Big Star at Home

Long weekends are such a tease. Just long enough to relax just a little bit, but they’re over right when you really start getting used to it. Long or not really though, I’ll take what I can get, and will only complain a little along the way.

As it turns out, these “long weekends” are just long enough to get a few things accomplished. They’re long enough to get your hands on a really cheap starter bike that you broke in immediately by riding it 8 miles home (meanwhile, breaking in the tailbone as well). They’re just long enough to eat a good (ultra-cheap) dinner with friends, and to make it to Ribfest to sweat a bit in the sweltering hot sun and watch the Hubs regretfully inhale a deep-fried Milky Way.

This particular long weekend was just long enough to squeeze in a trip to Grant Park for fireworks, which included seeing lots of unpleasant “mom cleavage”, a kid getting swacked upside the head, lackluster fireworks, and Chicago’s finest texting and facebooking instead of fighting crime. The time with friends was unbeatable, though, and entirely worth all the other oddities.

Hubs’ weekend was more than complete, even though he had to work some (on a Holiday weekend! a Holiday weekend!), because he got to see his favorite band of all time for the millionth time, which for him is entirely priceless. It’s priceless for me too, but not because of the music, but instead because I see him with a permanent smile, carefree and as happy as a kid building a sandcastle. Maybe happier.

The only thing we didn’t get to squeeze into the past long weekend was a trip to Big Star, our neighborhood’s popular new-ish bar that requires you to either be on a permanent vacation, and/or have the determination to make it there by noon on the weekends with plans to camp out all day, as the patio fills up within moments if you aren’t there on the weekday by three. For those of us who work, that’s a little hairy.

Fortunately, a recent read of Food & Wine led me to an easy-on-the-eye picture of tacos al pastor from none other than the Bucktown spot itself, as part of a feature of the country’s top taco joints. It seems these delicacies weren’t as difficult to come by as I might had previously imagined, after all.

And after making them, Hubs and I agreed that, aside from the waiting time of grilling and resting the pork shoulder and taco assembly, the wait for these at home is much more bearable. Just like their own in-house tacos, these are perfectly juicy and heavily flavored with the dried chile marinade that the pork soaked in overnight. Finished off with a grilled pineapple salsa, I could have easily been sitting at a picnic table outdoors rather than in my own house.

The only difference? I was missing a Bakersfield Buck. But next time these get made, I plan to procure some ginger beer and bourbon as well, and then I’ll truly have my very own Big Star at Home. Without the agony of waiting.

Tacos al Pastor
Adapted from Big Star via Food & Wine, May 2010; serves 6

printable version

timing: 45 minutes of work, but allow a day for overnight marinating

4 dried guajillo chiles (about 1 ounce)
1 dried ancho chile
2 dried chipotle chiles
2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
1/2 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1/4 cup Coca-Cola
3 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 teaspoon annatto seeds
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 whole clove
1/2 tablespoon brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
2 tablespoons vegetable oil, plus more for grilling
2 1/2 pounds boneless pork shoulder, cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices
1 large Spanish onion, cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices
Salt and freshly ground pepper
12 corn tortillas, warmed
cotija cheese
Grilled pineapple, chopped red onion and cilantro, for serving
1/2 lime’s worth of juice

Stem and seed all of the dried chiles and place them in a microwave-safe bowl. Cover with water and microwave at high power until softened, about 3 minutes. Let cool slightly, then drain and transfer to a blender. Add the orange juice, lime juice, soda and vinegar. In a spice grinder, grind the annatto with the oregano, cumin, clove, sugar and garlic powder until fine. Add the spice mixture to the blender and blend until smooth.

Transfer the marinade to a saucepan. Add the 2 tablespoons of oil and cook over moderate heat, stirring constantly, until very thick, about 5 minutes; let cool. Transfer the marinade to a large resealable plastic bag. Add the pork and onion and seal the bag. Refrigerate overnight.

Light a grill. Remove the pork and onion from the marinade and scrape most of it off. Brush the pork and onion with oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill over moderate heat, turning, until the meat is cooked through, 15 minutes. Transfer the pork and onion to a work surface, cover loosely with foil and let stand 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, mix the pineapple, red onion, and cilantro with lime juice and season with salt and pepper.

Cut the pork into strips. Serve the pork and onion with the warmed tortillas and salsa. Top with cotija cheese.

13 thoughts on “Big Star at Home

  1. wow, chris looks like he’s really loving them.. glad ya’ll had a good and safe week-end. i’ll be talking to ya soon. love ya,mom

  2. Susan Wetzel says:

    I was waiting for you to put this recipe on your blog. I already bought the pork shoulder on sale at Harris Teeter last week! I can also attest to this recipe being absolutely delicious since Heather made it on our recent visit to Chicago. Wow, you got a bike!! I knew you would. Glad you had a good time at the Rush concert. Love, Susan

  3. Whoa – those look awesome! And I love the Chris’ pic – I think that vouches for your taco street cred! This is definitely going on the “to be made asap” list! Thanks for sharing…al pastor tacos are our absolute favorite too, and we’re a little lost now that our favorite taqueria on Clark is gone, and we’ve yet to find another spot that’s good (and gluten-free safe).

  4. mom – yes, chris loved them. good chat last night. love ya!

    katie – oh yeah, very flavorful! an awesome taco, for sure!

    susan – it was just a matter of time! let me know when you make it and how you like it at home! and yea – a bike! super cheap, but this way i can “try it out” before i really commit!

    caroline – yes, please go to big star! but be prepared to wait in line. your best bet is Monday-Wednesday.

    jenn – definitely add them to your list! so sad that your taqueria closed😦. i dunno if they’d be gf at big star or not, but they are if you make them at home, and chris says they are just as good (his face in the pic does, too!)

  5. Oh, those tacos look great. We were visiting family in Chicago over the 4th this year. We didn’t make it to the fireworks, but had a great time at the Taste of. Some of the same events you spoke of were taking place there as well.😉

  6. Jennifer says:

    Just catching up on your blog and I can’t believe I missed this one! Also, the tacos at Big Star are indeed GF. Jon eats them all the time! Now we can just come over to your place instead of waiting in line.🙂

  7. Jared – thanks, and yeah – time to get a taco stand🙂.

    Lori – oh, the Taste. I’m sure there was a lot of craziness there, probably more!

    Jennifer – you are so right! when I wrote this I had forgotten that Jon eats them like they’re going outta style, and he does get the al pastor doesn’t he? You guys going there twice in one day is true loyalty🙂

  8. We made the tacos last night, and they were KILLER! Wow! I streamlined the recipe a little – didn’t reduce the marinade before pouring it over the meat, then reserved about a 1/3 of it and reduced that to brush on the meat as it grilled. Tossed some fresh pineapple & onion slices on the grill & painted it with more of the reserved marinade for the salsa – and it was awesome.

    We had lots of leftover pork and salsa (I can be a bit of a pork shoulder hoarder in not wanting to invite friends over to share), so I cooked up some quinoa and tossed in the leftover pork, salsa, more cilantro and green onion for our lunches this week – YUM!

    Thanks for the recipe – we’ll definitely be making this one again!

  9. chris says:

    someone teach that man how to hold a taco haha🙂 you pinch it between your thumb and forefinger (perhaps also middle finger), holding it from the TOP of the taco, so the juices drip back onto the plate and not down your arm, etc🙂

  10. Jennifer Wojtas says:

    These look great! How spicy are they? I recently had the al pastor taco from Big star at an event they catered and I do not believe it was very spicy (I am a HUGE spice wimp!) but I noticed that this recipe calls for an array of different peppers! Any insight?

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