This past Saturday, we celebrated my dad’s 80th birthday! You need to know that he is a REALLY great guy, a true gentleman, and my mom’s very best friend. His birthday is actually on May 4, but since it’s so close to Cinco de Mayo and the family loves Mexican food, we seem to always have some serious fiesta food.
This year, the menu for our family birthday celebrations was:
- Chips with Guacamole and Salsa
- Beef Barbacoa Tacos
- Condiments (tomatoes, cheese, red pickled onions, and lettuce)
- Homemade Refried Beans
- Cucumber Salad with Onions and Cilantro
- Best Ever Carrot Cake and Vanilla Ice Cream
I’ve been noodling on making Beef Barbacoa Tacos for some time and this seemed like the appropriate celebration. The history of Barbacoa is quite different from our modern-day translation of the recipe. Barbacoa actually originated in the Caribbean and it refers to a method of cooking whereby meat, wrapped with garlic, onion, and cilantro, is buried in a hole in which wood has been burned down to charcoal. The hole is then covered with dirt or sand and then another fire is built on top. It takes a good 12-14 hours to cook the meat. Fun fact for the day: the term ‘barbecue’ is derived from ‘barbacoa’.
The recipes I perused involved many more ingredients than the very simple original recipes, but did employ the slow cook, albeit not in the ground! I wanted to use some ingredients I already had on hand, so pulled ideas from many and came up with this. While the Beef Barbacoa Tacos on their own were outstanding, I have to say that the pickled red onions took the whole dish over the top. The combination of the subtly spiced beef with the crisp and brightly flavored onions is perfection.
Beef Barbacoa Tacos with Pickled Onions
- 4-5 pounds chuck roast
- 4 New Mexico or Guajillo chiles, stems and seeds removed
- 2 cups chicken broth
- 2 cups tomato sauce
- 1 medium onion, sliced
- 6 medium cloves garlic, crushed
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
- 2 teaspoons dried oregano
- 4 chipotle chilis packed in adobo, with 2 tablespoons adobo sauce
- 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
- 5 juniper berries
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 bunch cilantro
- Preheat oven to 275'
- In a cast iron or heavy dutch oven, heat chiles over medium heat until just fragrant, but not smoking. Should take around 5 minutes.
- Remove chiles and place in smaller pot with chicken broth. Bring to a boil, put lid on pot and turn heat off. Let chiles and broth sit while you prepare the rest of the sauce
- Saute onion and garlic in 2 TBS oil until translucent. Add cumin, cloves, oregano and saute until fragrant. (at this point, your home will smell unbelievably fantastic!)
- Place chiles in broth, the tomato sauce, the sauted onion, garlic and spice mixture, the chipotes in adobo and red wine vinegar in a blender. BE CAREFUL to turn your blender on very slowly. Hot stuff in blenders tend to 'explode' (not that I would know!).
- Put your beef in your dutch oven and pour sauce over top. Add juniper berries, cilantro and bay leaves. Cover and put in oven for 4 hours.
- At the end of the 4 hours, you meat should be pull apart tender.
- Remove the meat.
- Pull out juniper berries, cilantro and bay leaves.
- Defat your sauce and then reduce the sauce by half
- Pour back over your meat.
- I made my barbacoa 2 days ahead of time and then reheated it before serving, but you can make it the day of as well.
- I did not shred my meat, though it was so tender, it did fall apart very easily. I tried to keep some of my chunks a little bigger.
Serve with corn tortillas that have been warmed wrapped in tin foil in a low oven, pickled red onions, Cotija cheese, tomatoes and lettuce.
We capped the meal off with our family’s favorite birthday cake (well, except for my mom who is the Carrot Cake Contrarian). I’ve been making this Carrot Cake for probably 20 years, it’s the cake that both my babies had on their first birthdays! I’ll feature that recipe later this week.
It was another great birthday celebration and…we have leftovers!!!! YUM!
And, if these tacos sound delicious to you, be sure to check out my chile-braised short-rib tacos for another delicious recipe!
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