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RBR Tailgating: Tacos al Pastor

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What we can learn from a Little League tailgate.

If you haven’t had the opportunity to coach a youth league team, you might not understand this post.

I served as assistant coach to my oldest’s U-12 soccer team. Ideally, a U-12 team is made up of fifth graders. The Saint Francis Saints fifth grade squad didn’t have enough players to field a team. The fourth grade couldn’t pull it off either. We merged the two age groups. Another Catholic elementary school called. They couldn’t put together a team either. We added their kids to our ranks. They were younger still.

Our ten and eleven year old competition was equal to our handful of game fifth graders, but towered above our scrappy fourth graders and sacrificial third graders. In this league, you play all of your kids. We won a game. We lost a lot more.

Our final contest was a logistical disaster. There was an out of state wedding that took away one of our best midfield distributors, a family birthday claimed a dogged defender, and two utility players were otherwise absent. We had an exact eleven with no substitutes and three of ours were three years younger (at an age when that’s really noticeable) than everyone on the opposite side.

Down 5-0 at the half I asked if we could score one goal. They told me they could. Those kids set their minds and went to work.

They got it too. With a couple of minutes left, a defender on the other team got sloppy. He looked downfield for a target to pass to but let the ball get ahead of him. Our striker took advantage, stole the ball and scored.

I was applauding the kids when one of them told me that nothing changed. We always need to win one goal, no matter what the score.

With roughly thirty seconds left in the game, that same striker intercepted a goal kick and sent a through ball between their left fullback and sweeper. It was picked up by a center midfielder who slotted it to the left corner for a second goal.

I hate the idea of a moral victory, but that was a moral victory.

Mercer is at best lined up for a similar result. Nothing against them, but the deck is not stacked against them so much as weighted, super glued, and tied down with adamantium chains. They may get a team inspiring play or score, but…

The solace I can offer is food. I loved the Q&A with Mercer Cluster.

Back to my kid’s soccer team, there is an amazing tailgate going on post U-12 soccer at Grantswood Field in Birmingham.

A couple - I assume, they could be husband and wife, brother and sister, or [Insert powerful man and supposedly credible news organization that helped keep sexually awkward stories quiet for the last ten to thirty years to the benefit of powerful man as that seems to be the thing these days] - make the most amazing tacos I’ve ever had.

Best part? They charge $2 per. It’s no more than a grill, a tent, and a folding table. Unbelievably good.

They were busy last Saturday, too much so to talk to. I texted the Athletic Director who might give me a phone number or email to get in touch with the taco makers, but my attempts were fruitless.

What follows is an attempt at my favorite of the Grantswood offerings. They have chicken and beef tacos, tamales, and others, but tacos al pastor rule the roost. My recipe follows, immensely influenced by (as always, lately) Kenji Lopez-Alt (his name be praised).

This is a really long cook, but there isn’t that much active work. There’s a lot of prep and wait. I really like the way it turned out. It takes two days to do it the way I think it ought to be done, but I’m open to a quicker version, which I’ll include.

Tacos al Pastor

2 lbs. pork shoulder

8 oz. pineapple

2- 3 dried Guajilio Peppers

2-3 dried Ancho peppers

1 chipotle pepper, canned in adobo sauce

1 cup chicken stock

2 cloves garlic

1 tbsp. cumin

1 tbsp. chili powder

2 tbsp. achiote, powdered

bacon

corn tortillas

lime

Briefly freeze the pork shoulder, just enough so it’s ripe for thin slicing. Pound the slices between plastic wrap.

Put all the peppers and spices in a sauce pan with a cup of chicken stock or more as needed. Rejuvenate those dried peppers and then pulse in a food processor along with the garlic. Salt to taste.

Toss the pounded slices with the pepper marinade. Layer in a bread pan or similar to about two inches, add a single strip of bacon, and layer the rest of the pork. I used two strips of bacon. That was a bit much. Next time I might consider using pancetta as the bacon fat was welcome, but the smoked flavor came across too strongly - not consistently, but enough to be noticed every few bites.

If you want to do this quickly, put the pork in the fridge for two hours. That’s enough to infuse the meat with the marinade. You can skip right ahead to the searing stage should you like. (Don’t. There’s some really cool stuff ahead.)

If you have time on your hands, leave the pork in the fridge overnight, let it return to room temperature, roast it in an oven at 300˚F for two hours, and let it cool to room temp again.

Drain half of the fat and juices from the pan and, while this may seem like overkill, refrigerate the meat again overnight. Refrigerate the reserved juices as well. You’ll need them.

This squash has nothing to do with tacos. This squash has worries of its own.

As it cooked and cooled, the meat, the salt, and the fat content, should… and this is the big you win or lose should… make a loaf as the tissue ever so slightly breaks down. A thin slice from the rendered meat should not freely fall apart. It will not be perfect. Nothing short of a maddening soufflé will be perfect. That’s cooking. But it will be a free standing slice.

I sautéed the slice in a bit of the reserved juice, tossed in the pineapple, and thought it was great. The next day, I minced the meat, tossed it into a dry skillet, allowed a few burned and crisp bits to develop, and then added the reserved juice and pineapple to add flavor. The second way was better.

Serve with any manner of things. I like a relish of onion, cilantro, cucumber, and jalapeno. Lime juice is a must. If you like radishes, serve with radishes. A spicy salsa is an obvious addition.

Apropos of nothing, while cooking, my wife and I dialed up eighties music videos on YouTube. We can tell you tales of hilarity and horror. I don’t want to compete with the Friday Random Ten, but I have seen things.

I was initially enamored with Men Without Hats. It seemed the most absurd. Safety Dance’s Ivan Doroschuck is clearly the least capable dancer (What is he pointing at?) in the whole RennCon and the three minute show is funny as hell. But if you really want to go down a rabbit hole, check out Adam Ant. Here, here, and here. My wife was so impressed that she claimed Ant as her new Patronus.

Enjoy, no injuries, and Roll Tide.