Editor’s Note: The CNN Original Series “Eva Longoria: Searching for Mexico” journeys across the country’s vibrant regions to reveal its colorful cuisines. The series airs at 9 p.m. ET/PT Sundays.
Tacos come in many regional variations, and if you’re a fan of Mexico’s popular comfort food, you may be familiar with the version called birria that’s been all the rage in the United States for the past few years. On TikTok, the hashtag “birriatacos” has a whopping 1.2 billion views.
For what most believe is the original birria, however, you need to head to a state in western Mexico called Jalisco, which is also the birthplace of such cultural treasures as tequila and mariachi.
The foundation of birria tacos is red meat that’s marinated with spices and several types of chile pepper. The slow cooking process creates tender meat. The meat’s rich drippings are combined with tomatoes for a flavorful broth — or consommé — that can serve as a perfect dip.
In Jalisco, the dish is traditionally served as a stew made with goat meat, which initially was born out of necessity.
When the Spanish came to Mexico in the early 1500s, they brought goats for milk. The fast-growing population of livestock overran the crops of the Indigenous people, devouring everything in sight. So, although consuming goat meat began as a way to survive, the fact that the local people found a way to transform the tough, gamey meat into a delicious dish was a culinary victory.
“They brought everything over, but you made it better,” actor, producer and TV host Eva Longoria told locals as she learned about the stew’s history in an episode of the CNN Original Series “Eva Longoria: Searching for Mexico.”
The specialty was originally a poor man’s food, and eating goat was looked down upon by the Spanish. The Spanish word birria means “of little value.”
Ironically, today the classic dish is enjoyed at celebrations, including holidays and weddings, and is often made with beef in the United States.
While in Guadalajara, the state capital, Longoria tried the famous stew, prepared by Enrique Gonzales Villareal, the head chef of the Charros de Jalisco (Cowboys of Jalisco) clubhouse at Lienzo Charro de Jalisco, an arena that hosts competitive events featuring Mexican rodeo, the country’s national sport.
His family has been cooking birria from an heirloom recipe for four generations. Garlic, bay leaves and cloves combined with vinegar are some of the aromatics that help create birria’s magical taste.
The deeply savory broth has an enticing smell that makes you salivate. And the juicy meat melts in your mouth.
Right before serving, the chef adds red onion and lime to give the dish a citrusy punch. Warm tortillas accompany the delicacy to mop up the meaty stew, but you can also enjoy it as sauce-drenched tacos.
“Oh, my gosh, this broth is amazing,” Longoria said as she dug into a bowl of birria.
This dish with humble beginnings may be long overdue for a name change.
Goat Birria (Jalisco-style Goat Stew)
Chef Gonzales Villareal’s recipe is a family secret, but he has adapted a version for CNN. This recipe calls for goat meat that needs to marinate for 24 hours, so plan ahead. You can swap in beef or lamb. For the beef, try chuck steak or short rib. For the lamb, get a shoulder cut. You can find the chile peppers and Mexican oregano at specialty stores or online.
Makes 4 servings
2.2 pounds I 1 kilogram bone-in goat leg or shoulder, cut into small pieces
1 dried ancho chile
2 dried guajillo chiles
2 dried morita chiles
2 dried cascabel chiles
1 whole garlic bulb
Olive oil for drizzling
Coarse kosher or sea salt to taste
1 pound | ½ kilogram vine-ripe tomatoes, preferably Campari
¼ cup | 60 milliliters white vinegar or apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon | 7½ grams ground cumin
4 black peppercorns, crushed, plus more freshly ground to taste
Pinch of dried oregano, preferably Mexican, plus more for garnish
2 bay leaves
1 cup | 52 grams diced red onion
½ cup | 118 grams piquin chiles
4 halved limes
Corn tortillas for serving
Food processor, blender or mortar and pestle
Pressure cooker (optional)
Day 1: Roast ingredients and make the overnight marinade for the meat
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (204 degrees Celsius). Using a damp paper towel and wearing gloves, wipe the ancho, guajillo, morita and cascabel chiles. Destem, deseed and devein the ancho and guajillo chiles. Arrange all the chiles on a foil-lined rimmed baking sheet and toast until just puffed and fragrant, 5 to 6 minutes. Remove from the oven immediately, discard the foil and set aside the chiles for the marinade.
Next, prep the garlic. Cut ½ inch (or 13 millimeters) off the top of the whole garlic bulb so the cloves are exposed. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt, then wrap and seal tightly in foil.
After the chiles are toasted, increase the oven temperature to 375 F (190 C). Place the foil-wrapped whole garlic bulb directly on the rimmed baking sheet. Roast garlic until fragrant, golden and soft, 20 to 30 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool. Once the bulb has cooled, unwrap and squeeze out the cloves. Set aside 2 cloves for the marinade and refrigerate the remaining roasted garlic in an airtight container for another use for up to 2 weeks.
Increase the oven temperature to 450 F (232 C). Halve the tomatoes and transfer them to a bowl. Generously drizzle with olive oil and season with salt to taste. Mix until the tomatoes are evenly coated. Arrange the tomatoes directly on the rimmed baking sheet and roast until tender, about 30 minutes. Remove from oven and transfer the tomatoes and their juices to an airtight container. Refrigerate overnight, reserving for the consommé.
2. Make the marinade. Place the reserved ancho, guajillo, morita and cascabel chiles in a bowl and cover with boiling water to rehydrate, about 20 minutes. Drain and combine chiles in a food processor with 2 cups (or 473 milliliters) water, vinegar, 2 roasted garlic cloves, cumin, crushed peppercorns, cloves, oregano and salt to taste. Strain the chiles if needed to remove bits of skin (if using a high-powered blender this step may not be necessary).
3. Season the goat meat with salt and place it in a Dutch oven or large pot. Cover the meat with the chile marinade and refrigerate for 24 hours to marinate.
Day 2: Cook the meat and the consommé
4. Pressure cooker: Place the meat and the marinade in a pressure cooker. Bring to high pressure and cook until the meat is tender, about 1 hour.
Stovetop version: Alternatively, place the meat and the marinade in a Dutch oven and cook over medium heat, covered, until the meat falls apart and is easy to shred, about 3 hours.
Remove from heat and let the meat rest until cool, then separate the meat from the pan juices. Reserve the liquid for the consommé. Shred the meat.
5. Put the tomatoes and the pan juices in a blender, and blend on high until smooth. Transfer broth to a pot, add bay leaves and cook over low heat for 15 minutes. When done, remove bay leaves and discard.
6. Place the goat meat into four individual bowls and pour the broth over. Top with Mexican oregano, diced onion, and piquin chiles; serve with warm tortillas and limes.
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