Ready for something different? I’m always seeking out new recipes and experiences having anything to do with Mexican cuisine. During a recent visit, my Mexicophile brother told me about birria as we feasted on his fabulous chicken fajitas.
Birria is a dish traditionally made in Mexico with chivo (kid or young goat meat) or sometimes with a combination of goat and lamb or pork or both. Chris is a great storyteller, and as he raved about this delicious stew, I decided I had to try it. The cooked meat is also made into tacos or burros (burritos) and often served as street food from a taco wagon.
The classic method for making birria is long, low, and slow. Of course that got me thinking and dreaming about what I could create in the water bath.
When I returned home from our visit, I started my search for information on the Internet and in various cookbooks. According to this article in The Wall Street Journal, goat is the latest boutique meat trend and enjoying new popularity with restaurant chefs who like both its sweet flavor and its sustainability.
Turns out, my biggest difficulty was in procuring the meat. I had a few leads, including having it shipped frozen overnight, but then I found it fresh at one of my local merchants. Santa Cruz Market supplied me with a beautiful 7-pound piece of shoulder. After picking up a variety of dried chiles and other ingredients, I headed home to start the preparations.
The birria emerged from the water bath four days later. First day: Assemble the chile paste and marinate the meat overnight. Second day: Set up the prepared meat to cook sous vide for 72 hours. Fourth day: Enjoy another fabulous meal from the water bath at our humble little hacienda.
The end result had a faint sweetness from the spices and perfect subtle heat from the chiles. It was very much like a mole sauce infused into the meat. We served some of the birria as stew and some of it folded into tacos. ¡Fantástico!
Serves 6 as a stew or 8 as tacos, with enough for some seconds
- Cut the meat into 3 equal-sized portions. This will enable you to divide the meat into 3 large food bags. You may have to cut a piece or two through the rib section. Rub all surfaces of the meat with the salt and pepper and set aside in the refrigerator.
- On a hot griddle or in a cast iron pan over medium-high heat, lightly toast one side of the dried chiles for a few minutes, or until they’re just softened. Turn and press down on the chiles with the back of a spatula to ensure all the surfaces are lightly seared. They will begin to release some of their aroma. Be careful not to burn the skins. Remove the chiles from the griddle and discard the stems and seeds. Transfer the chiles to a large bowl and set aside while you toast the garlic.
- Place the garlic cloves, skins intact, on the same griddle or pan. Gently brown all sides, turning often to prevent burning. The garlic will take longer than the chiles but eventually will soften. When soft, remove the garlic from the pan and discard the skins and any root ends. Set the garlic aside.
- Add the smoked tomatoes, if you’re using them, to the bowl with the chiles. Cover with boiling water and, if necessary, weigh down the floating chiles with a smaller bowl. Soak for 20 to 30 minutes. Drain, lightly pat dry with a paper towel, and transfer to the bowl of a food processor. Add the cider vinegar, toasted garlic, onion, and the remaining dried herbs and ground spices. Purée, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed, until the mixture becomes a paste.
- Remove the meat from the refrigerator and spread the paste on all sides of the meat. Divide the goat pieces evenly across the food bags. Vacuum seal. Refrigerate overnight or up to 24 hours. Remove the sealed pouches from the refrigerator and let the meat come to room temperature, 1 to 2 hours.
- Preheat the water bath to 142°F (61°C). (This temperature rendered the meat fork tender and a perfect shade of pink.)
- Cook 72 hours.
- Transfer the goat to a large cutting board, reserving the bag juices. Place the juices in a small saucepan and simmer over medium heat until thickened, about 15 minutes. Tent the meat with foil until ready to serve.
- For stew, serve the meat on the bone or debone and cut into bite-sized size chunks, transfer to individual serving bowls, and ladle the sauce over the meat. The extra meat (if there is any!) will keep in the refrigerator for 3 days or the freezer for 3 months.
- For tacos, debone and shred the meat, then moisten with some of the reduced bag juices. Spoon onto hot tortillas or taco shells, nap with tomatillo salsa, and garnish with sour cream, sliced radishes, sliced avocado, grated cheese, or your favorite accompaniments.
Makes 2 to 3 cups
- Preheat a conventional oven to 400°F. Place a piece of parchment on the bottom of a rimmed baking dish and spread the tomatillos, garlic, quartered onions, and jalapeños in the pan in a single layer. Drizzle everything with the olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt and pepper (and any other spice or herb you like). Cover the exposed top(s) of the garlic bulb(s) with a small piece of foil to avoid burning. Bake until the tomatillos begin to collapse, about 40 to 50 minutes. Allow to cool enough to handle. Squeeze the garlic from their skins into a blender jar. Add the tomatillos, onions, jalapeños (de-seeded if you don’t want the salsa too hot), and all the accumulated pan juices and purée. Add the sugar and cilantro and continue to purée until it’s the consistency you prefer. Taste for seasoning. The salsa can be stored in the refrigerator for up to a week.