Chipotle’s hen al pastor is a tasty facsimile of the true deal


The final time my spouse and I traveled to Mexico in the summertime of 2021, we stayed in Puerto Morelos, a former fishing village that’s slowly shedding a warfare to the Riviera Maya and its relentless marketing campaign to construct luxurious resorts. Nonetheless, the neighborhood retains a lot of its small coastal appeal and, simply as necessary, is a brief drive from numerous landmarks alongside the Yucatán Peninsula, equivalent to a spot expensive to my coronary heart: El Fogón, an open-air taqueria in Playa del Carmen that’s each touristy and indispensable.

El Fogón makes a speciality of tacos al pastor, often known as shepherd-style tacos as a result of they lean on Lebanese shawarma traditions first launched to Puebla, Mexico, and later refined in Mexico Metropolis. From the sidewalk exterior El Fogón, you may see the dual rotisseries slowly spinning in place, the skewers stacked high and wide till they seem like congas. Because the drums of marinated pork rotate in entrance of a vertical broiler, or trompo, the fuel flames caramelize and char the outside layers, to not point out the fats that trickles down from the slices of meat above. To savor pork al pastor wrapped inside a tortilla with onions, cilantro and pineapple — a chew directly crusty, earthy, candy and spicy — is to understand the hardship that went into the creation of this exquisite compound: the poverty and politics, the displacement and loss, the assimilation and supreme acceptance.

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I point out this as a result of Chipotle has simply launched hen al pastor to menus at each one among its 3,200-plus eating places worldwide. The chain’s interpretation of the Mexican-Lebanese dish might take liberties with the usual prep — for starters, they selected hen over pork, and Chipotle is not going to put in trompos in each storefront for a limited-time-only merchandise — however its rollout is one of the best proof but that tacos al pastor have reached mainstream standing. Congratulations, or condolences, relying in your standpoint of such an achievement — and the compromises it typically calls for.

Personally, I discovered a lot to admire about Chipotle’s hen al pastor, beginning with the twin-engine combustion of its guajillo and morita peppers, which ignites right into a stage of warmth maybe surprising for a nationwide chain. The primary time I attempted the brand new protein — as a part of a package deal Chipotle despatched to meals writers forward of the dish’s debut on Tuesday — I used to be additionally impressed with the sourness of the pork, as if the chain have been channeling the flavors of cochinita pibil as a lot as these of al pastor. That mixture of acid and spice, dustiness and sweetness, tripped lots of proper receptors for me. If this wasn’t El Fogón street-level genuine, it was most likely as shut as a company R&D staff can get.

However the next day, I ordered the hen al pastor once more alone dime. I requested the kitchen at my native Chipotle to slide the hen into three preparations: burrito, quesadilla and tacos with delicate flour tortillas. The acid wasn’t precisely AWOL, however it was goldbricking like loopy. The sourness that was a primary lieutenant on Monday had been demoted to non-public first-class on Tuesday — and confined to barracks by these two-star peppers, so impressed with their energy. (Sure, I do consider I’ve stretched this metaphor nearly so far as it’ll go.) I believe the road cooks merely didn’t hit the hen with sufficient lime on the finish, as they’re directed to do.

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The diminished acid was not a dealbreaker, only a reminder that even the tightest of company chains can have consistency points. The very fact is, the marinade is so earnest in its exploration of al pastor that it’s straightforward to miss tiny missteps. And even the absence of diced pineapple, these candy, sharp starbursts which can be so important to counteract a fatty protein dusted with earthy, typically pungent spices. Chipotle’s recipe builders are a intelligent bunch: Quite than ask each kitchen to prep pineapple every day, they’ve added sufficient pineapple to the marinade to, roughly, compensate for the shortage of minimize fruit as a garnish. It doesn’t damage, after all, that hen thighs aren’t as wealthy as pork shoulder or butt. The pineapple simply isn’t as very important right here.

With that stated, the marinade shouldn’t be sturdy sufficient to outlive the avalanche of substances unloosed everytime you minimize into Chipotle’s Mission-style burrito. I suppose you may construct a burrito that’s leaner, with much less filler, to offer that hen extra voice. However because it’s usually constructed with rice and beans, salsa and cheese, lettuce and bitter cream, this bloated log just about mutes something the chicken has to say. You finest stick to tacos or the quesadilla whose outer pores and skin blazes a most scrumptious shade of reddish-orange because the marinade’s oil and floor achiote make their solution to the floor.

As this level in our chain-food tradition, with its love of limited-run choices to generate buzz, I believe you need to acknowledge that Chipotle has (arguably) the strongest culinary improvement staff within the nation. They don’t chase glittery rainbow unicorns at twilight. In recent times, they’ve been pursuing meals which have some foundation in actuality and, as such, might have adherents who’re prepared to carry Chipotle accountable for its wholesale method to, say, smoked brisket or pollo asado.

I imply, it takes extra guts to develop hen al pastor than it does a pantry-dump pizza bowl. And to tug it off with a suitable margin of error? That takes ability and a complete lot of logistical muscle to recreate it in additional than 3,000 shops.

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