As our society finally begins to turn a corner and emerge from a challenging year in the face of the pandemic, there are a number of things that have risen to the surface in the food and beverage world. The days of baking banana bread….a new found love for all things sourdough…dalgona coffee….pancake cereal…the list goes on and on. One of the things this pandemic has highlighted is just how deep-rooted our love for food really is and our reliance on it to get us through the tough times. I can’t think of any better embodiment of this idea than the growth and popularity of all things “comfort food”.
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However, there is one clear comfort food that rose to the top during the pandemic months….BIRRIA. There was a 2-3 month stretch where all social media platforms were jam packed with videos of cheese pulls from quesatacos, dipped in an extremely flavorful broth. We know just how popular it became during the pandemic in the US, but what exactly is birria and where does it come from?
Birria is a dish that originates from the Jalisco region of Mexico, specifically the town of Cocula, which lies just outside the state’s main city Guadalajara. Traditionally, birria is a dish made with goat meat and typically prepared for holidays and special occasions. But, nowadays you can find birria just about anywhere, being made with a variety of different meats (most commonly beef or lamb). You can usually find this dish served in one of two ways…just simply as a stew accompanied by shredded cabbage, onions and cilantro or in the infamous quesataco where the tortilla is dipped in the braising liquid before hitting the griddle to be topped with cheese (like Oaxaca or jack for optimal cheese pull) and the shredded meat.
Lamb shoulder and goat aren’t always the easiest meats to find; below is a pretty straight forward recipe for Beef Birria. Feel free to get creative and substitute as needed. Sometimes finding dried chiles is a struggle, but I promise it makes a huge difference to have the right ones for this dish…Amazon is great in a pinch if you can’t find them locally.
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• 1lb Boneless Chuck Roast
• 3 Short Ribs (Boneless if possible)
• 1lb Beef Oxtails (Not absolutely necessary, but adds more body to the finished broth)
• 5 Ancho Chiles
• 5 Guajillo Chiles
• 2 Chiles de Arbol
• 10 Cups Beef Stock
• 1 Cinnamon Stick
• 6 Bay Leaves
• 1 T Coriander
• 1 T Black Peppercorns
• 2 T Fresh Oregano (or 1 T dried)
• 1 T Tomato Paste
• 1 White Onion, Chopped
• 8 Garlic Cloves, Sliced
• Corn Tortillas
• Oaxaca Cheese, Shredded (Monterey Jack works as well)
Directions for Stew:
1. Remove stems and seeds from dried chiles and set aside.
2. Season meat generously with salt and brown (in batches) in a large pot with neutral oil over medium-high heat ~2-3 minutes. Set meat aside.
3. Add chiles to oil and toast for about 1 minute then add onions to pot and saute ~5 minutes or until beginning to soften.
4. Add tomato paste and cook until paste begins to darken ~2-3 minutes. Add sliced garlic and cook until fragrant.
5. Add beef stock to pot, making sure to scrape up any bits off the bottom of the pot.
6. Add peppercorns, coriander, cinnamon stick and bay leaves to pot.
7. Simmer over low to medium-low heat ~1 hour
8. Remove chiles from pot along with some of the braising liquid and puree in blender until smooth. Add back to the pot and continue to simmer for another 90 minutes.
9. Remove meat, shred and set aside. Strain broth to remove onions, garlic, peppercorns, coriander, bay leaves and cinnamon stick.
10. Season to taste with salt.
Directions for Quesatacos:
1. Heat pan over medium heat with a little oil. Dunk tortilla in broth and place in hot pan.
2. Top with shredded cheese and then shredded beef.
3. Cook until tortilla begins to crisp slightly ~4 minutes, then fold like a quesadilla.
4. Serve with some of the broth to dip and chopped cilantro and onions.
While the classic preparations have been blowing up all over social media in their own right, birria has been incorporated into just about every food group imaginable as well. Pizza, Sandwiches, Ramen, Fries, Mac and Cheese….the list is endless.
Birria De Res:
Symrise was on top of the birria trend since 2018 when we met Jonathan Zaragoza of Birrieria Zaragoza in Chicago as apart of StarChefs Rising Stars. To learn more about Chef Jonathan and his family business' journey to serving Chicago's best birria, check out our interview!