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Milk Street: Mexico City Tacos (Ep 608)

Dutch Oven Beef Birria Tacos
Start to finish: 33⁄4 hours (45 minutes active)
Servings: 6 to 8

Birria, from the state of Jalisco on the western coast of Mexico, is a succulent stew
of shredded meat in a thick, intense, chili-rich sauce. It traditionally is made with goat, but these days, beef and lamb are common. Our version is made with meaty boneless beef short ribs and is loosely based on the recipe taught to us by home cook Aidee Gonzalez in Mexico City. Four varieties of dried chilies went into Gonzalez’s birria, but to simplify slightly, we chose three that are easy to source but deliver lots of earthy, fruity depth and complexity. We slow-cook the meat in the oven with a minimal amount of water until fork-tender so the flavor is meaty and concentrated. Only after reducing the cooking liquid and shredding the meat do we introduce a puree of chilies, aromatics and spices. This unconventional technique results in a birria that we think tastes brighter and
livelier than one in which the chilies are subjected to the same hours-long cooking as the beef. For making birria tacos, Gonzalez offered warm corn tortillas, plus avocado for a little creaminess and sliced white onion for allium pungency and crunch.

Don’t use canned chipotle chilies here, as they’re packed in adobo sauce, which would alter the flavor profile of the birria. (If you’re wondering, morita chilies are a type of chipotle. They are dark red-purple and relatively soft because they have been smoked for less time than the very stiff, dry, brown chipotle variety, which sometimes is called chipotle meco. Either type works in this recipe.) Also, don’t over-toast the chilies. The
pods scorch easily, and if scorched, they will taste bitter. When they become aromatic and just a shade darker, they’re done.

4 pounds boneless beef short ribs, trimmed and cut into 1- to 11⁄2- inch chunks
1⁄2 large white onion, cut into large chunks, plus thinly sliced white onion, to serve
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
4 medium garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
2 ounces guajillo chilies (10 medium), stemmed and seeded
13⁄4 ounces ancho chilies (3 large), stemmed and seeded
2 chipotle or morita chilies, stemmed and seeded
2 cups boiling water
3 large bay leaves
1 tablespoon ground cumin
2 teaspoons dried oregano, preferably Mexican oregano
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 tablespoon lime juice, plus lime wedges to serve
3 ripe avocados, halved, pitted and diced
18 to 24 (6-inch) corn tortillas, warmed

INSTRUCTIONS Heat the oven to 350°F with a rack in the lower-middle position. In a large Dutch oven, stir together the beef, onion chunks, 1 teaspoon salt and 2 cups water. Cover, transfer to the oven and cook until a skewer inserted into the meat meets no resistance, about 3 hours.

While the beef cooks, in a 12-inch skillet over medium, toast the garlic and all of the chilies, turning occasionally with tongs, until the garlic is browned on all sides and the chilies are fragrant and just a shade darker, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a medium bowl.
When cool enough to handle, break the chilies (or snip them with kitchen shears) into smaller pieces, discarding any remaining seeds, and add them to a blender. Add the boiling water, garlic, bay, cumin, oregano, allspice, thyme and 1⁄2 teaspoon salt. Puree,
scraping the blender as needed, until smooth, about 1 minute; cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

When the beef is done, remove the pot from the oven. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the beef to a large bowl. Tilt the pot to pool the cooking liquid to one side, then use a wide spoon to skim off and discard as much fat as possible from the surface. Bring the liquid to simmer over medium-high and cook, stirring occasionally, until reduced to about 1⁄2 cup, 5 to 7 minutes; remove from the heat. Meanwhile, shred the beef.

To the reduced cooking liquid in the pot, add the chili puree. Bring to a simmer over medium, then stir in the beef. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture begins to sizzle, 5 to 8 minutes. Off heat, stir in the lime juice, then taste and season with salt and pepper.

To serve, put the avocados, sliced onion and lime wedges into small bowls. Transfer the birria to a serving bowl, then serve with the tortillas and garnishes for making tacos.

Fresh Tomatillo and Serrano Chili Salsa
Start to finish: 10 minutes
Makes about 11⁄2 cups

Bright, tangy and moderately spicy, this salsa cruda, or uncooked salsa, comes together
quickly in a blender. We make it with only three ingredients, plus salt, as taught to us
by Jorge Fritz and Beto Estúa of Casa Jacaranda cooking school in Mexico City. The
fresh, acidic flavor of this salsa makes it an ideal condiment for rich, fatty dishes.

5 medium tomatillos (9 ounces), husked and quartered
1⁄4 medium white onion, roughly chopped
3 serrano chilies, stemmed, seeded and roughly chopped
Kosher salt

In a blender, combine the tomatillos, onion, chilies and 1⁄4 teaspoon
salt. Process until smooth, scraping down the blender jar as
needed, about 1 minute. Taste and season with salt. If serving right
away, transfer to a small bowl; if storing, transfer to an airtight
container and refrigerate up to 2 days.

Ancho-Spiced Pork and Potato Tacos
Start to finish: 25 minutes
Servings: 4

Potatoes and pork seasoned with ancho chili powder and cumin make an easy, flavorful
filling for tacos. Be sure to use a nonstick skillet, as the potatoes’ starch makes them
prone to sticking. If you like, offer a few of the garnishes suggested and allow diners to top their own tacos.

11⁄2 teaspoons ancho chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
1 pound Yukon Gold OR russet potatoes, not peeled, cut in 1⁄2-inch pieces
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound boneless pork loin chops, trimmed and cut into 1⁄2-inch pieces
4 medium garlic cloves, thinly sliced
8 corn tortillas, warmed

Mix the chili powder, cumin and 1⁄2 teaspoon each salt and pepper. In 2 separate bowls, toss half the spice mixture with the potatoes and the remaining half with the pork. In a 12-inch nonstick skillet, heat the oil until shimmering. Add the potatoes, then cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until well browned and tender. Stir in the pork and garlic, then cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the pork is lightly browned and cooked through. Season with salt and pepper and serve with tortillas.

Optional garnish: Chopped fresh cilantro OR thinly sliced radishes OR thinly sliced red onion OR diced avocado OR lime wedges OR sour cream OR a combination

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To see other recipes from Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street and other shows, visit  Cooking with WSKG.