Barbacoa Tacos

Tender shredded beef, seasoned to mouth-watering goodness, topped with tangy, crisp onion.
Tender shredded beef, seasoned to mouth-watering goodness, topped with tangy, crisp onion.

If you are not from the southwestern US or Mexico, I need you to sit down. There’s something important you need to know. Diana Kennedy or Rick Bayless may have already told you but just in case, here it is:

Enchilada sauce is not made from tomatoes. Truly. It’s red color comes from red chile.  

In fact, every time enchilada sauce is made with tomatoes, a kitten dies.

Chiles (two kinds!), garlic, onion, laurel
Chiles (two kinds!), garlic, onion, laurel


Enchilada (hey – look at the word in the middle of that – chile!) means chile-fied, enrobed in chile, etc. Now, don’t be embarrassed. I remember when my sister-in-law, the one who’s now the chef, explained this to me when I was so excited about a new “decoration” for my front door. It was a beautiful chile ristra and she remembered the last one she got and how her Nana E took them all because the chile was so good.  And I was all like, what? You don’t *eat* that.  And she was all like, what? Why the hell do you think people dry them and hang them up? Well, duh. Color me educated. Think about it – bunches of herbs, garlic braids, chile ristras. They are all for the pantry, in the pre-supermarket way.

So by now we all know my Sunday dinner plan to make a big roast of some kind. That whole “cook once, eat thrice” thing. This week it was a 7-pound chuck roast from Costco.  I knew I wanted to have it potroast style, and then thought some shredded beef soft tacos might be this week’s carb indulgence for Himself.  So I started googling barbacoa recipes and found the most awesome YouTube channel for a lady called Abuela Oti.  She has a chili-based sauce for hers, which led to the little opening spiel. Mmmm…..barbacoa tacos…..

Small corn tortillas, ready to grill and fill.
Small corn tortillas, ready to grill and fill.

That made me think of the plethora of fabulous taco stands we have here, and the wonderful condiments to go with them: radishes, pickled carrots and jalapeños (zanahorias en escabeche), and pickled onions (cebollas en escabeche), grilled spring onions (cebollitas asadas al carbon), grilled jalapeños…..oh my. And wouldn’t that rich, rich beef pair beautifully with some cold, crisp, zingy pickled onion?…my mouth waters just thinking about it.

Cebollas en escabeche
Cebollas en escabeche

So, is this a post about the pickled onions, or the meat? Honestly, it has to be both. But we’ll start with the meat.

For the sauce
2 large or 3 medium dried chile california or chile guajillo (those are the smooth, oxblood-colored ones. Get medium or mild unless you’re muy macho.)
1 dried chile pasilla (that’s the crinkly, raisin-looking one)
1 cup boiling hot water
2 cloves garlic
½ small white onion
½ teaspon Mexican oregano leaves
2 bay (laurel) leaves
For the meat
1 # shredded beef (leftover potroast)
S&P to taste
Pop the top on the chilis, discard that and the seeds. Put the chilis in a shallow bowl, cover them with the hot water and let them sit for half an hour until they soften. Put them, their soaking liquid and everything for the sauce but the laurel in the blender and blend until smooth.
Pour the puree through a strainer into a 10” saute pan, heat to medium and cook for about ten minutes. Add the shredded beef, reduce heat to medium-low and cook for about fifteen more minutes, or until most of the liquid of the sauce is evaporated. Taste for seasoning at this point, and add S&P to taste.
Remove the laurel leaves, and serve with hot corn tortillas. And those pickled onions, of course. But that is for another post.
You can serve this with rice, too, like Abuela does in her video.

Author: Karen Maginnis

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