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Homage to the Taco Chronicles - The Series - Tacos de Barbacoa de Res

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    Homage to the Taco Chronicles - The Series - Tacos de Barbacoa de Res

    Homage to the Taco Chronicles – The Series – Tacos de Barbacoa de Res

    There are a lot of culinary words and described techniques of cooking that are simply misnomers. French fries and French toast are hardly French inventions. Strawberries are not berries at all. Danish pastries don’t come from Denmark, I could go on and on but you get the point. That brings us to the word for our tacos in this series, Barbacoa.

    Barbacoa not only describes the type of protein cooked but it also doubles as the cooking method, neither of which you would associate with what it actually is. The word Barbacoa originated with the Taino people in the Caribbean and it describes a style of cooking that utilized either open fire or pit roasting. The meat was always slow roasted and marinated in tropical herbs and spices. The odd thing is that we derive our word barbecue from this method. I suppose low and slow smoking could be seen as a natural progression of this cooking style, but grilling and other live fire searing techniques certainly don’t seem to fit. In fact, I’d say the results of the cooking and the cooking style are best described as a braising or steaming technique in an oven or slow cooker rather than barbecue as we know it.

    Regardless of the perceived misnomer, its origins are traced equally as far back in Mexico to the Aztecs and Mayans. It’s there that the cooking in pits as natural ovens became popular as well. Indigenous animals were hunted and placed into a pit, or what’s known as a pib, suspended over hot coals and protected with the maguey leaves (or what we know as the agave plant) then completely covered with soil and roasted for hours, sometimes days, until complete. This style of cooking, often referred to as pibil or pit roasting, was adopted by the conquering Spanish and is still classically used in Mexico today.

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    So Barbacoa is not only a cooking style, but it also describes the various types of proteins utilized with a variety of marinades and sauces being employed which further adds to the confusion. Classically when the Spanish introduced goats and sheep to the New World, those became the proteins of choice. Both are probably the most popular still in use in Mexico today. Often times you see them cooked in pibs with nothing more than salt as a seasoning. Other times we see marinades such as adobo or even mole used in conjunction with the meat.

    The variations are endless, and they can consist of the type of meat used, the type of condiments, the material used for wrapping the meat, and/or the roasting/steaming process itself. In the Yucatan they largely use pork which is akin to our pulled pork, called Conchinita Pibil (which I intend to cook in my next taco series). But it’s in Northern Mexico and of course Tex-Mex that I want to draw the style and attention to. In this part of the world beef is the primary source for Barbacoa.

    Most any tough fatty cut can be utilized from short rib, to brisket or even chuck. The idea is the same, to braise or steam the meat until it is tender and falling apart, again much like our pulled or stewed meat. The classical choice, and still utilized in Northern Mexico, is whole cow heads yielding up to seven pounds of cheek, tongue and lip meat. Since the practice has come under some scrutiny, beef cheek alone has become the viable substitute. Once again a fatty or well marbled piece of beef is ideal and gives that beautifully braised, buttery and fall apart texture as the result.

    As to the type of sauces used that too can end up a two-hour debate over whose type is favored. With beef I have preferred a chile adobo sauce as both a marinade and a braising liquid. I chose to make mine in conjunction with some smoke in my WSM to achieve a minor marriage of braising and smoking. I think the technique turned out great. In the past I have used the oven in my house and even a crock pot but the roasting in conjunction with smoke is by far and away the best I’ve ever made.

    To keep things somewhat classical, I started with a foil pan lined with banana leaves, tucked in my pieces of meat, poured over my adobo sauce then covered once again with the folded over leaves. I utilized beef cheek meat but during preparation I found after trimming there was too much inedible fat and connective tissue leaving a less than desirable amount of meat. To augment I chose to use some oxtails for their fat and marrow content which gave the braise an added richness.

    I’ve gotta say this experiment turned out amazingly well. The touch of smoke, the marinade, the combination of cheek and oxtail, made for the best ever Barbacoa !!

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    Tacos de Barbacoa de Res

    Course. Lunch or Dinner.
    Cuisine. Mexican
    Makes. 4 to 6 servings
    Takes. 60 minutes prep, 2-3 hours to roast

    Ingredients – Meat & Marinade

    3-4 pounds of beef cheek, chuck, or short ribs. Oxtail works very well.
    2 ancho or pasilla chilies
    2 quajillo chilies
    1 costeno chilie
    3-4 chipotle chilies from the adobo can along with 2 tablespoons of the sauce
    1-quart chicken stock
    1/3 cup fresh squeezed lime juice
    1/4 cup apple cider vinegar

    1 onion diced
    3-4 whole garlic cloves
    2 teaspoons ground cumin
    2 teaspoons Mexican oregano
    1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
    2 teaspoon Kosher salt
    1 teaspoon ground pepper

    Ingredients – For Tacos Presentation

    10-12 – corn OR classic flour tortillas
    Pico de Gallo (optional: add mango or pineapple chunks)
    Chopped onion and cilantro combined
    Lime wedges
    *Salsa Rojo (bonus recipe below)

    Directions – Adobo Sauce & Meat Prep
    1. Preferably the day before, trim and prep your meat. Salt brine with 1/2 teaspoon per pound of Kosher salt. Allow up to 24 hours for the salt cure.
    2. For the adobo, start by roasting the dried chilies over an open flame or in the broiler. Do not scorch. Once roasted place them in a pan with enough chicken stock to cover them and bring to a boil. Boil them until soft and pliable, about 15-20 minutes. Remove, de-stem and de-seed. Place in a blender.
    3. Meanwhile, brown your beef in a heavy Dutch oven with some cooking oil and set aside. Add a little more oil to the pan and sweat your onions and garlic until they are translucent and beginning to brown.
    4. Add your spices (cumin, oregano and cloves) to the onion/garlic mix and get them fragrant, about 30 seconds. Be careful not to let them burn.
    5. Next add the vinegar and the remaining chicken stock to the mixture deglazing the pan. Scrape all of the fond from the bottom of the pan. Simmer and reduce by half.
    6. Place the cooked down mixture into the blender with the chilies. Add the chipotle chilies with their adobo sauce, and the lime juice. Blend slowly to combine then increase speed to puree until smooth.
    7. After the sauce is complete, place your pieces of beef into a foil pan lined with banana leaves. If you can’t source banana leaves use aluminum foil to cover.
    8. Pour your adobo sauce into the pan covering the meat as much as possible. Fold the leaves over the top for protection or cover with foil as suggested.
    9. Fire up your outdoor smoker or kettle with charcoal and some wood chunks (oak is a classic choice). Pre-heat the smoker to 300*F and place the covered pan of meat on the grill. If using a foil cover, allow the corners to remain open to give the smoke a chance to permeate.
    10. After about an hour and a half check your cook. I found the banana leaves were beginning to burn up and expose the meat so I covered mine with foil. At that point the smoke had infused the meat. If using foil in the first place, just tightly cover. Continue to cook for about another hour, checking to see if the meat is fully rendered and falling apart tender.
    11. Once the meat is cooked and rested, pull the meat apart and place in a serving vessel. Remove the meat and discard the bones if using oxtails and mix in with the beef cheek or other meat used. Cover the meat mixture with several tablespoons of the consume for added moisture and flavor. Preserve the cooked consume if desired to be served on the side or used to make a tasty soup.
    12. Serve with warmed tortillas and toppings of your choice. We served ours with Elote or Mexican corn on the cob to complete the meal.
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    *Salsa Rojo (bonus recipe)

    5 medium sized tomatoes (optional: 2-14 ounce cans of Muir Glen Fire Roasted chopped tomatoes)
    1-10 can Rotel diced tomatoes with green chilies
    1 white onion cut into quarters
    4-5 cloves garlic whole
    2 jalapeno or 2 serrano peppers (dependent on your heat tolerance)
    1 poblano pepper
    1/2 cup chopped cilantro
    Juice from 1 lime
    1 teaspoon Kosher salt
    1/2 teaspoon black pepper
    Vegetable oil for brushing

    1. If using fresh tomatoes, brush with oil and roast them over an open flame or in the broiler to develop some char on the outside. Do the same with the onions and garlic cloves.
    2. Take the peppers and roast them the same way only get them well charred all over. Once charred remove the skin under running water, cut them in half and remove the seeds and veins (unless you want the heat).
    3. Place all of the grilled veggies, the chopped cilantro, and the lime juice into a blender and pulse 2-3 times. Leave the salsa chunky avoiding over blending into a liquid state.
    4. Add the salt and pepper to taste. Once blended, pour your salsa into a serving bowl. Mix well with a spoon. It’s always a good idea to refrigerate your salsa an hour or two before serving to allow the mixture to meld its flavors.
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    Thanks again for taking the time to continue reading my series. I hope those who have never had real Mexican tacos will take the time to cook some for friends and family.

    For those interested in following or have missed any of my Taco Chronicles series, here are links to previous offerings;

    Tacos de Guisado
    Tacos al Pescado
    Tacos de Chivo Birria
    Tacos al Pastor
    Tacos al Carbon

    Next up is another version of Barbacoa, Conchinita Pibil. Looking forward to seeing you then, Trout is Out !!

    "This is what defines Mexico….a Good Taco"

    Wow, one more time right outta the park! Going on my must try list. Thanks!


      As always, you have knocked it OUT of the park! I'm reviewing all your Taco adventures, as we have planned a family get-together for 10 to celebrate my parents 58th wedding anniversary on Sunday, and being that their anniversary is May 4th, and Cinco de Mayo is May 5th, I am going to go with a Mexican food theme.


      • Troutman
        Troutman commented
        Editing a comment
        I suggest tacos al carbon using flank. Easy to cook and a big crowd pleaser !!

      • jfmorris
        jfmorris commented
        Editing a comment
        Troutman that was the one I was looking at. And I may do the shawarma style chicken thigh on a skewer as well, to have two options. Probably run the meat on the SNS Kamado, and throw down the grilled veggies on the flat top. The flat top will be great for warming tortillas as well. Heck - I may just throw pots of rice and refried beans and queso down on the flattop too.
        Last edited by jfmorris; April 29, 2021, 01:38 PM.

      Thank you for the series!


        Nothing but awesome! Very enjoyable read.


          WOW!! That looks fantastic!! I am going to have to look for some of these peppers up here!! Not much in my area. Another fantastic write up. Did I mention that looka amazing!!


            Planning on following this recipe for the meat marinade at least. Anything incremental you would add?


              Nice write up. The effort you put into these are noted.


                Troutman Thanks for the write up...Nicely done!....I have them saved to Paprika app now...


                • Bkhuna
                  Bkhuna commented
                  Editing a comment
                  I tried downloading Paprika and all I got was the Salsa. I'm new to that app so any guidance would be very appreciated.

                I have finally gotten around to this recipe - making it right now. This is the first time I've purchased beef cheek meat - lots of waste after trimming but that is all being rendered into tallow and cracklins for the dogs.

                I could not find costeno peppers at my local Mexican market so I'm adding a fresh roasted Fresno as a substitute. I used one pasilla and one ancho mulatto since I'm out of regular dried anchos. The mulatto should give a nice earthy, almost chocolate, note. I also added a dry red Hatch chili because I have lots of them - bought a 4 lb bag last year. Do you know how big a 4 lb bag of dried Hatch peppers is? For those of you in Cajun influenced areas it is a mesh bag the size of the bag the live crawfish you buy when having a crawfish boil come in, which is about 25 lbs.

                For the broth I am using venison broth that I made last year. I used the same broth the chilies were boiled in to cook the veggies and to thin the Adobo. Gotta keep that good flavor. Each venison broth container has about 1/8 - 1/4 inch of venison fat on top so I used that to sear the meat and saute the veggies. Its not gamey, after cooking for hours to make stock the fat that floats to the top is nice and white, almost flavorless. It is also solid at room temperature.

                I'm about to put the meat on the smoker right now.


                • ofelles
                  ofelles commented
                  Editing a comment
                  What time is dinner?

                • 58limited
                  58limited commented
                  Editing a comment
                  At this rate, probably tomorrow. Raining outside, moved into my oven after an hour and a half at 300-350 degrees on the kamado. The meat is still tough and needs to braise more (some pieces are pretty thick) so I have it at 225 degrees while I kick back with a book and some wine. I'll let it go for several hours and finish tomorrow.

                • 58limited
                  58limited commented
                  Editing a comment
                  Pulled out of the oven. Very tender and succulent with a nice smoke flavor. Lots of adobo though. After trimming the meat I probably had under 2 lbs of meat but I used the entire adobo recipe. I'll save the extra for use later. If I'm motivated, I may make some Hatch chili tortillas tomorrow to go with this.
                  Last edited by 58limited; October 2, 2021, 07:28 PM.

                I make this every couple of months or so and have sent it with Collette for her Mexican themed employee pot lucks. One of her judges, who's a total foodie, issued a court order that I must cook this barbacoa for their lunch. I'm pretty sure that's infringing on my constitutional rights, but I enjoy serving and eating this recipe too! Thanks again for your Taco Chronicles, my friend.



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