delicious Napa cabbage salad.

It starts with thinly sliced cabbage and chicken (a good rotisserie bird does the job), then veers into a creamy, tangy territory with the addition of mayonnaise and briny jalapeños, carrots and onions in escabeche.

Think of it like the best chicken salad you’ve ever had, with the added bonus of making it into tacos.

I envision this dish as the perfect addition to a picnic or lazy weekend gathering, but I’m curious to know: where will you serve it?



  • 1/2 medium head Napa cabbage (12 to 14 ounces)
  • 2 cups coarsley shredded, boned, skinned rotisserie chicken or leftover cooked chicken
  • 3/4 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 12-ounce can pickled whole jalapeños en escabeche
  • 3 to 4tablespoons loosely packed fresh cilantro
  • Salt
  • 16 corn tortillas


Thinly slice the cabbage (you can do this with a knife, food processor or mandolin) and place in a large mixing bowl.  Add chicken and mayonnaise.  Remove 3 to 4 jalapeňos from the can, slice into rings, and add to bowl.  Remove the onions and carrots from the can and chop into ¼ inch pieces (you'll have about 1/4 cup). Add to cabbage mixture along with 3 tablespoons of the canning liquid. Add the cilantro, stir everything together, taste and season with salt, usually about 1 teaspoon.

Wrap tortillas in damp paper towel and place in an unsealed ziplock bag.  Microwave at 100% for 1 minute, then let sit 1 minute before serving.

Immediately spoon about 1/3 cup of the cabbage mixture into warm tortillas and serve.

Cook's notes: This dish can also be made with Brussels sprouts. Here's the recipe for that version. 

Rick to Host “Fonda Fridays” in Wicker Park

Chef Rick Bayless is headed to the kitchen in Wicker Park making some amazingly tacos for the “Fonda Fridays” series.

“Occasionally, it’s nice to get out of downtown and just have fun in the kitchen.  I can promise some different, delicious and downright joyful tacos. These tacos will be unlike any thing else I’ve done,” Bayless said.

The “Fonda Fridays” series takes place beginning at 6:30 p.m. on Nov. 10, Nov. 17 and Nov. 24 at Fonda Frontera, 1471 N. Milwaukee Ave.

In addition to Fonda Frontera’s full array of Mexican comfort food, the menu for Nov. 10 includes three mouthwatering taco specials: Octopus CarnitasSmoked Brisket with Salsa Negra and Roasted Chicken with Maitake Mushrooms and Jalapeño Crema. (Other tacos in the series might include crispy sweetbreads with tomamole, lobster with esquites, tongue two-ways with foie gras crema, dry-aged beef with salsa huevona and lamb birria with Chicago-style giardiniera.)

Fonda Fridays will also mark the first time beer from Cruz Blanca Cervecería, Bayless’ brewery in the West Loop, will be served in any of his restaurants outside the Randolph Street locations. First up? CDMX, brewer Jacob Sembrano’s  bright pilsner with a delicate fruity German hop aroma balanced by a smooth, clean and soft bitter finish.

Good food, plus guests can also use the dinner series as an excuse to get a jump on holiday shopping – Rick will be signing cookbooks when he jumps off the line.

The launch of the Fonda Fridays series coincides with other changes at the restaurant, including a move toward Friday brunch, the debut of a new catering service and the introduction of a fall menu, which includes seasonal stars like Roasted Butternut-Bacon Tlayuda and a Spiced Tres Leches Cake with Red Chile-Apple Salsa.

Taco Tuesday: Crunchy, Cheesy, 420 Tacos

TT420DropshadowHeyyy maannnnn,

It has come to my attention over the years that a good number of people think my mellow enthusiasm for stuff I taste or cook is a result of—I’ll just say it—a little weed. While those that know me find that a little hilarious, the truth is I never touch the stuff. Well, certainly not recently (remember, I came of age in the ‘60s). Besides, I’m a mezcal man.

Nevertheless I find the presumed connection between me and a little weed just hilarious enough to do a 420 edition of Taco Tuesday dedicated to some tacos worthy of late-night munchies.

First, we start with bacon. (I mean, obvious, right?)

Then, we’ll caramelize some onions in all of that beautiful bacon fat, which is then used to fry a big mess of diced potatoes. And since these tacos wouldn’t be complete without some gooey melted cheese, we’ll add just enough to blend with all that delicious crispy bacon and onion caramelized in bacon fat. (I’ll bet you’re thinking about a one-hitter, aren’t you?)

Oh, and there’s some healthy splashes of Mexican hot sauce. And a handful of crumbled chicharrón (hey, potato chips could work here, too) for some crunchy, salty goodness.

Ok, maybe not everyone who partakes craves indulgent eats, but trust me, you’re going to want to make these — “enhanced” state of consciousness or not. 

Servings: 4to 6


  • 1 small white onion, diced
  • 2 to 4ounces (2 to 4 thick strips) bacon, cut crosswise into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 2pounds red skinned potatoes, cut into 3/4-inch chunks (about 3 cups)
  • 1/4cup shredded melting cheese, like Jack cheese
  • Hot sauce
  • 1piece chicharrón


In a large (10-inch) skillet set over medium heat, cook the bacon and onions, stirring occasionally, until the bacon is crispy and the onions are golden, about 10 minutes.

Scoop the potatoes into a microwave-safe bowl and splash with a few tablespoons of water. Cover with plastic wrap, poke a few holes in the top and microwave at 100% for 3 minutes, until mostly cooked. Tip out the water and add the potatoes to the pan, raise the heat to medium-high until the potatoes begin to crisp, about 4 minutes. Sprinkle the skillet with cheese and hot sauce. 

Scoop the mixture into warm tortillas and top with chicharrón and more hot sauce.

These Mushroom Tacos with “Lazy-Ass” Salsa Aren’t Much Work

TacoTuesdayLogo_blueThese grilled mushroom tacos are an unexpectedly delicious diversion from meat-centric, over-the-top fiesta food that typically arrives with summer barbecue season.) I’m thinking about the ribs and twice baked potatoes I’m making in a couple of weeks …)

Now, before you click “delete,” let me tell you what we’re working with here. It’s anything but your typical “vegetarian option.” A bold, citrusy marinade provides a dynamic counterpoint to the earthy portobellos. The salsa huevona adds rustic fire and char and just the right amount of pungency to every bite.
(That salsa, by the way, couldn’t take less effort. It’s name means–as you Spanish speakers know–“lazy ass” salsa, resulting from the fact that you throw tomatoes, chiles and onions on the grill and just leave them there until they’re charred.)
Quick note: You’ll notice that I leave the gills of the mushrooms intact. They don’t bother me like they so some cooks, but by all means feel free to scrape them off, if you wish, before applying the marinade.
Hongos asados al ajo con salsa poblana
Servings: 4as a light meal


  • 1medium white onion, sliced into 1/2-inch rounds (keep the rounds intact for easy grilling)
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 1/4cup fresh lime juice
  • 1/4teaspoon cumin, preferably freshly ground
  • Salt
  • 64- to 5-inch (about 1-3/4 pounds total) portobello mushrooms, stems removed and caps wiped clean (you can use a spoon to scrape out the dark gills on the underside of the caps, though it's not really necessary)
  • A little vegetable or olive oil for the onion
  • 12ounces (2 medium-small round or 4 to 6 plum) ripe tomatoes
  • 3medium (about 9 ounces total) fresh poblano chiles
  • 3tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
  • 12warm fresh corn tortillas


Marinating the mushrooms: In a food processor or blender, combine 1/3 of the onion, the garlic, 3 tablespoons of the lime juice, the cumin and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Process to a smooth puree. Lay out the mushroom caps in a nonaluminum baking dish. Using a spoon, smear the marinade over both sides of each mushroom cap. Cover and let stand for 1 hour.

Preparing the salsa: Heat a gas grill to medium-high or light a charcoal fire and let it burn just until the coals are covered with gray ash and very hot. Either turn the burner(s) in the center of the grill to medium-low or bank the coals to the sides of the grill for indirect cooking. Set the cooking grate in place, cover the grill and let the grate heat up, 5 minutes or so.

Brush or spray the remaining onion slices with oil and lay in a single layer in the center (the least hot part) of the grill, along with the tomatoes. Set the chiles over the hottest part. Roast, turning everything occasionally, until the chiles' skin (but not the flesh) is blistered and uniformly blackened all over, about 5 minutes, and the onion and tomatoes are softened and browned in spots, 10 to 15 minutes, depending on their size and the heat. When the chiles are done, remove them and cover with a kitchen towel. Set the tomatoes aside on a plate. Finely chop the onion and scoop it into a bowl.

When the tomatoes are cool enough to handle, pull off their skins. Use a mortar to crush them, or place them in a food processor or blender and pulse until coarsely pureed. Add to the chopped onion.

Rub the blackened skin off the chiles, then pull out the stems and seed pods. Rinse briefly to remove any stray seeds and bits of skin. Chop into small bits and stir half into the tomato-onion mixture along with the remaining 1 tablespoon, lime juice and the cilantro. Taste, season with salt, usually about 3/4 teaspoon, and then scoop into a serving bowl.

Grilling the mushrooms: Remove the mushrooms from the marinade, spray or brush them with oil and lay gill side up over the hot part of the grill. Cook until browned in spots, about 5 minutes, then flip and move to the center of the grill - the cooler part - and continue grilling until they feel a little limp but still have some body, about 10 minutes more.

Serving the tacos: Cut the mushrooms into 1/4-inch strips. Scoop into a warm serving dish and mix with the remaining chopped poblanos. Season with salt, usually about 1/4 teaspoon. Set the mushrooms on the table along with the salsa and hot tortillas - everything you need for making wonderful soft tacos.

Working ahead: The mushroom caps can remain in their marinade for as long as 24 hours, covered in the refrigerator. The salsa will keep nicely (covered and refrigerated) for a day or so. The mushrooms are best cooked shortly before serving.