Thursday Gourmet

14 May, 2009

As I kid, I always loved Mexican night at our house.  It generally followed a day or two after a big pot of chili con carne ((((Mom))) made it with kidney beans and mushrooms (she called it ‘Polish Chile’ to avoid all those damn arguments about what should (or should not) be in chili)) and was a great way to use up the leftovers.  Sometimes, if the budget allowed, we had actual ground beef tacos.

In Flagstaff, we occasionally ate at one of the Mexican or Tex-Mex places.  The first time I hit food that was too spicy was at a little Tex-Mex place in Kanab, Utah.  I loved Mexican food, whether traditional or anglo-cized.

When I hit college, there was a great little Mexican restaurant in Keene (when they brought the plates, they always warned the diner to be careful — hot plate;  the food was sometimes cold).  One of their specialties was shredded beef or shredded pork tacos:  gently seasoned, tender, salty, and delicious.  And for the life of me, I could never figure out how to make the damn stuff at home.

I did some research, and found that the traditional method (for the beef, at least) was to smoke it, grind it dry, and add the moisture later.  Which helped me not at all.

Finally, though, I learned how to do it right.  Here, then, are two recipes:  one for shredded beef and one for shredded pork.

Shredded Pork for Tacos (or burritos)
(Can also be used as Carnitas)

1 pound (give or take) fatty boneless pork cut into large chunks with the grain of the meat (I’ve had real good luck with boneless country ribs)
1 yellow cooking onion, skinned and roughly chopped
6 cloves garlic (or more), peeled and sliced in half
1 fresh hot chili pepper (serranos work quite well)
1 Tbsp chipotle pepper flakes plus a few drops of smoke flavouring

Heat about 4 inches of water in a large, heavy sauce pan (not huge, not too small, just grab one from Goldilocks) to boil.  Add the meat, onions, garlic, peppers and (if you use it) the smoke flavour (don’t use the smoke if you are using fresh chilies).  Bring it to a boil, skim off the scum, reduce the heat until the liquid is just barely roiling, and let it simmer uncovered for about an hour.

After an hour, there should be just a little bit of water left with the meat.  If there is too much, bring up the heat to boil it off.  If there is not enough, you just burned the meat.  Pour the meat chunks and liquid into a bowl.  Rinse the pot, dry it, and add

2 Tbsp cooking oil (olive, corn, peanut, lard, whatever)

Increase the heat and add the pork a few chunks at a time to brownchar at least two sides of each piece of meat (it should be a little past browned but not charred).  Return the browned meat to your bowl and let it cool.  Do not let (((Wife))) wash the pot.  You need it again.

When the pork is cool, place each chunk on a cutting board and shred it.  Either pound it with the back of a heavy knife blade (which gives a nice texture but can wreak havoc on the kitchen and your relationship with your significant other) or with two forks.  Return the pork and juices to the pan, salt to taste, and heat through.

Serve with warmed flour tortillas, sliced avocado, some Jack cheese, diced fresh onion, diced fresh chili peppers, sliced fresh lime, tomato, and salsa.

To make them as Carnitas, add 1/2 cup of orange juice with the water and, after charbrowning the meat, don’t shred it.


 Shredded Beef for Tacos (or Burritos)

1 pound sirloin, skirt steak, or other good and somewhat fatty beef, cut into 1-inch cubes
2 onions, roughly chopped
2 Tbsp dried Cilantro
5 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
3 fresh chilies, roughly chopped
1 dried passilla chili, 1 dried Anaheim chili, 1 dried cascabel chili (or whatever combination you desire (using different chilies gives a nice complex flavour without being too spicey))
1 Tbsp salt
1/2 tsp ground cumin

If you are using the dried chilies, wipe each one with a damp cloth. Heat a heavy griddle over high heat and quickly heat each chili until the colour darkens.  Do not let it burn or it will get really bitter.  Let the peppers cool, then remove the stem, veins and seeds.

Put the beef, onions, garlic, salt, cumin, cilantro and chilies (fresh or dried) in a medium sized sauce pan.  Add enough water (maybe add one bottle of good dark beer (Negro Modelo works nicely)) to cover the meat by 2 inches.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and let simmer for 30 to 90 minutes (if you have large cubes or cheap beef, simmer it longer).  Add more water if needed.

While the beef is simmering, combine

1 Tomato, chopped
1 onion, chopped
1 or 2 fresh chilies, seeded and veined (or leave them in for more kick) and diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp Kosher salt
1 tsp lime juice
2 Tbsp olive oil

in a bowl.  Stir to combine and set aside.

When the beef is spoon tender, pull out the meat chunks leaving as much of the onion, chili, etc. behind.  Toss what is left in the pan out (or save it for the next time you make chili con carne).  After the beef cools, shred it finely.  Add to the pan with about half the salsa.  Heat through.

Serve with hot corn tortillas, commercial taco shells, or warmed flour tortillas with the leftover salsa, good cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion, whatever else you like on your tacos, and some good beer.



  1. Mexican food is always one of my favorites.

  2. Poodles: I’ve made chili con carne using the shredded beef recipe up above. Just save the juice, ditch the salsa fresca, and, after shredding the beef, add whatever else you want for chili.

    Next week, I’ll share my recipe for black bean chili mole.

  3. Ooh, I love Mexican food too. I’ll try these recipes, thanks Billy! And I think that restaurant is still in Kanab. When Paul and I stayed in the town we had an excellent Mexican meal.

  4. Julia: Could be. Of course, that was 35 years ago. All I remember is that it was a little hole-in-the-wall in the ‘business district’ (such as it is in a town that size) downtown.

  5. Thanks for the recipes. I love Mexican.

  6. Chappie: Seems to be a common theme here. (((Wife))) and I have three favourite food genres: Italian (we just had vognole con spaghetti rigate for dinner), Chinese and Mexican. Beats the hell out of French cuisine.

  7. Sounds great. At our house, add Greek/Middle Eastern, and Indian to that mix. Oh, yeah, and Korean and . . . Oh heck, we just like to cook and eat good food, with a tendency to the spicy side.

  8. Sandi: When I worked as a raft guide, the bosses wife was Korean. Every year, we had a barbeque at their house and, along with a bushel of steamed Maryland Blues, we had bulgogi. Which was fantastic. Not to mention really spicey.

    I like the occasional curry but, other than hummus and na’an, I have never developed much of a taste for Middle Eastern or Indian cuisine. Though, when I was in NYC working after 9/11, I ate at a wonderful Afghani restaurant. I think I was their only customer that night. Good people, though. And good lamb.

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