Birria is a Mexican dish from the state of Michoacan. The Spanish term “birria” is used to describe intangible things without value or quality but in terms of gastronomy it is just an extraordinary combination of two meats creates the best balance of tender texture (from the chuck roast) and succulence ( from the short ribs).If you are looking for a super easy birria tacos recipe, you might be disappointed – this dish is inherently a bit of a labor of love. BUT I have tried to make mine as straightforward and streamlined as possible, while still staying true to the original flavors of the dish.
What are Birria Tacos?
Birria tacos, if you haven’t heard of them yet all over social media and the internet, is traditionally an addictive sweet, sour, slightly spicy, and utterly savory Mexican beef stew that’s slow cooked until the beef is tender and fall-apart juicy and delicious. Someone had the bright idea to stuff this beefy goodness into a taco shell, and then dip the whole mess into the stew and fry it up. They blew up after that, and the rest is history. But unlike most fad foods, Birria tacos are so good you’ll be making them every week.
History of birria tacos
Birria tacos / quesabirria tacos are originally from the Jalisco state of Mexico, and they have a rich history! In the 16th Century, the Spanish brought all kinds of animals with them to Mexico, including goats.
The goats began taking over the region, and unlike pigs and cows, which were highly desirable for both their meat and byproducts like milk, goats were not so loved. They destroyed crops and multiplied quickly, plus the meat can be stringy and very gamey, but necessity lead to their consumption. The residents adapted to cook the meat for extended periods of time to tenderize it, and added heavy spices to mask the gamey flavor.
what are birria tacos made of?
Traditionally they are corn tortillas filled with goat meat! ( Scroll down to learn the history of this – it’s pretty cool ). They can be made with whatever goat, beef, pork, or lamb you can get your hands on though. I like a mixture of goat and beef.
the birria tacos dipping sauce?
I’ve had these tacos made a ton of different ways, and the places I’ve been have served everything from a thin beef dipping sauce to a thicker blended style sauce. I prefer the thicker style that clings to the tacos a little more ( and has a TON of flavor packed into it.)
No matter the sauce, it’s almost always garnished with fresh cilantro and chopped onions.
What to serve with Birria Tacos?
These birria tacos are good enough to eat dozens on their own. If you wanted to do a side though, you can serve them up with homemade tortilla chips, mexican rice, and you even have all the ingredients necessary to make a birria tortilla soup. Or my current personal favorite: Birria ramen.
- The best cut of beef for birria tacos. For the ultimate birria tacos, use a good beef shank. This is non-negotiable. You can, and should, mix up another cut as well for texture and variety. I prefer meat that’s a little on the lean side for tacos, so I mixed it up with a cheap roast like cab sirloin, but if Steph had her way, she would use short ribs. But, since she’s not cooking, we ended up with a cab sirloin.
- Dried Guajillo Peppers. These sun dried peppers add an authentic touch of mexican flavor to any stew and you can usually find them in the Mexican aisle of your local grocery store (if you live in America). They are like a mild-medium pepper and don’t add any heat, so you don’t have to worry at all. If you can’t find them, sub any dried mexican/southwestern peppers you can find, such as ancho, new mexico, california, or pasilla. If you really can’t find them, you can skip them, but they’re worth looking for!
- Chipotle peppers in adobo. These come in a little can and they are salty-sweet-spicy delicious. They form the base of many mexican stews and marinades and you can find them pretty much everywhere in the world, they’re that good. We usually keep 3-4 cans around just for tacos al pastor.
- Mexican oregano. This version of oregano is always cheaper and almost always fresher and better than the spice aisle stuff, so if you’re already in the Mexican aisle, be sure to pick up a bag, usually only 99 cents or so.
How to make Birria Stew
Making Birria stew is easy and quick:
- Soak the peppers. Bring a pot of water to a boil and then take it off the heat, soak the dried peppers while you do the next steps.
- Season the meat. While you wait for the peppers to soak, cube up the roast and season the meat with salt and pepper
- Make the marinade. Throw together everything left except the cloves, bay leaves, and cinnamon into a blender. Remove the peppers from the now warm water and let them get cool enough to handle. Hold them by the tip over the sink and cut the tops off with scissors. The seeds will just fall right out. Then drop them into the blender too. Blend it all up into a smooth paste.
- Marinate the beef overnight. Two hours is good enough too, but longer is always better when it comes to stews.
- Make the stew. Saute the onions. Onions are the base of all flavor, so make sure they are extra delicious – transparent and golden. Take your time. Then add the meats, cover with chicken stock, and add the last few spices. That’s all there is to it!
How to make Birria Tacos
Once you have the stew, making the tacos is super easy:
- Shred your meats. Fry them up too, if you like. I skipped this step and it was ok, but if you like your meat extra crispy and hot, here’s where you would do that.
- Warm up your tortillas. This makes them pliable and soft. We use a tortilla warmer, but you can just wrap them up in damp paper towels and microwave for 30 seconds.
- Dip and fill. Dip your tortillas in the soup, the fat is near the surface so you don’t need to dip too far, but make sure they get coverage. Then top half of the tortilla with beef, onions, cilantro (optional), and cheese (optional).
- Fold and fry. Fry your tacos in a non stick skillet over medium heat until they crisp up, 2-3 minutes per side. Serve with a side of the stew to use as a dip.
Tasty Birria Tacos !!
- 1 large onion chopped
- 1 Tablespoon olive oil
- 8 dried Guajillo or Pasilla Peppers
- 3 lbs bone-in beef shanks short rib, or oxtail
- 2 lbs stew meat
- cut into 2" cubes ( beef top or bottom sirloin, beef chuck, goat shoulder)
- 12 ounces Chipotle Peppers in Adobo
- ½ cup cider vinegar
- 1 Tablespoon Cumin
- 1 Tablespoon Dried Oregano
- 1 Tablespoon Paprika
- 1 cup Crushed Tomatoes
- 7 cloves Garlic minced
- 5 Bay Leaves
- 2 Sticks of Cinnamon
- 10 Cloves not minced
- 8 cups Chicken or Beef Broth low sodium or sodium free
For the tacos:
- 18 4" tortillas
- 1 lb shredded cheese quesadilla, pepper jack, or other white cheese
- fresh cilantro optional, for serving
- chopped white onion optional, for serving
- lime wedges optional, for serving
Instructions To Make the Birria (Meat Filling) on the Stove Top:
- Bring 6 cups of water to a boil, and add the dried peppers to it. Let them soak for about 15 minutes, or until completely softened. After they have softened, cut off the stem/top of each pepper, shake out and discard the seeds and stem.
- Add the olive oil to a very large pot set over medium low heat. Once the oil has heated through, add the chopped onions. Sautee the onions for 8 - 12 minutes, or until they start to soften. Add the minced garlic and cook for another minute.
- While the onions are cooking, add the softened peppers, chipotle peppers in adobo, vinegar, cumin, oregano, paprika, cider vinegar, crushed tomatoes, and 4 cups of broth to a blender. Blend until smooth.
- To the pot with the onions, add the beef, puree from the blender, bay leaves, cinnamon sticks, cloves, and remaining 4 cups of broth.Pro Tip: After you pour out the puree from the blender, use the remaining broth to rinse any of the puree still lingering on the walls or blade of the blender before pouring it into the pot.The meat should be completely covered by the liquid in the pot. If it is not, fill the pot with water until it is just barely covered.
- Turn the heat up under the pot, and bring it to a simmer. Simmer covered for 3-4 hours, or until the meat is fall-apart tender.
- Once the meat is cooked, remove the bay leaf and cloves, and remove the meat from the pot.Shred the meat, and return it back to the pot to simmer until you are ready to make your tacos ( up to 1 hour.)Simmering is NOT required.
- Feel free to add the meat back to the pot and then start making tacos immediately.
Instructions To Make the Tacos:
- Preheat a skillet over medium heat. You do not need to add any oil or grease to the pan.
- For each tortilla : Dip the tortilla in the sauce the meat was cooked in. Place the tortilla on the hot pan.Sprinkle 1 Tablespoon of shredded cheese over the entire top of the tortilla (feel free to double the cheese if you want more of quesabirria or birria quesadilla style). Place a heaping tablespoon of meat on one half of the tortilla.
- Cook until the cheese melts and the tortilla is just starting to crisp - about 2 minutes.
- Fold the un-meated side of the tortilla over the meat side, and flip the taco. Cook for another 2 minutes or until both sides are crispy.
- Serve the tacos with a bowl of the cooking liquid on the side topped with fresh cilantro and diced onion, and limes.