Smoky-Sweet Chicken Al Pastor Recipe

Smoky-Sweet Chicken Al Pastor Recipe

Whether it's at a Mexican restaurant, taco truck, or food stall, you've probably come across tacos al pastor. What make them unique is the cooking method, which involves a vertical spit, adopted from Middle Eastern techniques for shawarma and gyro. "Al pastor" even translates to "in the style of the shepherd," referencing the lamb-based roasts in Lebanese cuisine. The Mexican adaptation is almost always made with pork, and the addition of pineapple and chiles make for a perfect pairing with the rich, savory meat.

As much as we would love to roast slabs of pork on a vertical spit, we can't exactly fit it into our already-cramped kitchens. (And we think our landlord would be against the installation, anyway). Instead, developer Michelle McGlinn suggests an easier method, involving quick-cooking chicken and a few handy spices, that will hit the spot on a busy taco night. Loaded with smoky chipotle and sweet pineapple, this chicken al pastor is sure to be a new favorite.

Gathering the ingredients for smoky-sweet chicken al pastor

First, you'll need chicken. We like chicken thighs, which are juicy, tender, and flavorful, but you can swap for chicken breasts if preferred. From there, you'll need pineapple juice, which we recommend buying canned. The lime juice, on the other hand, should be fresh. You'll also need a can of chipotles in adobo, ground annatto (also called achiote), cinnamon, olive oil, smoked paprika, oregano, cumin, honey, and minced garlic.

Step 1: Combine the marinade ingredients

Combine all ingredients but chicken in a blender

Step 2: Blend the marinade

Blend until well combined.

Step 3: Coat the chicken

Pour marinade into a large bowl. Add chicken and toss to coat completely.

Step 4: Marinate the chicken

Marinate for at least 1 hour or up to 8 hours.

Step 5: Preheat the oven

Preheat the oven to 400 F.

Step 6: Arrange the chicken on a wire rack

Arrange the chicken on a sheet pan fitted with a wire rack.

Step 7: Roast the chicken

Roast for 30 minutes or until internal temperature reaches 165 F.

Step 8: Shred the chicken

When chicken is cooked through, remove from the oven and shred the skin and meat using two forks. Discard the bones.

Step 9: Serve the chicken al pastor

Serve with desired accompaniments, such as flour or corn tortillas, white onions, cilantro, and/or lime wedges.

Why do you use canned pineapple juice for the marinade?

It's unusual for us to specify a canned ingredient instead of a fresh one, especially when it comes to juices. Most of the time, the juice from freshly-squeezed fruit is much more preferable than anything bottled. In this case, however, we are using canned pineapple juice to avoid over-tenderizing the chicken. Fresh pineapple and its juice include a group of enzymes called bromelain that break down protein. 

As you can imagine, a protein-digesting enzyme would work to break down meat like chicken. For a marinade, this sounds ideal. You want to break down the proteins a bit, right? The problem is that bromelain does this too well, causing stringy, tough, rubbery chicken. To avoid this, you can marinade chicken for a short period of time in fresh pineapple juice (under an hour) or use canned instead. The latter is heated during the canning process, destroying the bromelain enzymes.

How can I serve chicken al pastor?

Al pastor is most commonly eaten as tacos al pastor. You can add any array of toppings you like, but we recommend finely chopped cilantro, diced white onion, and a squeeze of fresh lime juice. If you can't have a taco without some cheese, try crumbly cotija or shred some queso Chihuahua to melt on top. Along the lines of what you'd get at a fast-casual Mexican restaurant, you can also eat the chicken in a bowl with rice, beans, lettuce, and salsa. For a less conventional route break out your favorite bread or buns and turn this chicken al pastor into a sandwich. 

Chicken is the easiest way to make this al pastor recipe because it cooks quickly and is easily shreddable after just 30 minutes. The marinade in this recipe can be used on pork, too, but if you're worried it's going to take more planning (and a vertical spit), try our slow cooker al pastor recipe instead.

Smoky-Sweet Chicken Al Pastor Recipe
4.9 from 19 ratings
Rather than pork cooked on a vertical spit, this al pastor recipe uses roasted, shredded chicken. The marinade features chipotle chiles and pineapple juice.
Prep Time
1.17
hours
Cook Time
35
minutes
Servings
4
Servings
al pastor taco on plate
Total time: 1 hour, 45 minutes
Ingredients
  • 3 canned chipotles in adobo + 2 tablespoons reserved adobo sauce
  • 2 teaspoons ground annatto seeds
  • ¼ cup canned pineapple juice
  • Juice of ½ lime
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • ½ teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 2 teaspoons oregano
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 pound chicken thighs, bone in and skin on
Optional Ingredients
  • Flour or corn tortillas, for serving
  • Diced white onion, for serving
  • Chopped cilantro, for serving
  • Lime wedges, for serving
Directions
  1. Combine all ingredients but chicken in a blender
  2. Blend until well combined.
  3. Pour marinade into a large bowl. Add chicken and toss to coat completely. .
  4. Marinate for at least 1 hour or up to 8 hours.
  5. Preheat the oven to 400 F.
  6. Arrange the chicken on a sheet pan fitted with a wire rack.
  7. Roast for 30 minutes or until internal temperature reaches 165 F.
  8. When chicken is cooked through, remove from the oven and shred the skin and meat using two forks. Discard the bones.
  9. Serve with desired accompaniments, such as flour or corn tortillas, white onions, cilantro, and/or lime wedges.
Nutrition
Calories per Serving 412
Total Fat 32.7 g
Saturated Fat 7.0 g
Trans Fat 0.1 g
Cholesterol 111.1 mg
Total Carbohydrates 10.2 g
Dietary Fiber 2.0 g
Total Sugars 5.1 g
Sodium 736.1 mg
Protein 20.1 g
The information shown is Edamam’s estimate based on available ingredients and preparation. It should not be considered a substitute for a professional nutritionist’s advice.
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