I’m late to the party, but that doesn’t mean the party is any less awesome.
The bastard love child of social media savvy Mexican-Americans and a traditional stew of goat meat with origins in Jalisco, these tacos pushed my boundaries as a cook. The venture outside my comfort zone was rewarded with a rich broth and flavorful meat that’s as velvety in texture as it is steeped in flavor.
I hate blogs that tell you their life story before they get to the method so if you’d like to read more about how quesabirria tacos gained in popularity check out this awesome article from Eater.
First, and most importantly, you need to select a protein with a fair amount of fat. You’ll be skimming it off the top of your broth towards the end, and that’s what you’ll be frying your corn tortillas in. Also, fat = flavor.
These beef shanks, with the added bonus of the bone cross-section fit the bill perfectly. Off cuts, generally speaking, are tough and require longer cook times. In this case that’s what you’re looking for. As the proteins break down and the fat renders, what’s left is supremely tender. The bone marrow will add additional depth of flavor, as well bolster the coveted fat we’re looking for to fry our tortillas when it’s taco time.
The full ingredients list is at the bottom.
Set aside a few cloves of garlic (you pick how many, it’s a less important detail), two leeks, two carrots, four fresh bay leaves and five ancho chillies.
It’s important to salt your larger cuts of meat to let them sit and self season. In a perfect world you would buy your proteins the day before, salt them, and let them sit overnight.
Season the shank, I used Meat Church’s Holy Cow rub, set the grill to 250 and let them sit on there up to three hours to smoke. The thinking here is adding an additional level of smoke to go with the ancho chilis adding more depth of flavor.
Do you see what I’m going after here? I’ve said before, the goal is to build layers, adding complementary notes where applicable. If this seems complicated, I promise you it isn’t. This is why cooking with all your senses and intuition is so important. Your brain may tell you to add something the recipe doesn’t call for, that’s okay. Listen.
While the shanks are taking their smoke bath on the grill, start making the broth. Toss in the garlic and bay leave whole, same with the chilies. Chunk the carrots and the leak, salt the whole lot, add two tablespoons of Better than Bouillon beef base and bring the whole pot to a simmer.
Pro tip: don’t boil your stocks or your soups. The temperature brings out the impurities, and leads to all manner of nonsense. A gentle simmer coaxes the flavors, and provides a richer flavor.
Pull the shanks off the grill, put them in the simmering pot, and walk away. The joy of this recipe is it can be set up easily at the start of your day, leaving plenty of time to cut the grass, take the kids to soccer, go back to sleep etc.
The goal here is to let the meat tenderize. Different cuts will take varying amounts of time, but if you’ve ever cooked a pot roast, you know what you’re looking for.
This is is where it gets mildly trick.
Pull out your corn tortillas and cheese of choice. Get your cast iron, or whichever non stick pan you like, warming.
Pull the meat from the broth, discard any bones, and chop. You want a fine consistency, especially if you’re using the shank. As tender as the good bits may be, there may also be bits of collagen that didn’t quite render down. This is absolutely okay, they’re 100% edible, and will add character to the dish, you just want to make sure they’re chopped up well.
Take a spoon and skim the layer of fat off the top of your broth and set it aside.
Ladle the broth into the food processor, working in batches and blend it. This is where an immersion wand really comes in handy, you can simply stick it in the pot and press the button. I bought mine at Lidl for $15 but you can find one on Amazon here.
With your cast iron skillet warm to the touch, turn it up to medium high heat. Take a silicon brush, or the back of a spoon, dip it in the fat, and then spread it on one side of a corn tortilla. Miss me with your questions about flour tortillas, no, trust me. You want a relatively even coating of fat, but don’t sweat it but so much. Place the tortilla fat side down in the pan, and let it start to cook. It’ll be soggy at first but eventually the fat will works it’s way in and start to crisp. While this is taking place add some cheese and meat to the top of the tortilla. If it spills over some that’s fine. If you read the Eater article I linked at the top, you’ll see the delightful skirt around the outside edge. Browned cheese is absolutely a flavor that plays nicely here. Fold the tortilla in half. You’re done.
Ladle some of the freshly blended broth into a cup, top it with cilantro, lime juice and onions and dunk that fresh foldy (what they call the tacos on the trucks in Cali), and enjoy.
- 2 pounds of meat (your choice, don’t over think it, the cheaper and tougher the better)
- two carrots
- two leeks
- whole garlic cloves
- fresh bay leaves
- salt and pepper, or your favorite bbq rub
- dried ancho chilies (you can use another dried pepper, I chose the ancho because my wife is sensitive to spice so I opted for a milder option)
- corn tortillas
- melting cheese (cheddar, white cheddar, cheddar jack again don’t over think it)
- white onion