How to make birria, the dish of the moment, at home

This Mexican stew can be served in multiple ways, such as Birria de Res (top), Birria Ramen (bottom left) and Quesabirria Tacos. Styling by Kate Williams / Chris Hunt for the AJC
This Mexican stew can be served in multiple ways, such as Birria de Res (top), Birria Ramen (bottom left) and Quesabirria Tacos. Styling by Kate Williams / Chris Hunt for the AJC

Credit: Chris Hunt

Credit: Chris Hunt

Mexican comfort food can be served as a stew, in tacos, over ramen

You’ll find birria in taco form, with shredded meat stuffed into fried cheesy quesabirria tacos that are dipped into the strained cooking broth, called consommé. Or you may find consommé ladled over ramen and the meat layered on top of pizza or any manner of fusion-inspired dishes. The dish can also, of course, be served just as it comes out of the pot, in soup form, with warm tortillas alongside.

Birria is, it’s safe to say, the dish of the moment. El Tesoro General Manager Samantha Eaves attributes the trend to the increased desire for comfort food that comes during economic downturns. “I think it’s trendy because it’s kind of like when grilled cheese became popular, it’s trendy because it’s comforting and good,” she said. And quesabirria tacos, at least, are well-suited to the current need for takeout.

El Tesoro’s kitchen manager and birriero Hugo Suastegui said the tacos work so well to go because frying the tortillas holds the taco together. Frying also lends the tacos their robust flavor, said Suastegui. The fat “gets that flavor from the spices from the birria right on the tortilla, plus you get the meat inside.”

And even if you stick to eating birria in its simplest form, you’ll likely be trying something different at each and every location you choose. Indeed, besides the guajillos and some kind of meat, the one thing that birria recipes have in common is the fact that they’re all different. Some use tomatoes, some are made from a mix of meats, and still others have been transformed to a vegan dish, with pulled jackfruit replacing the beef, goat or lamb.

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While in its most traditional form, birria is made using goat, in Atlanta at least, you’re most likely to find birria made with some cut of beef. “It’s really popular here just to use beef,” said Suastegui. “But I think the best birria (is made from) lamb or goat. … Goat doesn’t have a lot of meat and that’s (why) it has good flavor; (it’s) got more bone than anything.”

“Goat is slightly harder to get people to try because it’s not a popular protein consumed in the U.S.,” said Marco A. Saldierna, of the pop-up DMT Tacos. Instead, Saldierna and partner Daniela Guevara use beef knuckle in their birria. “Beef still gives us an equally delicious product that lends itself really well to the process of making birria.”

DMT’s birria gets its distinct, deep flavor and rich, substantial broth from an extended cook time, tomatoes, plenty of beef bones, allspice, cinnamon, bay leaves, and the unrefined Mexican sugar called piloncillo. “I think what makes our birria special is the amount of time we put into making each batch and the simplicity of the ingredients we use. It’s definitely something we learned firsthand that can’t be rushed,” said Saldierna.

At El Tesoro, the birria is made from beef stew meat, and the consommé is a tomato-less, brothy, and lightly spicy elixir with a slick of red fat on top. Despite the fact that you’ll see these birria components served in ramen, or occasionally, in mashup dishes like birria con bone marrow, the heart of Tesoro’s recipe is a homestyle dish. “The head chef (Cristina Lugo Soto) … started making the birria at home,” said Suastegui, “so this recipe actually comes from the home.”

Saldierna urges home cooks to be patient. “Take the time to execute the recipe you’re following correctly because you will definitely taste the difference in the end,” he said.

Once you’ve finished cooking, both the birria meat and the consommé can be used in as many creative ways as you’d like. And like any stew or braised dish, it also keeps well in the fridge and freezer, and it always tastes best the next day. This is an important point if you choose to make the birria for its, er, curative properties, and why Suastegui thinks the trend isn’t going anywhere.

“If you go to a Mexican restaurant, they (serve) it on the weekend because hungover people want it,” he said. “One day, you hang out with your friends, and the next day, you find a place to have a birria.”

RECIPES

Homemade birria is not terribly difficult, but because it takes several hours, it’s best suited to tackle as a weekend project, saving leftovers to make tacos and ramen later on in the week. You can also save some time by preparing birria using an Instant Pot or other pressure cooker, which cuts the cooking time down by about two-thirds.

Birria de Res is served here as a stew. The meat in birria recipes can vary, but this recipe uses beef chuck roast and beef marrow bones. Styling by Kate Williams / Chris Hunt for the AJC
Birria de Res is served here as a stew. The meat in birria recipes can vary, but this recipe uses beef chuck roast and beef marrow bones. Styling by Kate Williams / Chris Hunt for the AJC

Credit: Chris Hunt

Credit: Chris Hunt

Birria de Res, inspired by El Tesoro and DMT Tacos

This recipe uses a mix of easy-to-shred, flavorful beef chuck and gelatin-rich beef marrow bones. You can play around with the proportions of meat and bones as you’d like, keeping the total weight around 5 pounds; bone-in beef short ribs are a wonderful addition, as is lamb shoulder or shank. Serve the dish as a stew, with tortillas on the side, or save for tacos or ramen.

Birria de Res
  • 4 pounds beef chuck roast, cut into 4 to 5 pieces
  • Kosher salt
  • 2 cups water for the chiles, plus 1 quart for the consommé
  • 10 guajillo chiles (about 1 1/2 ounces), stemmed and seeded
  • 4 chiles de arbol, stemmed and seeded
  • 1 medium white onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon allspice
  • 1 pound beef marrow bones
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Diced red onions, for serving
  • Chopped fresh cilantro, for serving
  • Generously season the beef with salt, transfer to a wire rack set in a rimmed baking sheet, and let sit at room temperature while making the adobo.
  • To make the adobo, begin by boiling 2 cups of water. Meanwhile, spread all of the chiles in an even layer in a 10- to 12-inch skillet. Place over medium heat and toast, stirring occasionally, until the chiles begin to puff and become aromatic, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer to a medium bowl and cover completely with the boiling water. Cover the bowl and let the chiles soak for 30 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, heat the oven to 275 degrees with an oven rack in the lower middle position.
  • Once the chiles have soaked, drain them, reserving 1/2 cup of the liquid and the chiles. Transfer the drained chiles to a blender along with the reserved soaking liquid, the onion, garlic, vinegar, oregano, cumin, cloves, allspice and 1 teaspoon salt. Blend until smooth, then transfer to a Dutch oven or other large, heavy pot with a lid.
  • Add the salted beef, marrow bones, and bay leaves to the pot. Stir to coat the beef in the adobo. Add the 1 quart water, then place the pot over medium-high heat. Bring to a rapid simmer, then cover the pot and transfer to the oven. Let braise in the oven, stirring the meat every hour or so, until the meat is fork tender, about 4 hours.
  • Carefully transfer the beef to a large bowl and let sit until cool enough to handle. Poke any remaining marrow out of the marrow bones and into the cooking liquid.
  • Place a fine-mesh strainer over a second large bowl. Carefully ladle the hot consommé through the strainer, pressing on the solids to remove all of the liquid. Use a small ladle, spoon, or fat separator to remove the fat from the top of the consommé. Save both the fat and the consommé. Season the consommé to taste with salt.
  • Once the beef is cool enough to handle, shred into bite-sized pieces using your hands or two forks. Drizzle with a few tablespoons of consommé and season to taste with salt.
  • To serve as a soup, divide the beef between serving bowls and top with the hot consommé. Drizzle a little of the fat over the top and garnish with red onions and cilantro. Alternatively, save the beef, consommé and fat for tacos or ramen.
  • To make the birria in an Instant Pot: Follow the above directions except do not heat the oven. Instead of transferring the beef and adobo to a Dutch oven, transfer them to an Instant Pot. Add the bones and bay leaves as directed, but only stir in 2 cups of water. Turn off the “keep warm” setting and then cook on high pressure for 1 hour and 15 minutes. Let the pressure release naturally for 15 minutes, then use the quick release to release any remaining pressure. Follow the directions above to separate the meat, fat and cooking liquid. Serves 6 to 8.

Nutritional information

Per serving: Per serving, based on 6: 601 calories (percent of calories from fat, 56), 60 grams protein, 6 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram fiber, 38 grams total fat (16 grams saturated), 212 milligrams cholesterol, 1,269 milligrams sodium.
Coating the tortillas in reserved fat from the Birria de Res recipe is a key part of getting Quesabirria Tacos right. Styling by Kate Williams / Chris Hunt for the AJC
Coating the tortillas in reserved fat from the Birria de Res recipe is a key part of getting Quesabirria Tacos right. Styling by Kate Williams / Chris Hunt for the AJC

Credit: Chris Hunt

Credit: Chris Hunt

Quesabirria Tacos

Cheesy and rich, these crisp fried tacos get their spicy outer shell by coating the tortillas in rendered birria fat. Do not skip this critical step. Feel free to adjust the amounts below to make fewer tacos, if desired. The technique is more important than the proportions.

Quesabirria Tacos
  • Reserved beef, consommé, and fat from Birria de Res (above)
  • 16 corn tortillas
  • 12 ounces queso Chihuahua, Oaxaca, or other mild-flavored melty cheese, grated
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped red onions
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • Heat the oven to 200 degrees (or its lowest temperature). Place a baking sheet in the middle of the oven.
  • Lightly coat a nonstick skillet or griddle with 2 tablespoons of reserved fat and place over medium heat. When the oil is hot, place a corn tortilla in the fat, then flip to coat both sides. If using a griddle, repeat until the griddle is full. Sprinkle about 1/4 cup cheese over the tortilla, then top with about 1/3 cup of the beef. Sprinkle with a teaspoon or so of onion and cilantro. Let the taco cook until the bottom of the tortilla is crisp and the cheese is melty, 2 to 3 minutes, then carefully fold the taco in half. Transfer to the baking sheet in the oven to keep warm.
  • Repeat, adding additional fat to the skillet as needed, until you’ve used up all of the tortillas.
  • While the tacos are frying, gently reheat the consommé in a medium saucepan over low heat.
  • To serve, divide the consommé between small serving bowls and garnish with a little additional onion and cilantro. Serve with the tacos for dipping. Serves 6 to 8.

Nutritional information

Per serving: Per serving, based on 6: 767 calories (percent of calories from fat, 70), 29 grams protein, 30 grams carbohydrates, 4 grams fiber, 60 grams total fat (31 grams saturated), 127 milligrams cholesterol, 416 milligrams sodium.
The Birria Ramen shown here is topped with onions, cilantro and radish. Styling by Kate Williams / Chris Hunt for the AJC
The Birria Ramen shown here is topped with onions, cilantro and radish. Styling by Kate Williams / Chris Hunt for the AJC

Credit: Chris Hunt

Credit: Chris Hunt

Birria Ramen

Turning birria con consommé into ramen is as easy as adding boiled noodles to the bowl. This dish can be scaled up or down, depending on how many servings you’d like, and it can also be served alongside quesabirria tacos for a real treat.

Birria Ramen
  • 6 packets ramen noodles, seasoning packets saved for another use
  • Reserved beef, consommé and fat from Birria de Res
  • Chopped red onions, for serving
  • Chopped fresh cilantro, for serving
  • Thinly sliced radish, for serving
  • Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. Add the ramen noodles and cook until just tender, about 2 minutes. Drain and rinse with cool water to stop the cooking.
  • Divide the noodles between serving bowls. Divide the shredded beef between the bowls.
  • Place the consommé in a medium saucepan and bring to a rapid simmer over medium-high heat. Remove from the heat and carefully ladle it into the bowls over the noodles and beef. Drizzle a little of the reserved fat over the top, then garnish with onions, cilantro and radish. Serve immediately. Serves 6 to 8.

Nutritional information

Per serving: Per serving, based on 6: 560 calories (percent of calories from fat, 52), 16 grams protein, 52 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams fiber, 32 grams total fat (15 grams saturated), 40 milligrams cholesterol, 1,610 milligrams sodium.

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