The Goose got loose on Friday and came down here for dinner. I decided to ask her for her favorite protein (beef or lamb), starch (rice), and veg (tomato or cuke this time of year). The selections seemed to cry out for a curry. Rogan Josh with basmati rice, a masala tomato salad and a nice raita would do the trick. Then I got to researching an upcoming trip to San Diego. I had this great dish and watned to try it again, but couldn’t remember what it was called. I wound up using Urban spoon and searching on Mexican restaurants in Chula Vista. Bingo! I saw a place called Birrieria Don Rafa, checked out its address and knew I had found it.
What is Birria? It’s a stew (thank you, Hank Azaria). It’s related to molé in that one makes a paste from rehydrated chiles. Instead of ladling a bit of molé sauce onto the meat, one braises the meat in the sauce until it breaks down. Beef, goat or lamb are all traditional. So I shifted the menu to south of the border. Cook some black beans, some nice yellow rice, and prepare a cucumber/tomato salsa. And, of course, birria.
So, now that I knew what I wanted to make, the question was how to do it. After looking through various recipes, I combined a couple. There’s a cooking and life blog called the Almost Fearless Kitchen. I liked her method and explanation. I also checked out recipes from a favorite source, Pati Jinich. She used to have a show on WETA called Pati’s Mexican kitchen. Turns out that she doesn’t have a recipe for birria, but her barbacoa recipe appealed to me. So, I combined aspects of the two recipes. I promised Goose to get her my “recipe” (hah!), so I thought I’d post it here as well. I want to make this again, so writing it down is useful to me as well.
Both recipes had aspects that I liked. Almost Fearless had a nice explanation for using several different peppers. Building layers of flavor and all that. I liked the additional liquid in Pati’s approach and didn’t feel a need to strain the paste. Just add additional liquid and let it all rock. I wound up over-salting the dish a bit, but the Goose likes her salt. As I couldn’t take the day off, I got up early to prep the sauce, brown the meat and toss everything in the slow cooker.
Almost Patti’s Birria
Carne: 4 pounds of meat (see notes)
Chiles: 6 guajillo chiles, 6 ancho or mulato chiles, 12 cascabel chiles (see notes)
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1/4 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1/2 teaspoon ground all spice
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 medium tomato, cut into quarters (or eighths if you’re ambitious)
10 garlic cloves
3 bay leaves
Salt to taste (I used 4 tbsp of coarse sea salt)
I used two pounds of bone in lamb shanks and two pounds of goats meat. Both are traditional in birria, though I doubt using both is. A good chuck roast would work pretty well too. You’ll want an inexpensive cut that breaks down while braising.
I couldn’t find cascabel chiles at the local market (Global Foods, which finally came in to replace a departed Giant). So, I picked up some mulatos and pasillos. Something I like about this dish is that you can adjust the heat level pretty easily by changing your selection of chiles. Just be sure to use a combination.
1. Toast the chiles
Remove the seeds from the chiles (you’ll want gloves for this if you want to touch anything sensitive later in the day) and toast them in a pan. I tossed them into the toaster oven at 350 for about 10 minutes.
2. Rehydrate the chiles
Add 2 cups of boiling water to the chiles and let sit for 20 minutes. Pati called for adding 5 cups of water to the toasted chiles and putting on a burner for 15 minutes. 2 cups of this water are used to make the paste. Fearless called for adding a cup of boiling water to the chiles. I liked the simplicity of adding boiling water to the chiles and have a nice electric kettle. I was going for more liquid and liked Fearless’s approach, so I just added 2 cups of boiling water to the chiles to rehydrate them.
3. Make the paste
Throw the chiles and their water along with the spices into a blender. I used some whole spices, so ground everything up in a retired coffee grinder. Add the vinegar, onion, tomato, and garlic gloves. Blend everything until you get a smooth puree.
4. Brown the meat.
Oven braise method: Pre-heat the oven to 350 F. Put a heavy bottomed pot or dtuch oven over medium heat. Meanwhile, cut the meat into 1” – 2” chunks. Add a tablespoon or so of oil to the pan. Once it’s shimmering (not smoking!), add the meat in a single level. You might need to do this in batches. Cook the meat until browned on several sides and remove to a bowl. Once all the meat is browned, return any meat set aside to the pot. Cover with water or low sodium stock, add the paste and bring to a light boil. Cover and put in the oven. Cook until the meat is tender and breaking down.
Slow cooker method: Put a pan suitable for browning meat (luv luv luv my cast iron pan for this) over heat. Meanwhile, cut the meat into 1” – 2” chunks. Add a tablespoon or so of oil to the pan. Once it’s shimmering (not smoking!), add the meat in a single level. You might need to do this in batches. Cook the meat until browned on several sides and put in the slow cooker. Once all the meat is browned, cover with water or low sodium stock, add the paste and put the slow cooker on high. Once the dish is up to a boil, turn the slow cooker to low and go do something useful. Come back in about 8 – 10 hours. If the meat isn’t falling off the bone tender, turn the heat back up to high and cook until ready.
Once this puppy is ready, serve over rice and have sides available. Rice, black beans, minced white onion, cilantro, salsa, and tortillas. They’re all good baby.
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