Milk Street Cooking with Chilies (Ep 318)


Tacos al Pastor

Start to finish: 1 hour | Servings: 4

We combine tender broiled pork, spicy chilies and the subtle smokiness of charred pineapple in this take on tacos al pastor. The dish is from Mexico but has Levantine roots, stemming from the 19th century when Lebanese immigrants arrived, bringing their tradition of vertical spits for roasting lamb shawarma. Not finding much lamb, cooks switched to pork and instead of sandwiching the meat in flatbread, they used tortillas. Subsequent generations added pineapple and dried chilies. For everyday ease, we use pork tenderloin that has been pounded, briefly marinated and broiled. Chopped pineapple, also broiled, and fresh finely chopped white onion completes the tacos. For some extra color and crunch, offer finely shredded red cabbage for sprinkling. To simplify prep, you can buy fresh pineapple that has already been peeled, cored and sliced.

Don’t substitute regular chili powder for the ancho chili powder. If you can’t find ancho chili powder, pulverize whole ancho chilies (stemmed, seeded and torn) in a spice grinder.


  • 1 medium pineapple, peeled
  • 1⁄4 cup grapeseed or other neutral oil, plus more for the baking sheet and pineapple
  • 1⁄4 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 8 medium garlic cloves, peeled
  • 4 chipotle chilies in adobo, plus 1 tablespoon adobo sauce
  • 4 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 4 teaspoons ancho chili powder
  • Kosher salt and ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons lime juice, divided, plus lime wedges, to serve
  • 1 1⁄4-pound pork tenderloin, trimmed of silver skin and halved lengthwise
  • 1⁄3 cup lightly packed fresh cilantro, chopped
  • 8 corn tortillas, warmed
  • Finely chopped white onion, to serve


Slice the pineapple into seven 1⁄2-inch-thick rounds. Quarter 2 rounds, trimming and discarding the core. In a food processor, puree the quartered pineapple slices, oil, brown sugar, garlic, chipotles and adobo, cumin, ancho powder and 4 teaspoons salt until smooth, about 1 minute. Pour 1⁄2 cup into a baking dish; pour the rest into a medium bowl and stir in 1 tablespoon of the lime juice. Set both aside.

Place the tenderloin halves between 2 large sheets of plastic wrap. Using a meat mallet, pound the pork to an even 1⁄2-inch thickness. Season both sides of each piece with salt and pepper, place in the baking dish and turn to coat with the puree. Let marinate at room temperature for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat the broiler to high with a rack about 4 inches from the element. Line a rimmed baking sheet with extra-wide foil and mist with cooking spray. Arrange the 5 remaining pineapple slices in a single layer on the prepared baking sheet. Brush the slices with oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper, then broil until charred in spots, 7 to 10 minutes. Transfer the pineapple to a cutting board and set aside; reserve the baking sheet.

Transfer the tenderloin halves to the same baking sheet and broil until charred in spots and the center reaches 140°F or is just barely pink when cut, 7 to 10 minutes. Let rest for 5 minutes.

While the pork rests, chop the pineapple into rough 1⁄2-inch cubes, discarding the core. Transfer to a small bowl and stir in the cilantro and the remaining 1 tablespoon lime juice, then taste and season with salt and pepper.

Cut the pork crosswise into thin slices on the diagonal. Transfer to a medium bowl, then stir in any accumulated pork juices along with 3 tablespoons of the reserved pineapple puree. Serve the pork, chopped pineapple and remaining pineapple puree with the tortillas, chopped onion and lime wedges.

Ancho Chili Salsa Roja

Start to finish: 15 minutes | Makes about 11⁄2 cups

In this salsa, fresh tomato, garlic and shallot complement the earthy, smoky notes of ancho chilies. Use it as a dip for tortilla chips, spooned onto tacos or in a marinade for beef, pork or chicken.


  • 3 medium ancho chilies, stemmed, seeded and torn into pieces
  • Boiling water
  • 1 large garlic clove, smashed and peeled
  • 1 medium shallot, roughly chopped
  • 1 medium vine-ripened tomato, cored and roughly chopped
  • 2 teaspoons white sugar
  • Kosher salt


In a 12-inch skillet over medium, toast the chilies, pressing with a wide metal spatula and flipping once or twice, until fragrant and a shade darker in color, 2 to 4 minutes. Transfer to a medium bowl and pour in enough boiling water to cover. Let stand until softened, about 10 minutes.

Drain the chilies and discard the soaking liquid. Transfer to a food processor or blender. Add the garlic, shallot, tomato, sugar, 1 teaspoon salt and 1⁄2 cup water. Process until finely chopped and well combined, about 20 seconds, scraping the sides as needed.

Orange–Guajillo Chili Pulled Chicken

Start to finish: 45 minutes | Servings: 4

Chilorio, a pulled pork from the Mexican state of Sinaloa, inspired this dish, but instead of pork shoulder, we used faster- cooking chicken thighs. Fresh orange juice amplified the fruity notes of the guajillo chilies while giving the sauce a natural sweetness; a little vinegar and honey helped the balance. Serve the chicken with Mexican rice or tortillas, or use it as a filling for tacos. Diced white onion, sliced radishes and/or crumbled queso fresco are excellent garnishes.

Don’t forget to trim any excess fat from the chicken thighs before cooking to prevent the dish from being greasy.


  • 1 ounce guajillo chilies (5 medium), stemmed, seeded and torn into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 1⁄2 cups orange juice
  • 5 large garlic cloves, peeled
  • 2 tablespoons white vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons ground coriander
  • 2 teaspoons honey
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • Kosher salt
  • 2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, trimmed


In a 12-inch skillet over medium-high, toast the chilies, pressing with a wide metal spatula and flipping halfway through, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Transfer to a small bowl and pour in the juice; press on the chilies to submerge. Let stand until the chilies have softened, about 10 minutes. Set the skillet aside.

In a blender, combine the chilies and juice, garlic, vinegar, coriander, honey, oregano and 1 teaspoon salt. Puree until smooth, about 30 seconds. Pour the puree into the same skillet and bring to a boil over medium-high. Nestle the chicken into the sauce, cover and cook over medium-low, stirring and flipping the chicken halfway through, until a skewer inserted into the chicken meets no resistance, about 20 minutes.

Using tongs, transfer the chicken to a large plate and set aside until cool enough to handle, 10 to 15 minutes. Using 2 forks, shred into bite-size pieces. While the chicken cools, bring the sauce to a simmer over medium-high and cook, stirring, until thickened and reduced to 1 cup, about 10 minutes. Stir the shredded chicken into the sauce, then taste and season with salt.