Tacos al Beef Barbacoa by Chef Laura Brennan
May 10, 2019
Lately I’ve been spotting random recipes for “Beef Barbacoa” and wondered if it was a Mexican barbecue technique…and it is…kind of.
“Barbacoa” may be the precursor to the word “Barbecue”; they sound similar, right? But all the “Barbacoa” recipes I’ve read have instructed the cook to both grill and continue cooking in some liquid; which is braising. Grilling the meat and onions before braising adds another layer of flavor, so I have combined both grilling and low-and-slow in-the-oven braising techniques in this recipe to create a tender, highly flavored ‘pull-apart’ meat, ready to stuff into taco shells (or burrito wraps).
- Prep: 30 mins
- Cook: 2 hrs
- Yields: Plenty of fillings for 10/12 taco shells
Approximately 3 ½ pounds beef chuck, cut into large 3 to 4-inch chunks
1-pound small white onions (about 5 each), peeled and cut into quarters
3 tablespoons canola or other neutral oil (plus more as needed)
1 tablespoon kosher salt, divided (plus more as needed)
Freshly-ground black pepper
6 whole medium-cloves garlic, peeled and flattened
2 tablespoons dried oregano
1 tablespoon ground cumin seed
2 ounces canned chipotle peppers in adobo sauce (1/3 of a 7-ounce can, or more if you like more heat)
1 peeled and seeded roasted red pepper, about 4 ounces
3 tablespoons ketchup
4 strips orange peel
Juice of 1 orange
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1-quart low sodium beef or chicken stock
Cut the beef into large chunks and season with kosher salt and fresh-ground black pepper. If grilling, lightly coat the meat chunks with oil and cook on the grill until charred on all sides. Repeat technique with onion pieces.
If sautéing, heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add 2-3 tablespoons oil to the pan and sear the pieces, turning to brown all sides. Repeat technique with the onions and cook to soften and lightly brown. (n.b. Be sure to cook the meat ‘in batches’; that is do not crowd the pan while cooking or the beef chunks will ‘steam’ and not brown properly.)
Add all the grilled or pan-seared meat and onions to a Dutch Oven/casserole pot. To the pot, add the peeled and smashed garlic cloves, the oregano, the ground cumin, the canned chipotle peppers, the roasted red pepper, the ketchup, orange peel and juice of the orange. Add the apple cider vinegar as well.
Stir all ingredients to combine. Barely cover with liquid-beef or chicken stock. Bring to a simmer.
Working quickly, cover pot with a piece of aluminum foil or parchment paper. You are covering the ingredients…the foil or parchment should be flush down on top of the ingredients. Then cover the pot with its cover. (If the pot doesn’t have a designated cover, use a second piece of foil.) The two covers will keep the liquids from evaporating while the meat is cooking and provide a bit of pressure-cooking.
Braise the meat until very, very tender—about 2 ¼ to2 ½ hours or more as needed.
Remove meat to a dish and let cool until you can handle it.
Strain the liquid, separating liquids and ‘solids’. (the ‘solids’ consist of the cooked onions, garlic, chipotle and red peppers, etc.)
Let the liquid cool and skim off the fat that comes to the surface.
Remove the strips of orange peel from the ‘solids’ and discard.
Add the ‘solids’ to a blender and add enough braising liquid to cover. Puree until a thick sauce consistency is achieved. (You will likely have extra braising juices; save to make another braise or use to heat up beans, soup, etc.)
Taste and adjust seasoning… more salt, pepper, spice, vinegar ??
Keep warm in a small saucepan, over low heat and stir often—don’t let it stick to the bottom of the pot and burn!The chunks of meat should now be cool enough to handle. Shred the meat and coat them with the pureed sauce you just made.
Toss the coleslaw with dressing. Slice the jalapenos into thin rings.
Make some sprigs of cilantro.
Fill the taco shells with some of the sauced meat. Top each taco with some prepared coleslaw, optional dollop of guacamole, sliced jalapenos, and sprigs of cilantro.
Prepared coleslaw mix
Dressing (I used bottled, ‘creamy chipotle ranch’)
1 or 2 jalapeno peppers, sliced across into thin rings
Sprigs of fresh cilantro
Optional: dollops of fresh guacamole
Pre-heat oven to 325 degrees.
Light the grill. Alternately, the beef and onions can be seared in a pan on the stove-top. Using a grill to char the meat will lend a smokier, more authentic Mexican flavor to the finished braise.