by Nov 24, 2011

“Beef stew” takes on a whole new dimension with dried chiles and the other wonderful, savory flavors in Birria, a traditional Mexican stew served with tortillas, onion, cilantro, and lime.  Some of the ingredients will require a trip to a Latino market, or some online sleuthing, but the hunt is fun, and much worthwhile, especially once the aromas of this slow-cooked meat start wafting.
What does this dish have to do with Thanksgiving?  I’m thankful for all the people in my life who have shared their cultures with me, usually through food and enjoyment in the kitchen and around the table.   A couple days ago, one of my friends (and awesome Latina cook) guided me through the mercado and into the kitchen, sharing with me the patient prep-work required to unleash the flavors from dried chiles – the raisiny sweetness of the Pasillas, the sour tang of the Gujillos — the variety excites and astounds me! Always game for an impromptu cooking class, this time the fun also provided a casual and delicious TG-eve meal while my crew & I continued to pace ourselves through the prep of the Thanksgiving staples:  pumpkin pies, yams, stuffing, cranberry sauce, you know.
Happy Thanksgiving!
serves 8

See ingredients for  “The meat”,  “The chile sauce”, “The spices” and “serve with” when shopping.

Timing:  Start this project a day or two in advance.  You’re going to marinate the raw meat with the chile sauce, spices and beer overnight, then you’re going to cook the meat in the sauce for several hours so it is very tender and easily shredded with two forks.
The meat:
3 pounds boneless beef chuck roast, cut into approximate 3” chunks (for the complete Birria experience, head out to a Latin market if you’re lucky enough to have any near you — this post, “Choice Cut or Mystery Meat?  A guide to Mexican butcher shops” is quite informative and will help you navigate the “display”)
bones are good to have too, but optional — ask your butcher for two or three pieces if you wish
 1.  Put the meat in a large cast iron or enamel cooking pot that has a lid.
 2.  Make the chile sauce, as described below, and pour over the meat.
 3.  Make the spice mixture and pour it over the meat as well.  Refrigerate overnight.
 4.  Cook for 6-8 hours on “high” setting of a slow cooker, or 4 hours in oven at 350 degrees.  Shred meat and return to pot.
 5.  Serve with refried beans, Mexican rice, tortillas, chopped onion, chopped cilantro and salsas of your choice.  Oh yes, and sour cream.
The chile sauce:
These quantities make enough for 6-8 pounds of meat, if you’re doing 3 pounds, as here in my recipe, put half of the chile sauce in a freezer bag for use later.
20 dried California chiles
4 dried Pasilla chiles
4 dried Gujillo chiles
2 cups chicken stock (I like the mild, mostly undetectable flavor of Imagine)
1.  Bring a pot of water to boil then remove from heat.  Add the chiles and let soften about 30 minutes.  Remove each chile from the water, pull off the stem and remove and discard most of the seeds.  Put the chiles in a blender with the chicken stock.  Purée the chiles and strain through a fine wire mesh strainer into the cooking pot with the meat.
The spices:
1 Corona beer (7oz. or 12 oz., it doesn’t really matter)
1/4 circle of Abuelita chocolate
8 cloves
8 black peppercorns
1 tablespoon sesame seeds, browned in a small frying pan on the stovetop
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1/4 teaspoon cumin seed
5 bay leaves (do not blend these, just add them to the meat cooking pot)
1.  Rinse out the blender from the chile sauce, no need to wash it thoroughly.  Blend the beer with the spices and pour over the meat.
Amy’s Kitchen Coach Tips
  • All stews get better with a little time on them.  So, if you’re having a party, take the pressure off yourself and make this dish a day or two in advance, store in the refrigerator, and heat gently on the stovetop when you are ready to serve.
  • Instead of beef, you can make birria with pork, lamb or goat (or iguana…)
  • Mexican rice:  1 cup rice, 2 cups chicken stock, 3 tomatoes (puréed in blender), salt.  Bring to boil and cook over low heat for about 20 minutes, until liquid is absorbed.
  • Mild salsa:  3 tomatoes, 1/2 teaspoon apple cider vinegar, 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano, pinch salt.  Cook 5-10 minutes then purée all in blender.
  • Spicy salsa:  2 tomatoes, 1 jalapeno (use the seeds too), 1 garlic clove, 1/2 teaspoon apple cider vinegar, 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano, pinch salt.  Cook 5-10 minutes then purée all in blender.

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