Birria Tacos, Muy Bueno

Birria tacos. Photos by Keri White

My husband has taken up his place at the stove on Sunday. This time of year, he makes delicious stews and soups and tends toward the hearty, manly, meaty end of the culinary spectrum.

Last week, he dazzled us all with his version of birria tacos. These tacos have become trendy of late —they are a little different from the traditional taco, in which soft tacos (or hard shells) are stuffed with meat or chicken or fish or veggies or cheese, or a combo of these fillings, and dressed with flavorful salsas.
Birria tacos involve a flavorful braise, in our case, short ribs, but rather than offer a DIY set-up at the table, these are served freshly filled and fried in the “birria” drippings to a delicious crisp. Traditionalists fill them with meat, cheese, pickled onions and cilantro, but kosher diners would skip the cheese.
If you have extra pickled onions, save them; they are glorious tossed over green salads, stirred into tuna or chicken salad, strewn over roast veggies or slathered on a sandwich.
Birria Tacos
Serves 4 generously
For the meat:
3 dried guajillo peppers, stems and seeds removed
½ cup boiling water
1 can chipotles in adobo
¼ cup fresh lime juice
½ cup tomato puree
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 onion, chopped
2 jalapeños, chopped
1 teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon salt
2 pounds boneless short ribs (or 3 pounds if using bone-in)
1 tablespoon vegetable or canola oil
2 cups beef or vegetable broth
1 cup (approximately) water
In a large, dry ovenproof skillet, toast the guajillo peppers over medium heat for a few minutes; they will become fragrant quickly. Turn them with tongs to hit all sides. Place them in a bowl with boiling water and let them sit for a few minutes.
In a blender, place the guajillo mixture, chipotles in adobo, lime juice, tomato puree, garlic, onion, jalapeños, salt and cumin. Puree until smooth. Set aside.
Heat your oven to 300 degrees F.
Heat the oil on the stove in a skillet over medium-high.
Salt the short ribs, and sear them on all sides. Scrape any bits from the bottom of the pan, and add the sauce, then the broth and enough water to just cover as needed. Cover and place them in the oven for 3 hours. Check occasionally to ensure that there is enough liquid to braise the ribs.
While the meat braises, pickle the onions. When the meat is done, remove it from the oven, and pull the meat apart with forks. Do not discard the fat layer off the top of the pan; this will be used for the tacos!
For the onions:
1 large onion, chopped
¼ cup white vinegar
Juice of 1 lime
½ teaspoon salt
Place the onions in a sealable container with the remaining ingredients. Add cool water to cover. Shake the mixture, and let it sit at room temperature until ready to serve. Note: The vinegar brine is extremely flavorful, so save it and use in salads or marinades.
Fresh corn tortillas
Chopped fresh cilantro
Skim a few tablespoons of the fat off the meat and place it in a clean skillet over medium heat. Using tongs, place a tortilla flat in the skillet, then flip it over to lightly coat it. Place a bit of meat inside the taco, then some pickled onion and fresh cilantro. Fold the taco and heat, turning so that both sides crisp up evenly. Repeat this procedure for sufficient portions, and enjoy.
Note: These are best made fresh, so if you do not intend to eat all of the birria, I recommend using the leftover for a fresh batch tomorrow. And, if you don’t wish to recreate the birria tacos, you can certainly make enchiladas, other Mexican dishes or even use the meat for hearty sloppy joes.


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