Pineapple Complements The Rich Flavor Of Chicken Al Pastor

If you know anything about the history behind tacos al pastor served at eateries, food trucks, and street vendors across Mexico and around the globe, then you're already aware that it combines meat with fresh pineapple. Pork cooked on a vertical spit is the traditional meat used in tacos al pastor — but it's not the only protein that can benefit from being slow cooked along with the fruit. Chicken, one of the most consumed meats in the world, turns out just as rich and flavorful when paired with pineapple and a few other ingredients.

Pineapples contain a high amount of bromelain, an enzyme that has the power to break down protein and therefore helps tenderize meats like chicken. Pineapple also passes on its sweetness and acidity to cut through the richness of the chicken, and the poultry will soak up those flavors along with the spices during the cooking process. The delicious pairing is brought alive in dishes like Tasting Table's smoky-sweet chicken al pastor from recipe developer Michelle McGlinn. For this rendition on al pastor, McGlinn uses pineapple juice in a marinade for chicken thighs, the preferred cut because they are juicy and tender. That said, there are some tips you must know when working with pineapple before you start cooking.

Chicken absorbs canned pineapple juice without breaking down too much

In our recipe, McGlinn combines the poultry and fruit with canned pineapple juice. This is an important factor because, while pineapple is a good meat tenderizer, fresh juice contains more of those bromelain enzymes and can go too far when it comes to tenderizing the meat. "The problem is that bromelain does this too well, causing stringy, tough, rubbery chicken," McGlinn explains. Meanwhile, canned juice will contain less bromelain. It's then combined with chipotle chiles in adobo sauce, lime juice, annatto seeds, honey, garlic, and spices like cumin and oregano for the flavorful marinade. You can also use coriander, chili powder, and cloves in the marinade, or add apple cider vinegar or orange juice for more acidity.

If you really want to use fresh pineapple juice in your chicken al pastor, don't let it marinate for more than an hour. You can also incorporate pieces of the fruit into the recipe — but they won't go in the marinade. Instead, skewer chunks of either canned or fresh pineapple between pieces of marinated chicken, and cook over a baking dish in the oven. This will create a similar effect to traditional al pastor that's roasted on rotating spits. You could also place fresh pineapple spears on a pan under a broiler to blister the fruit, and cook it together with the poultry. With this technique, serve the charred pineapple with the chicken on tortillas.