Why Pineapple Is Key To Balanced, Flavorful Slow Cooker Al Pastor

One of the most popular and mouth-watering taco fillings at any Mexican food truck or restaurant, al pastor is the marriage of Middle Eastern and Mexican cuisines. A Mexicanized twist of lamb shawarma brought to Mexico by Lebanese immigrants in the 1930s, al pastor co-opts the spit roasting technique, swapping lamb for adobo-marinated pork. If you've ever seen a typical al pastor spit, you've probably also noticed the rings of fresh pineapple sandwiching the pork as it roasts. 

You've also probably observed the bright orange hue of the pork's crust. The orange coloring and the pineapple rings are both distinguishing features and the key complementary flavors that make al pastor so popular. Al pastor uses a marinade known as adobo rojo, a key ingredient of which is the deep red achiote paste. Achiote comes from a plant native to Mexico and the Americas with a distinctly bitter and peppery flavor palette that usually receives a sweet and sour complement from bitter orange in marinades. 

In the case of al pastor, pineapple becomes the vibrant and tropical complement to achiote's bitterness and the savoriness of the pork. As the pork and pineapple roast on the spit, the juices from the caramelized pineapple and drippings from the pork mingle. An order of al pastor tacos features slices of pork and adobo-infused pineapple chunks straight off the spit. Homemade al pastor swaps the spit for a slow cooker, but the balance of sweet and savory ingredients still applies.

Incorporating pineapple into slow cooker al pastor

While the traditional spit-roasted al pastor is a visually stunning treat to enjoy at a restaurant, most homes aren't equipped with the tools for spit-roasting. Consequently, a slow cooker is a convenient kitchen appliance that renders pull-apart tender al pastor that can easily be spooned onto homemade tacos. Tasting Table recipe developer Christina Musgrave takes you through the simple steps of an easy one-pot slow cooker al pastor recipe, throwing the marinade and pineapple into the pot all at once.

Musgrave swaps the bright red achiote for canned chipotles in adobo sauce, giving the pork a spicier, tangier marinade. That said, pineapple is just as important an ingredient as ever to balance the spicy and savory marinated pork with sweetness. You can swap chipotles for achiote paste if you have it at home or you can add an extra helping of cracked black pepper to achieve achiote's peppery bite. 

Unlike a spit-roasted al pastor that uses a pineapple-juice infused marinade for the pork, slow cooker pork calls for whole chunks of pineapple mixed in with the marinade and pork along with a few strips of pineapple rind to layer atop the mixture. The rinds will bolster the flavor of pineapple without adding more volume to the meat. You can use the quicker five-hour slow cooker setting or leave it to cook overnight on the 10-hour setting. The pork and marinade will break down into a tender, shredded taco filling dotted with pineapple chunks.