Authentic barbacoa beef tacos are piled with shredded beef cooked low and slow in chili-pepper spiced sauce, and topped with cilantro, salsa and lime wedges.
You may have seen “barbacoa” in many forms on menus at Mexican restaurants. Not sure what it is? It’s meat cooked slowly with seasonings. It’s where the American word “barbecue” originated. Most kinds of meat can be cooked barbacoa style. In Northern Mexico, goat meat is used most often. In Central Mexico, it’s usually lamb, while the Yucatan peninsula uses pork. In America, it’s most commonly beef.
The cooking process takes hours, and it cannot be rushed. Once complete, the meat can be shredded and served in tacos, burritos, or enchiladas, or served over rice or cornbread.
It starts with dried chile peppers. I had a heck of time finding them, as I don’t know of any Latino markets near me. The local spice market only had one kind of chile pepper. Amazon only sells them in one-pound packages, which is WAY too many. I actually ended up finding them in the international aisle of my local supermarket.
Oxtail is a bony, gelatin-rich meat. They add rich flavor to the finished dish. The bulk of the meat in barbacoa is from either a chuck eye roast or beef short ribs. These are both cuts of meat that tend to be tough, which makes the ideal for this cooking method. It is important to slice them against the grain before shredding for maximum tenderness.
This is not a weeknight meal. It takes 4 1/2 to 5 hours from start to finish. But these insanely delicious tacos are well worth the effort! Be warned: they are spicy. After all, there are three kinds of dried chile peppers as well as chipotle peppers in adobo in this recipe. Topping these tacos with cheese and/or guacamole (something with fat) helps cut the heat a bit.
You’ll want to reserve any leftover gravy for another recipe that I’ll be posting soon!
Authentic Barbacoa Beef Tacos
- 1 whole dried New Mexico costeño, or choricero chili, seeds and stem removed (see notes above)
- 1 whole chile ancho or pasilla seeds and stem removed (see notes above)
- 1 whole chile negro seeds and stem removed (see notes above)
- 1 quart low sodium store-bought or homemade chicken stock divided
- 3 tablespoons vegetable or canola oil divided
- 1 pound oxtails
- 1 small white onion finely sliced
- 6 medium cloves garlic finely minced
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
- 2 teaspoons dried oregano
- 4 chipotle chilis packed in adobo roughly chopped, with 2 tablespoons adobo sauce
- 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
- 4 lb boneless shortribs
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 2 whole bay leaves
- Kosher salt
- Warm corn or flour tortillas
- salsa verde
- limes wedges
Adjust oven rack to lower middle position and preheat oven to 275°F. Place dried chilies on a microwave-safe plate and microwave on high power in 15-second increments until pliable and toasted-smelling, about 30 seconds total. Transfer to a 2-quart microwave-safe bowl. Add 2 cups chicken broth, cover with plastic wrap, and microwave on high power until gently simmering, about 5 minutes. Remove from microwave and set aside.
Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon oil in now-empty Dutch oven over high heat until shimmering. Cook oxtails until well-browned on all sides, about 8 minutes total. Remove oxtails and set aside. Reduce heat to medium.
Add remaining two tablespoons oil and heat along with onions and garlic and cook, stirring frequently, until deep brown and just starting to burn, about 10 minutes. Add cumin, cloves, and oregano and cook, stirring constantly until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add chipotle chilies, vinegar, and remaining chicken broth. Scrape up browned bits from bottom of pan, simmer until reduced by about half, then transfer entire contents to the jar of a blender.
Add soaked chilies and their liquid to the blender along with fish sauce. Start blender on low and slowly increase speed to high. Puree until smooth, about 1 minute. Set aside.
Place beef chuck in Dutch oven. Add oxtails, bay leaves, and sauce. Bring to a boil over high heat. Place lid on pot slightly cracked, then transfer to oven. Cook, turning beef occasionally, until completely tender and a cake tester or metal skewer inserted into meat shows little to no resistance, about 4 hours. Discard bay leaves and oxtails (meat from oxtails can be eaten if desired). Transfer chuck to a large plate. Return Dutch oven to stovetop and cook, stirring frequently, over medium-high heat until liquid is reduced to about 1 1/2 cups, about 5 minutes.
Beef can be cut and served immediately, but for best flavor, transfer beef to a sealed container along with liquid and refrigerate up to five days. When ready to serve, slice beef against the grain into 1 1/2- to 2-inch slices, then shred into large chunks with fingers or two forks. Return beef to a pot along with the sauce. Bring to a simmer and cook, gently stirring and folding until beef is hot, tender, and coated in sauce. Season to taste with salt. Serve immediately, piling the beef into warm corn tortillas with cilantro, salsa verde, and lime wedges on the side.
Slightly adapted from J. Kenji Lopez-Alt
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- Salsa Verde Beef Tacos by Picky Palate
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