Birria is a traditional lamb, goat, or beef stew found all over Mexico as well as the American Southwest. This dish is not dissimilar in flavor to a Mexican Barbacoa that has garnered popularity north of the border. There are many regional flavor variations of course, but in general the heady spiced chile marinated meat is slowly steamed rather than stewed for hours on end to achieve a tender succulent, and deeply flavored meat. Once you have mastered the basics of cooking a birria why not try some variations of your own!
A New Mexico version of birria is called carne adovada. Pork is slowly cooked in an intense New Mexican red chile broth that reflects both Mexican and Spanish influences.
In the recipe that follows I have marinated the meat, in this case pork loin, using traditional chilies and seasonings and steaming the meat as you would for a traditional Mexican lamb or goat birria. If you’re an adventurous traditionalist cook by all means make an authentic Mexican goat birria. But if you do, I would highly recommend you do as the Mexicans do and cook it outside!
Serve birria as a main course, but do try it as a breakfast burrito with scrambled eggs the following day as well. Buen provecho!
Birria: Serves 6-8
- 2.2 pounds/1 kilo pork loin or shoulder (or lamb, goat, or beef)
- 7 dried chilies (ancho, pasilla, or other)
- 1 dried chipotle chile (smoked jalapeno)
- 1 teaspoon coriander seeds, toasted
- ½ teaspoon cumin seeds, toasted
- 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
- 2 tablespoons paprika
- 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- pinch of ground clove
- 1 teaspoon oregano
- 1 teaspoon marjoram
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- 1/2 cup cider vinegar (or Jerez sherry vinegar)
- 2 tablespoons cold pressed peanut oil
- 1 flame roasted tomato, peeled, pureed, and strained
- 6 large garlic cloves, finely minced
- 2 cups stock
- pan juices
- 2 or 3 teaspoons corn starch mixed with equal parts water
- warm corn and flour tortillas
- Crema (see note)
- fresh cilantro leaves
Cut the meat into 2 inch cubes.
For the chilies, remove the stems and split them open lengthwise. Remove the seeds and interior membrane and flay them. Toast the chilies in a dry skillet over medium low heat, pressing them against the bottom of the pan with a metal spatula, and turning them several times until they are lightly toasted, dried out, and easily crumbled. Crumble and place in a spice mill.
Toast the coriander and cumin seeds over low heat and place them in the spice mill with the crumbled chilies. Add the black peppercorns and mill the ingredients into a fine powder and place in a bowl large enough to hold the meat for marinating. Add the paprika, cinnamon, clove, , oregano, marjoram, and salt. Mix until combined. Then add the cider vinegar, peanut oil, roasted tomato puree, and minced garlic and mix everything together until well combined.
Add the meat to the marinade and mix until all the meat is coated and submerged into the marinade. Cover with cling film and place in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours or preferably overnight.
Preheat the oven to 325F/165C
Prepare a Dutch oven fitted with a rack or a collapsible metal steamer basket. Fill the pot with water to within a fraction of an inch of the bottom of the rack or steamer basket. Layer the meat on the rack or in the basket, adding excess marinade between each layer of meat, and topping off with any remaining marinade.
Loosely fit a large sheet of foil over the pot and lower the lid into place over the foil and press the excess foil around the pot as tightly as possible. Place in the oven and cook for 2 to 3 hours, checking at 1 hour intervals, adding more water only if needed (see note), and resealing with foil, and replacing the lid before returning the pot to the oven.
Note: Only add more water to the pot if absolutely necessary, as you want the pan juices to reduce to a thick syrup (glace de viande) to use later.
Once the meat is very tender, remove from the oven and transfer the meat to a lidded casserole dish and set aside to rest.
Remove the rack or steamer basket from the pot and pour the pan juices left in the pot into a bowl, skim off the fat, and set aside. The pan juices will be quite concentrated, as mentioned above, and deep red in color.
Add 2 cups of stock to a sauce pan. Bring to a boil and reduce by half. Add about ¼ cup of the syrupy pan juices (glace de viande) to the stock and taste, adding more glace to suit your seasoning preference.
Then, with the sauce simmering, add the cornstarch water mixture and stir for several minutes until the sauce thickens. Turn off the heat and set the sauce aside.
Birria is ideally tucked into warm flour or corn tortillas…taco style, but equally good rolled into tortillas…enchilada style, spooning additional sauce over the enchiladas. In either case it is best to pull the meat apart into bite sized strips using a fork. Spoon the pulled meat into a serving platter and pour reheated pan sauce over the meat for taco style eating, or roll the meat into tortillas…enchilada style. Serve along with fresh cilantro and crema (see note).
Other complimentary dishes you might include with the meal are a Mexican rice, and a mixed salad with lime cilantro vinaigrette.
Note: Mexican Crema is a thin sour cream, easily replicated by mixing 3 parts sour cream (or Greek yogurt) to 1 part whole milk (or cream).