I really don’t know much about Barbacoa, except for the fact that my neighbor Miguel occasionally delivers to us a styrofoam container full of delicately spiced and tender shredded beef, alongside a sack of warm flour tortillas and and a zip lock baggie of pico de gallo. He buys all of this at a small Mexican bakery on South Federal across the street from Lincoln High. I’ve been there a couple of times to buy their freshly made tortillas, but little did I know that on Saturday and Sunday they sell Barbacoa for take out. It’s delicious and of course I wanted to try to make it at home.
Doing some research, here’s what Wikipedia tells me:
Barbacoa is a form of cooking meat that originated in the Caribbean. In contemporary Mexico, it generally refers to meats or whole sheep slow-cooked over an open fire, or more traditionally, in a hole dug in the ground and covered with maguey leaves, although the interpretation is loose, and in the present day (and in some cases) may refer to meat steamed until tender.
Barbacoa was later adopted into the cuisine of the southwestern United States by way of Texas. The word transformed in time to “barbecue”, as well as many other words related to ranching and Tex-Mex cowboy or vaquero life. Considered a specialty meat, some meat markets only sell barbacoa on weekends or holidays in certain parts of South Texas and in all of Mexico.
A traditional Mexican way of eating barbacoa is having it served on warm corn tortillas with guacamole and salsa for added flavor; often eaten with onions, diced coriander and a squirt of lime juice.
I was pretty sure I didn’t want to buy a whole sheep, so the chuck roast in the freezer was the candidate for my first batch of Barbacoa. I know for a fact that the Highlands Ranch Community Association would frown upon digging a pit in the back yard, and finding maguey leaves sounded like a task. So out came the slow cooker and the search spice recipes was next on the list.
Google sent me to several recipes where a combination of ground chiles and vinegar were used to make a paste. Using what I had on hand, you’ll find my recipe below. It was of course delicious, but stronger in flavor that what I’ve had from the authentic version that Miguel brings us. And I’d love to figure out a way to steam the meat rather than slow cook it. I need to pay a visit to that bakery and make some inquiries before I make my next batch. I sprinkled the tacos with diced onions, Cotija cheese, a spoonful of my Homemade Salsa and served with a side of black beans.
- 6 cloves garlic unpeeled
- 1/4 Cup ancho chile powder
- 1/4 Cup Chimayo chile powder
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- 3 Tablespoon cider vinegar
- 1/2 Cup water
- salt to taste
- 3 pound chuck roast
- To serve fine chopped sweet onion, chopped cilantro, avocado or guacamole, cotija cheese and lime wedges for squeezing.
In a food processor, chop the garlic cloves. Add the chile powders, cumin, black pepper, vinegar, salt and 1/2 cup water until blended.
Place the meat in a large crock pot. With a spatula, scrape the chile mixture out of the food processor and spread it on the top of the meat. Add 1/4 cup of water to the bottom of the crock pot, cover and cook on low for 8 hours or until meat is tender. Carefully remove meat with a slotted spoon onto a large cutting board. Shred the meat with two forks.
Degrease the cooking broth and boil it down in a saucepan to concentrate the flavors. Ladle it over the meat and then build your tacos.
Barbacoa…It’s What’s for Sunday Dinner.