Birria is a popular dish from the Mexican region of Jalisco. The taco version, also known as quesabirrias, has become popular in the US, which was probably why quesabirrias were on the menu in Cozumel (Yucatán). A lot of American tourists come there by cruise ship. It gave me the opportunity to try it during my trip to Yucatán. I had seen Birria tacos online before (because my friend Melvin pointed it out to me and suggested we should prepare it), but I had not tried them yet. The version in Cozumel made me want to make it soon when I got home, as it was really good. What makes them so good is that the Birria tacos are dipped in the gravy from the stew for extra flavor.
In Jalisco there are restaurants that serve only birria, which are called birrieria. Birria is a stew of meat with chiles and spices, for which originally goat meat was used. The name means something like “mess”, as the stew looks quite messy. Nowadays beef is used more often than goat.
I have mostly used Irene’s recipe from My Slice of Mexico, but adapted it for sous vide. I’ve checked several other recipes online from reliable sources like Pati Jinich and Mexico in my Kitchen and they were all pretty similar. The advantage of using sous vide is that the meat will be more tender and juicy, and that you don’t have to tend the stew as it cooks.
For the beef I’ve selected beef short ribs, trimmed the fat and rendered the fat from that to fry the quesadillas. This adds an additional beefy flavor and it makes the gravy less fat. I cooked the ribs with the bones, and then after cooking made a stock from the bones for the gravy. Roasting the remaining ingredients is important for depth of flavor. Instead of beef short ribs you could also use another type of beef suitable for stewing such as chuck, but then add some beef bones with marrow for making the stock.
Oaxaca cheese is used for quesadillas in Mexico. If you can’t get it, grated mozzarella is a good substitute. Mexican cinnamon and Mexican oregano are not exactly the same as regular cinnamon and oregano, but they are pretty similar and an acceptable substitute. It is however important to use different types of chiles, because they each contribute a different element to the flavor profile such as earthy, smoky, fruity, and spicy.
Rendering the fat is not very effective at the same temperature as used for cooking the meat sous vide. After 48 hours at 68C/155F not even half of the fat will have rendered out. It is therefore necessary to render the fat separately. You can do this sous vide at 85C/185F for 8 hours or so, but it also works well to chop the fat and boil it for a couple of hours with water or even better and faster in a pressure cooker. You could of course also just buy beef tallow instead of rendering it yourself. The photo shows how much more fat could be rendered after the fat had already been sous vided for 48 hours at 68C/155F.
For 16 tacos, serves 4 as a main course
- 1,8 kilo (4 lbs) bone-in short ribs (or 900 grams (2 lbs) chuck plus beef bones and rendered beef fat)
- 1/2 tsp whole cloves
- 1/2 tsp whole allspice
- 1/2 tsp ground Mexican cinnamon (or regular cinnamon)
- 2 tsp dried Mexican oregano (or regular oregano)
- 1/2 tsp cumin seed
- 1 tsp black peppercorns
- 125 ml (1/2 cup) apple cidre vinegar
- 9 grams (1/2 Tbsp) table salt
- 4 dried ancho chiles
- 4 dried guajillo chiles
- 2 dried cascabel chiles
- 8 garlic cloves, unpeeled
- 4 plum tomatoes
- 1 onion, quartered
- 150 grams grated Oaxaca cheese or grated mozzarella
- 16 tortillas with a diameter of 15 cm (6″)
- 1 minced onion
- fresh cilantro
For the salsa
- 4 plum tomatoes
- 1 to 4 dried arbol chiles
- 1 tsp dried Mexican oregano (or regular oregano)
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 Tbsp olive oil
The first step is to trim away the layer of fat from the short ribs with a sharp knife. Reserve the fat. You can also ask your butcher to do this for you, but make sure to get the fat as well.
Trim away all the fat and anything that is not red, but it is not a big deal if some traces remain behind.
Vacuum seal the fat separately and cook sous vide for about 8 hours at 85C/185F, or boil or pressure cook it with 250 ml (1 cup) of water for a couple of hours.
Sieve the fat afterwards…
…and allow to chill. The fat will float on top and solidify when cold, and thus will be easy to separate from the liquid. You can use the remaining liquid for the birria gravy.
Toast the dried chiles in a frying pan without fat over medium high heat. The chiles should become soft and fragrant, but not burnt.
Remove the stems and seeds from the chiles, place them in a bowl, and cover with cold water. Allow them to soak for at least 10 minutes.
Roast 4 plum tomatoes, 1 quartered onion, and 8 unpeeled garlic cloves under the broiler. Place the rack close to the heating element. Everything will be charred nicely in 5 to 10 minuters.
Toast 1/2 tsp cloves, 1/2 tsp allspice, 1/2 tsp cumin seed, and 1 tsp black peppercorns for 5 to 10 minutes in the oven (the residual heat from broiling the tomatoes is perfect for that).
Allow the spices to cool somewhat and then grind them with a spice grinder or using a mortar and pestle.
Allow the soaked chiles to drain and then puree them together with the roasted tomatoes, garlic, onion, ground spices, and 9 grams of salt using a blender.
The mole you have now made should be smooth.
Separate each slab of short ribs into individual ribs, and vacuum seal them with the mole. If using en external vacuum sealer you have to freeze the mole first, or use ziploc bags and the water displacement method. With a vacuum machine with a chamber you can just vacuum seal the meat with the sauce.
Cook the meat sous vide for about 2 days (48 hours, more or less) at 68C/155F.
After sous viding, pour the liquid from the bags into a stockpot or pressure cooker.
Remove the ribs from the meat and add the ribs to the stockpot/pressure cooker. Also add the connective tissue, which should be easy to detach from the meat.
You will end up with nice chunks of ‘clean’ meat without any bone or connective tissue.
Cover the bones with water and simmer them for a couple of hours in the stockpot or pressure cook for one hour. This will cook the tomatoes and onions (which have thus far only been heated to 68C/155F), extract more flavor from the bones, and develop the flavor of the gravy.
In the meantime, make the salsa. Roast 4 plum tomatoes with 4 garlic cloves under the broiler until they are charred (5 to 10 minutes).
Remove the seeds from 1 to 4 dried arbol chiles (1=mild, 2=medium, 4=hot) and sauté them gently for a minute in a tablespoon of olive oil. Do not allow the chiles to burn.
Blend the olive oil, arbol chiles, garlic and 1 of the tomatoes…
…until completely smooth. You don’t want any chunks of garlic or chiles in your salsa.
Then add the 3 remaining roasted tomatoes, with 1 teaspoon of Mexican oregano and 1/2 teaspoon of table salt.
Blend on low speed or pulsing, to give the salsa a somewhat coarse texture.
Sieve the gravy and discard the solids. (For the highest yield you can rinse the bones with some hot water, which will however dilute the gravy somewhat.)
Doe de gezeefde jus in een pan en houd deze warm, tegen de kook aan.
Allow 2 tablespoons of beef fat to melt in a frying pan.
Brown the chunks of beef in the pan with the beef fat over high heat on all sides.
Take the beef out of the pan and pull it into shreds with two forks.
By browning the beef first and pulling it afterwards, it is easier to brown it and it will remain more juicy.
Keep the gravy hot. Add some more beef fat to the frying pan. Dip a tortilla in the gravy.
Fry the tortilla for about 10 seconds in the beef fat over medium-high heat.
Turn the tortilla and place 1/16 of the pulled beef (about 40 grams) on half of the tortilla. Sprinkle with 1 tablespoon of grated cheese.
Close the quesadilla and fry until it is nicely browned.
Then turn the tortilla, making sure to turn with the closed side down to prevent the filling from falling out. Fry on the other side until nicely browned. If your frying pan is large enough, you can start with another tortilla in the meantime.
When a batch of quesadillas is done, you can keep them warm on a plate in the oven at about 75C/175F. Continue until you have prepared 16 quesabirrias.
Serve the quesabirrias with cilantro, minced onion, the salsa, and a bowl of warm birria gravy.
Your guests can open their quesabirra and add cilantro, onions, and salsa to their liking, and then close it again. They can dip the quesabirria in the gravy. (Less messy: add gravy to the inside of the quesabirria.)
This pairs well with a smooth spicy red wine. My favorite is a 100% Petit Verdot from Sicily called Timperosse by the Mandrarossa winery. I’ve also tried it with a red C?tes du Rh?ne (mostly Grenache), Primitivo from Puglia, Etna Rosso (mostly Nero Mascalese, from Sicily), Baccarossa (Nero Buono di Cori from Lazio), and Cirò from Puglia (Gaglioppo), but all of those were a bit astringent with the quesabirrias.