The suddenly trendy, slow-cooked, chile-flavored stew called birria comes from the Mexican state of Jalisco, and that’s about the only thing birria aficionados agree on. The early goat versions, some say, were one way of dealing with an exploding population of the animals that had been introduced by Spanish colonizers. Others argue that goatherds just cooked a simple stew flavored with the chiles they’d been eating for millennia. Some claim the name derives from the goat-adjacent onomatopoeic word berrear, which in Spanish means to bleat, while another etymological camp points out that birria is a colloquial name for a mess, and note that it’s adjective form birrioso is a descriptor for low-class.
Despite the etymological controversy, birria is delicious. Most versions use the more widely available beef, and ours is adapted from the dozens of recipes found online. The multiple steps make it a project, so this recipe produces a good-sized batch. Eat half and freeze the rest.
We carry dried chiles when we can get them, but availability has been spotty. You can usually find dried chiles at stores catering to Mexican-American shoppers. Or order online from one of our favorite farms, The Kitchen Garden.
BIRRIA STYLE BRAISED BEEF
While it takes awhile, making birria is fairly simple. Dried chiles are rehydrated and blended with cooked onion, spices, and tomatoes to make the sauce used to slowly cook chunks of beef.
Seed and destem chiles by cutting a slit down one side and pulling out the seed core and stem. Put them in a sauce pan with 2 cups of the water, bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 10 minutes. Let cool.
Cook the onion in a splash of olive oil until soft and lightly browned, about 20 minutes. Add the garlic, herbs, spices, and sesame seeds, cook for another minute, then remove from the heat and cool. Most birria recipes don’t brown the meat before braising, but it does add a little flavor, so go for it if you want to.
Working in batches, transfer the chiles with their cooking water and the cooked onions to a blender. Blend until smooth, then combine the batches with the Katz vinegar and crushed tomatoes. Pour it over the beef and marinate in the refrigerator overnight or for at least a few hours.
Browned or not, put the beef and marinade in a Dutch oven or baking dish, cover, and bake at 300F for about 3 hours or until the meat shreds easily.
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