This recipe is a bit more labor-intensive, but the payoff is well worth it!
What is Birria?
Birria is a traditional savory Mexican stew, originating in the state of Jalisco (tequila anyone?). It is traditionally made with cheap cuts of stew-meat: lamb, for example. Birria can be served by itself, in a bowl, garnished with diced onion, cilantro, queso fresco, and lime. Birria tacos, however, have become the latest culinary “trend” for hipsters and taco aficionados alike. These tacos are made using charred corn tortillas, briefly dipped in the deliciously spice-filled consume, and filled with the stewed meat and queso fresco. I added a few more accoutrements to my tacos: pickled red onion, avocado, and cilantro. For my first go-around, I found it pretty successful! I hope you do too! Don’t forget to rate the recipe and leave feedback or questions at the bottom.
A Word of Advice–go to your local Carneceria (Mexican market specializing in meats). Why, you ask? Simple. It’s about respecting the culture of the cuisine, and who knows Mexican cuisine better? The items you need can ALL be found there, they’re cheaper than a local supermarket, AND you get to support a local business and its employees.
But What if I Don’t Speak Spanish?–This is a common question, albeit misguided. People are often intimidated to enter a space where an unfamiliar language is spoken (hm…imagine how our beloved immigrant population feels), but you need not worry. While I would suggest you practice speaking a language that is unfamiliar for you, because that is important in life in general, you do not have to be a fluent Spanish-speaker to venture out into your local Latinx community. If you are not sure what to ask for, and there’s NO ONE there who speaks English (unlikely), Google translate is your friend. But, again, practice learning new languages to respectfully communicate with others. It’s a beautiful thing.
Okay, What do I need?
To get started, you will need:
An instapot, or a stock pot, and a medium-sized pot for the sauce, as well as a smaller pot for the stock. If you want tacos, I suggest a cast iron pan to grill the tortillas.
A blender or immersion blender–I like my immersion blender because it’s handheld and easy to clean! Less mess, less stress!
- Olive Oil- just keep the bottle handy!
- Dried chiles–I used guajillo (left), pasilla (center), and chile de arbol (right)
- I purchased HUGE bags of each. Only use a few of each for this recipe, but save that bag for later!
- Cinnamon Stick- one to two sticks is perfect
- Whole Cloves- again, I bought a big bag to have leftovers, but you only need 2-3 for this recipe
- Bay Leaf– 2-3 works well
- Garlic- I used a whole head of garlic. Instead of crushing and mincing, I just cut the top and bottom off and peeled the cloves. You can leave them whole. Stay tuned!
- Tomatoes- around 4, quartered
- Onion- dice one half for the birria and the other half for garnish
- Ground Cumin- Just keep the bottle on hand. You’ll see why.
- Ground Ginger- about a tablespoon (you can eyeball it and be just fine)
- Marjoram- A relative of oregano, but this adds an earthy flavor. A tablespoon and a pinch more is what I used.
- Dried Oregano- Same amount as above
- Dried Thyme- Again, same amount as above!
- Water or stock- This is to rehydrate the chiles. I used beef stock for more flavor. About 3 cups.
- MEAT!!!- while you can use regular chuck roast, I asked the butcher specifically what type of meat I needed to make birria. He had a mask on, and it was loud, so I couldn’t hear what he said, but he showed me, and I bought two pounds! I later found out this meat is called diesmillo (I thought he said “Dios Mio” which translates to “oh my god!” ………whoops), which is essentially boneless chuck roast.
- Queso Fresco- crumbly delicious cheese
- Cilantro- chop it up for garnish (don’t forget to rinse–it can be gritty)
- Corn Tortillas-never flour. We don’t do flour.
- Avocado- optional, but delish
- For quick-pickled onions: half a red onion sliced thin, whatever vinegar you have on hand (I used apple cider and rice wine vinegars because I was low on both), a little cup of water, and a spoonful of sugar! Heat the vinegar until warm, add the onions and sugar, stir, add the water, remove from heat and let them sit.
Stay With Me…
To prep your ingredients, the first thing you want to do is cut your meat into chunks. Season it with dried cumin, ground ginger, salt, and pepper. Let it chill while you make the sauce.
About those dried chiles- use scissors or kitchen shears to cut into the dried chiles and shake out the seeds (depending on how spicy you want the birria). DO NOT USE A KNIFE! YOU WILL CUT YOURSELF! Don’t ask me how I know…
Throw the chiles into a pot with a little oil. Some recipes say a pan, but use a pot. You’ll see why later. Fry the chiles on med/high heat for a few minutes, stirring frequently to prevent them from burning. Meanwhile, bring a pot of the water or stock to a boil. Once it’s boiling and your chiles are toasted, throw them in the pot and let them rehydrate. Keep it boiling for 10-12 minutes.
In the pot you used for the chiles, throw in your onion, garlic, and tomatoes with a bit more oil. You want to blacken the tomatoes if possible. (In retrospect, I would have roasted my quartered tomatoes in a 400 degree oven with some salt and olive oil to really get the flavor out before adding them to the pan.) Once the tomatoes are softened, add your cinnamon sticks, cloves, and bay leaves and stir for a few more minutes.
Now, add your pot of rehydrated chiles. Dump everything into your tomato mixture. Let it boil down for about 10 more minutes.
In your instapot (sautee setting) or stock pot, brown the meat using olive oil in batches. Just get a nice little sear on each side and put them back on the pan/plate you used before. Tongs are helpful for this process.
Here comes the hardware…
Back to your sauce–break out your immersion blender, or traditional blender. If you’re using an immersion blender (I did for convenience and easy clean up), pour everything from your pot into the instapot or stock pot you’re using. I made the mistake of trying to blend the boiling-hot mixture in the original pot, and was splattered with boiling birria juices. Ouch! Blend the mixture until smooth. The cinnamon sticks may not break down, and that’s okay.
Add the meat to your savory deliciously-smooth sauce. If you’re using an instapot, seal the pot, and set the pressure cooker to high for about 48 minutes. If using a stock-pot, you’ll need to let it simmer for several hours until its tender and pulls apart.
It’s done cooking!
Hooray! Slowly manually vent your intstapot until the pressure is fully released. If you’re using a regular pot, well…don’t vent it…because you can’t. Open the lid and smell the savory goodness. QUE RICO!
Remove the meat to a tray. Using two forks, pull the meat apart. Then throw it back in the sauce, or leave it out for tacos!!
I love some delicious birria tacos with a side of consume (the broth). The first step in this process is to char the tortilla. I’d move your instapot close to the skillet for easy dipping. Also, have a plate handy for constructing the taco.
Char, Dip, Construct, Repeat
Add some oil to a cast iron skillet and heat over med/high heat. Put the tortilla in the skillet. Let it toast on both sides (if it’s too charred, it will break in half when you make the taco…I’ll show you what I mean). Once charred, use tongs to dip the tortilla into your broth, remove to the plate, add the meat, cheese, and other condiments, fold, and enjoy! Serve with a side of the the consume (broth) for dipping!
YOU MADE IT!!!!
It is a labor of love, but I hope it was worth it! Be sure to rate this recipe and leave any feedback or questions below! Salud! Cheers!