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Food review: Beefing up the Mexican staple with El Pastor

El Pastor is a group of taquerias bringing a slice of Mexico to London. Restaurateurs Sam Hart and Crispin Somerville of Harts Group (behind Quo Vadis and Barrafina), became enamoured by the lively food scene and convivial culture of Mexico during a decade spent as nightclub owners in Mexico City.

The taco ingredients, waiting to be assembled

This inspired the opening of El Pastor’s first site in 2016, which quickly became famed for its punchy margaritas and authentic tacos, using tortillas made in-house daily with organic, Mexican corn. The menu also features tostadas, quesadillas, frijoles and salsas.

El Pastor now boasts four sites, all serving vibrant Mexican dishes in a fun, atmospheric setting. Though, of course, it boasts a fifth site – your kitchen.

Its eat-at-home box is a delight. Easy to use, even easier to assemble, it’s big on flavour and great for shared eating. After all, as the temperatures rise and it’s just too damn hot to go out, what better way of eating than tucking into a box of pleasantly spicy, umami-rich, refreshing, citrussy food than by rolling your sleeves up and getting decidedly messy?

It’s one-up from a burger and the Dishpatch/El Pastor offering includes a variety of kits, including beef short rib, slow-cooked lamb, pork shoulder with grilled pineapple or El Pastor signature guacamole.

A glazed short rib of beef

Oh yes, and if you’re in the mood for drinks, there’s also a notorious Mexican margarita to get to grips with, with a double shot of El Jimador Reposado and splash of Triple Sec.

Tacos are America’s favourite comfort food and are increasingly popular in the UK. Thought to have originated from Mexico, long before the Spanish arrived, ancient Mexicans used freshly made, soft, flat corn tortillas and gave them fillings like fish and meat. It was a staple meal that provided vital nutrients and energy to those who consumed it.

They didn’t contain the cheese, lettuce, sour cream and tomato that we associate with the meal today. In fact, the taco as we know it is less than 100 years old.

The word “taco” originated from Mexican silver miners in the 18th century. Gunpowder was wrapped in a paper like a “taquito” and inserted into rocks before detonation.

By this time, tacos were known as the food of the working class, which included miners. That resulted in their portable street food being called “tacos de minero“, also known as “miner’s tacos”.

The tortilla in those miner’s tacos wasn’t a hard U-shaped shell like we know today. Instead, it was a corn tortilla with a spicy filling. This daily staple was filling, delicious and affordable.

The Taco was first introduced to the United States in 1905. Mexican migrants were coming in to work on railroads and other jobs and started to bring their delicious food with them. Tacos were essentially a street food at this time since they were highly portable and cheap. In fact, Americans first became exposed to tacos through Mexican food carts in Los Angeles that were run by women called “chili queens”. These ladies sold delicious economic Mexican food like soft corn tortilla tacos, and they were deemed exotic by any American that tried one. The fillings were incredibly spicy and unfamiliar to the American palate.

The perfect taco, with all the whistles and bells

Gradually, recipes were adapted to fit with local tastes and as the food spread around the world, chefs from different continents got funky with their ideas, making tacos more palatable to local tastes. The offal that would have been used in Mexico’s original tacos was replaced by ground beef or, in the case of El Pastor, delicious, slow-roasted cuts as lamb shoulder, pork shoulder or beef rib.

Like so many foods – from Chinese takeaways to Bangladeshi curries – tacos were updated and revised, so that the versions enjoyed now bare little resemblance to the original dish.

In the case of El Pastor, there’s nothing not to like about their eat-at-home box. A beautiful, tender, succulent rib, slow-cooked so the meat falls off the bone, is the centrepiece of their dish.

Served with a range of sides that bring aromatic fragrance, a hit of acidulation, thrilling heat and a sharp, citrussy twist, their dishes are, frankly, delicious.

Shredded beef, ready for its taco

The beef was warmed through for 30 minutes until fall-apart tender and ready to shred, while the tacos were heated for just 30 seconds each in a hot pan. They were then stacked with toppings – a little rub, plenty of pickled red onions, a crunchy and intensely flavoursome rub, a dollop of warming salsa and the juice of a lime, before being folded and eaten in three greedy bites.

Like the best pancake day, the objective then is to repeat – creating a system of heating tacos, piling fillings onto tortillas and stopping when replete.

The tacos made for deliciously messy eating, the lemon juice, salsa and sauce all dribbling down arms as they were quickly dispatched.

At £41 for a box, it made for great value, too. While being advertised as feeding two – there was plenty to go round for three with a huge stack of tortillas left over, which were happily filled with other stuff from the fridge.

Taco kit from El Pastor

Little wonder El Pastor has been at the forefront of the eat-at-home phenomenon, with such delicious ingredients being easily assembled.

That, however, is it – for a little while. In the weeks and months ahead, we’ll turn our gaze to more local restaurants, as we park up our critiques of eat-at-home boxes.

They sustained us during lockdown, they helped to bring the dishes of household name chefs into our own homes, and they provided another outlet for cooks who needed to stay afloat during the hardest of times.

But we’re now on the hunt for the best local restaurants – and are happy for you to email us your suggestions as we head out into the Black Country, Staffordshire, Shropshire and Birmingham, to bring you our best recommendations.

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