The Week (US)
Birria de res: The Mexican stew that has Instagram abuzz
“It’s hard to say exactly what makes birria birria,” said Tejal Rao in The New York Times. The word suggests a delicious hot mess, and there are too many regional variations on the Mexican stew to count. But birria has seen “a meteoric rise in popularity recently,” particularly for the soupy style made with beef and popularized by birria vendors in Tijuana. On Instagram, “the hype for birria is relentless.”
Below is a version adopted from a recipe that Texas-born chef Josef Centeno learned from his grandmother. Goat or lamb can be substituted for the beef, and you could choose to shred the meat for tacos. That said, “the best way to serve birria is immediately and simply, in a bowl, with some warm corn tortillas.”
Recipe of the week
Birria de res
2 poblano chiles
5 guajillo (dried) chiles, stemmed, halved lengthwise, seeds removed
5 lbs bone-in beef shoulder, cut into large
1 tbsp fine sea salt
¼ cup neutral oil, such as canola or grapeseed 1 medium white onion, finely chopped 1 (28-oz) can crushed tomatoes
¼ cup plus 2 tbsp distilled white vinegar 6 garlic cloves, peeled 2 tbsp finely grated fresh ginger 2 tsp dried Mexican oregano 2 tsp toasted white sesame seeds ½ tsp ground cumin
Fresh black pepper
1 cinnamon stick
2 fresh or dried bay leaves
½ cup chopped fresh cilantro 2 limes, quartered
Corn tortillas, warmed
Turn a gas burner to high. Using tongs, place poblanos directly over flame. Cook until totally charred, turning as needed, about 2 minutes per side. Transfer to a small bowl and cover with plastic wrap so poblanos can steam. After 10 minutes, peel off blackened skins, remove stems and seeds, and roughly chop flesh. Set aside. In a large skillet over medium heat, working in batches to cook in one layer, flatten guajillo chile halves and toast about 15 seconds, turning once. Place in a bowl and add 2 cups hot water to soften.
Season meat all over with salt. Heat oil in a large, oven-proof pot over medium-high. Working in batches, sear pieces on all sides until well browned, 2 to 3 minutes per side, transferring browned meat to a bowl. After all meat is seared, add onion to pot and cook until golden, about 5 minutes. Return meat to pot and preheat oven to 325.
Meanwhile, in a blender, combine chiles, chile soaking liquid, tomatoes, vinegar, garlic, ginger, oregano, sesame seeds, cumin, cloves, and a few grinds of black pepper. Purée until smooth.
Add blended mixture to meat in the pot. Add cinnamon stick and bay leaves, along with 4 to 6 cups water, enough to amply cover. Cover and cook in oven until meat is fork-tender, about 2 hours.
Divide among bowls, sprinkle with cilantro, and provide lime wedges and warm tortillas on the side. Serves 8 to 10.