Sunday, July 22, 2012

Mexican beef - meltingly tender & perfect for tacos

I first tasted perfectly tender taco filling at Toledo's oldest Mexican restaurant El Tipico many years ago. I got my first inkling on how to make it from reading Ricky Bayless' "Rick & Lanie's Excellent Adventures." His recipe called for cooking stew meat for about an hour. I took it a step further and used pot roast, since the meat is already so wonderfully tender. You can use leftover pot roast, make a pot roast just for the occasion or use my pot roast recipe. I sometimes make a double batch and use half for a pot roast dinner and half for the Mexican meat. You can make any size batch you want here. I've made it with two big roasts or with half a small one depending on how much you want. This freezes wonderfully and stays moist cause there is a bit of fat in there, you are basically confiting beef with this. You can cook this in a Dutch oven in the oven set at 325 or in a slow cooker if it's more convenient. Either way, you start out by browing the boneless chuck roast that you have salted & peppered in a little olive oil. Use a skillet if it's going into the slow cooker, use the Dutch oven you plan to cook it in, if cooking in the oven.

Get a nice sear going on all sides and then, using tongs, set the beef aside on a plate while you do a little browning of aromatics. Drop some butter in the pan and let it melt.

The butter will blend nicely with the brown bits from the meat. Now you can add some carrots, onions & celery that you have finely diced or do what I do:

and use this frozen mirepoix mix from Kroger, which owns a bunch of grocery stores under names like Wegman's. I'm sure other stores have their versions and it's pretty darn handy to keep on hand for making sauces.

I like to sprinkle a little sugar on top to help it brown. If I were making a plain pot roast, I'd add a clove of minced garlic at the end, but since you'll get plenty of that later in the Mexican version, we'll skip it. Just let the veggies get a little brown and then add:

Half chicken stock, half beef stock and a generous glug of red wine. You want enough liquid to come at least half way up the beef for this braise, so the amount of liquid depends on the amount of beef you're cooking.  Toss in a sprig of thympe as well and just let it all get warm.

Now, you can either put your meat in the slow cooker and pour the contents of the pan over it or put your meat in the Dutch oven with the bubbling juices. I suggest putting foil between your pot and your lid for an extra tight seal. Now you can cook the meat in a 325 degree over for about three hours or in your slow cooker for however long it takes your particular model to get a pot roast nice and tender (it'll be a long darn time.)

Once that meat is tender, you'll pull it out and shred it. Then put it in a cast iron or some other kind of heavy duty metal pot that can take a bit of beating with a spoon without damaging the finish. Put the cooking liquid on top of it. (make sure you fish out that sprig of Thyme.)

Now we make the sauce, which is simply tomatoes, chilis and garlic.

You can use canned Mexican tomatoes with jalapenos or Ro-Tel tomatoes with chili or plain tomatoes or these delicious fire-roasted tomatoes. The proportion depends on how much heat you like. I like to mix half mexican tomatoes with jalapenos with half fire-roasted tomatoes. I use two 16 ounce cans for a three pound chuck roast. By the way, if you're making a small portion with leftover potroast, left over canned tomatoes freeze perfectly well in a quart freezer bag. Too those tomatoes, we will add a whole lot of garlic. About six cloves per three pound roast. We'll put the tomatoes and the garlic in a blender or food processor together. You will need to peel the garlic, but not dice it. The blades will do all of your work.

Now give it a whirrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr

Then pour it into the pot with the beef and cooking liquid

Give it a stir and it's time to start cooking. We are going to cook away most of the liquid, concentrating the flavor. Do not salt this until you get near the end.

This will take awhile, you are getting rid of a lot of liquid, but it's worth the wait. You don't have to do much but the occasional stir. It's a good time to wash dishes. Just don't have the heat so high that the bottom of the pan burns. There's a lot of sugar in tomatoes and you don't want scorched meat.

Once you have most, but not all of the liquid out, it's time to salt to taste and serve. Just eyeball it until it has the consistency that you think would be nice in a taco.

I like to serve in a corn tortilla with a little tomato avocado salad & cheese. If you have a Mexican grocery where you can get fresh corn tortillas, please do. I get them at San Marcos in Toledo and freeze them wrapped in foil. Then I just heat them in a Zip Loc bag for about a minute in the microwave. Speaking of freezing, this meat freezes beautifully. I portion it out and put it in a freezer bag. It's great for chili, mexican pizzas, taco salad, burritos, nachos, tostadas and so many other delicious applications.

It is also a great dish for a large crowd. Set up a slow cooker full of this delicous meat, put out tortillas or taco shells and toppings and you have a taco or nacho bar that people will love.

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