Food & Drink | December 29, 2021 7:56 am

Once You Go Baby Back Ribs Al Pastor, You Don’t Go Back, Baby

Chef Lorena Garcia dishes on the rib recipe she uses at CHICA Aspen

Chef Lorena Garcia of CHICA Aspen serves up al pastor baby back ribs
Chef Lorena Garcia of CHICA Aspen serves up al pastor baby back ribs
Brinson Renda

Marinated in flavorful ingredients like guajillo chiles, achiote paste and orange juice as well as spices such as oregano, cumin and cloves, tacos al pastor are a signature item at Mexican restaurants around the globe.

But interestingly, the pineapple-and-pork dish that frequents the signage on taco carts on almost every street corner in Mexico traces its roots to a country located more than 7,600 miles away: Lebanon.

When Lebanese immigrants began arriving in Mexico in the 1930s, they brought their distinctive technique of vertically spit-roasting meat, generally thinly sliced lamb. Served on pan árabe, tacos árabes and their upright preparation method were the inspiration for spit-roasting pork to serve as the star of tacos al pastor, which translates to “in the style of the shepherd.”

The author of New Taco Classics, Venezuelan chef Lorena Garcia wanted to extend the tradition when coming up with a take on an al pastor-style dish for her new Colorado eatery CHICA Aspen.

While Garcia stayed within the pork universe, she opted to go a little closer to the bone and settled on giving baby back ribs the al pastor treatment for an Instagram-ready dish that bears the nickname “the smoke show” because it is presented to diners under a smoke-filled glass dome.

“When I thought about putting al pastor on the menu, I really wanted to have something that was a showstopper. Baby back ribs are always a crowd-pleaser,” Garcia tells InsideHook. “Once it lands on the table, the dome is opened and this beautiful smoke gives you the notes of the dish. You’re immediately going to start feeling the ribs without even tasting them. That’s what I wanted. I want it to be a showstopper that people immediately just start taking pictures and videos of. And then, when they taste them, it’s so worth it. You start digesting first with your eyes, then with your nose and finally in your mouth.”

Chef Lorena Garcia sometimes refers to these ribs as "the smoke show.”
Chef Lorena Garcia sometimes refers to these ribs as “the smoke show.”
Brinson Renda

Marinated for 24 hours in a concoction of chiles and served with pineapple gastrique boasting hints of vinegar and sugar, the fall-off-the-bone ribs stay true to the flavors of tacos al pastor despite the decidedly modern presentation.

“In the end, I’m just using pork in a different format. I think marries really well with the marinade and interprets the components of tacos al pastor,” Garcia says. “For me, dishes have to make sense and have to tell a story or create a memory. Maybe you have two or three different singers who sing the same songs, but in different ways. Chefs are the same. You have the same recipe, but each artist is going to present it completely differently. This is my rendition and I’m extremely happy with it.”

And just like earlier versions of al pastor-style dishes, Garcia’s ribs can be ingested as a hand-held item if desired.

“I don’t mind getting my fingers dirty. I engage. If I have a burger, I’m going to grab that burger and I’m going to eat it. It’s the same with the ribs,” she says. “But if you want to use your fork and knife, you can totally do that too. They’re so tender you can separate them from the bone with just a fork. But if you’re at CHICA after just coming down from the mountains and want to grab the ribs with your hands, absolutely be my guest.”

Or do it from the privacy of your own home, with Garcia’s recipe, which she shares below.

Lorena Garcia’s Baby Back Ribs Al Pastor

Ingredients for the marinade 

  • 32 Ancho Chilies
  • 32 Guajillo Chilies
  • 58 oz Water
  • 4 ½ tbsp Vegetable Oil
  • 4 tsp Oregano
  • 4 tbsp Cumin
  • 1 cup Achiote Paste
  • 16 Chipotle Chiles in Adobo
  • 1 ½ cup Adobo Sauce
  • 2 ⅓ cup White Vinegar
  • Garlic
  • ½ cup Kosher Salt
  • ¾ cup Sugar
  • 3 ½ cup Brown Sugar
  • 8 cup chicken stock

Instructions for the marinade

  1. Place chilies in a large saucepan over medium-high heat and cook, turning chilies occasionally, until puffed, pliable, lightly browned in spots and very aromatic, about 5 minutes.
  2. Add chicken stock (it should boil immediately), then pour contents of the pan into a small bowl. Cover loosely and set aside.
  3. Wipe out saucepan, add oil and return to medium-high heat until oil is shimmering.
  4. Add cumin, oregano and achiote then cook, stirring frequently, until aromatic but not browned, about 30 seconds.
  5. Add chipotle chilies and sauce and cook until aromatic, about 30 seconds longer.
  6. Add vinegar, salt and sugar and remove from heat.
  7. Scrape contents of the saucepan into a blender along with garlic and chilies with their soaking liquid. Blend on high speed until completely smooth, about 1 minute, scraping down sides as necessary.
  8. Set sauce aside to cool slightly.

Ingredients for the al pastor ribs

  • 6 Al Pastor Ribs
  • 6 tbsp Pineapple Gastrique
  • 1 Grilled Pineapple Ring
  • 6 Pickled Fresnos
  • 4 tbsp Culantro Oil
  • 3 Crispy Taro
  • 3 Cilantro sprig

Instructions for the al pastor ribs

  1. Evenly season both sides of the rib rack with pepper and salt.
  2. Apply Al Pastor marinade to both sides in a generous layer.
  3. Set on sheet trays to cure overnight with a towel to lightly cover.                                                                                                                                
  4. Braise at 220 degrees for 3 hours
  5. Fry braised ribs at 350 degrees until golden brown and crispy.
  6. Once crispy, toss the ribs in the pineapple gastrique.
  7. While the ribs are in the fryer, heat the grilled pineapple ring on the grill.
  8. To plate, place pineapple ring in the middle of the plate.
  9. Arrange ribs stacked on top of each other.
  10. Drizzle culantro oil around ribs.
  11. Garnish with pickled fresnos, taro chips and cilantro sprigs.