What Is Birria?
A trip to a nearby taco joint sparked the inspiration for this next dish! Birria tacos have been popping up at taquerias around the country in the last five years.
Birria (pronounced “bee-ree-ah”) is a traditional slow-cooked stew made from a combination of sweet, spicy, and smoky dried chiles from Jalisco, Mexico. It is served with limes, tortillas, white onions, and cilantro. It is traditionally made with goat meat, but newer adaptations have swapped the goat meat for beef, lamb, veal, or more accessible red meat alternatives.
Whether served at a family gathering or to celebrate a rite of passage, this dish is widely consumed among Mexico’s working-class.
Birria tacos are a variation of this recipe, in which the soupy stewed meat is served on top of the crispy tortilla with melty cheese, making this dish a must-have! Additionally, the combination of chiles and fire-roasted tomatoes creates a robust and dynamic blend of flavors.
We have done some serious research and ate our way through some of the best birria taco stands for this one, and you will not be disappointed with our adaptation!
We stick to the classic birria flavors while turning up the heat and smoke a bit more than traditionally expected. We use some traditional Mexican “melting” cheese, such as Oaxaca cheese, but we also use sharp cheddar and a Monterey jack for some extra nuttiness. Moreover, instead of topping the tacos with diced white onions and fresh cilantro, we whipped up a bright chimichurri, featuring the classic Argentinean ingredients, and topped our birria taco with it to add an extra kick of acidity and freshness.
Table of Contents
The key to making birria is learning how to treat the chiles to make the adobo or braising liquid. For an in-depth look into all Mexican chiles, their flavors, and their treatment, visit our post, “How to Treat Dried Chiles for Mexican Adobos and Salsas.”
The Chiles and their Flavors
We employ three types of chiles in this recipe: guajillo, ancho, and chile de árbol. Guajillo and ancho chiles are very traditional for this recipe. The third type of pepper appears to be a wild card and varies from recipe to recipe. We chose these three and the ratios for them based on their unique flavors. The tasting notes for these chiles are as follows:
- Guajillo chiles: mild spice, smoke, green tea, berries
- Ancho chiles: mild spice, rich smoke, and sweet paprika
- Chiles de árbol: hot spice, grass, nuts
How to Store the Chiles
The shelf-life of dried chiles is three to six months. When storing dried chiles, store them in airtight containers in a cool dark place. Alternatively, you may store them in airtight containers in the freezer. This step will ensure that the chiles stay fresh for the maximum time.
Toast the Spices
Before use, toast the dried chiles in a dry sauté pan at medium heat to enhance those flavors by releasing their natural oils. When they appear intensely aromatic, they are ready for use. The toasting process should only take 1 minute. Be careful not to burn them as they will develop a bitter taste.
Additionally, toast the whole and ground spices for the birria. Employ the same technique as described above.
Soak the Chiles
For birria, dried chiles are used to make the braising liquid, but they are re-hydrated before use. To rehydrate dried chiles, you must soak them in hot water for 20-30 minutes or until they are fully hydrated. Use a spoon periodically to push them into the liquid so that the entire chile is adequately soaked. Once soft, they are ready to be blended.
How to Achieve the Perfect "Shredded" Beef
This recipe is based on 2 pounds (907 grams) of beef short rib and 1 pound (454 grams) of beef chuck roast. If you add more meat, be sure to scale up the recipe ingredients and note that the cooking time may increase to achieve the desired end result.
Cook the meat in the oven for 3.5 to 4 hours at 350 degrees Fahrenheit (177 degrees Celsius). You do not need to micromanage the cooking process. This is one of the reasons I love this recipe. It will turn out perfect if you just let it cook slowly and do not disturb it. You may use a thermometer to determine doneness. The final result will be a slow-cooked pulled beef that easily forks off the bone.
The Food and Drug Administration recommends an internal temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit (or 63 degrees Celsius) to a maximum of 160 degrees Fahrenheit (71 degrees Celsius). This temperature will yield a perfect medium-rare beef cut. However, for pulled beef, the internal temperature will be approximately 210 degrees Fahrenheit (99 degrees Celsius). Remove from the oven when it easily pulls apart.
Mexican Melting Cheese
You may use a combination of cheeses to melt on the soft taco for this recipe. However, all cheeses must be meltable cheeses.
We advocate for a mixture of cheeses; however, accessibility may be an issue so we suggest using at least one Mexican “melting” cheese as follows:
- Queso Asadero: white, mild semi-hard cheese similar to Mozzarella.
- Queso Oaxaca: white, semi-hard cheese similar to Monterey Jack.
Mix one of the Mexican “melting” cheeses with shredded Monterey Jack and sharp Cheddar cheese for a perfect layer of creamy, nutty, and sharp cheesiness in every bite!
Reheating and Storage
Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3-4 days. You may also freeze the leftover meat in an airtight container for up to 2 months. Reheat refrigerated birria on the stovetop in a saucepan at medium heat for 3-5 minutes or until warm. Reheat frozen birria by wrapping it in aluminum foil and placing it in the oven at 375 degrees Fahrenheit (191 degrees Celsius) for 10 minutes or until warm.
We recommend pairing this dish with our fruity, tart, and, slightly smoky Blackberry Blood Orange Mezcal Margarita.
Love your Leftovers
Extra Pulled Beef?
Try a simplified version of our Mexican Baked Eggs allowing you to use up not only the extra beef but the remaining ingredients in your fridge.
- Top a seared steak
- Dollop on a filet of white fish
- Spoon over scrambled eggs
- Spoon over roasted potatoes
Purge your Fridge
You just finished devouring our birria tacos, and you are left with the following ingredients:
- 1/4 can fire-roasted tomatoes
- 1/2 onion
- 1/2 cup cilantro
Use up the leftover ingredients by whipping up our spin on Mexican Baked Eggs for breakfast.
- 20 tortillas
- 1/2 cup Oaxaca cheese shredded
- 1 cup Monterey Jack cheese shredded
- 1 cup Cheddar cheese shredded
- 1 lb. boneless beef chuck roast
- 2 lbs. beef short ribs
- 4 dried guajillo chiles
- 3 dried ancho chiles
- 5 dried chiles de árbol
- 1 white onion cut into 8 pieces
- 10 garlic cloves
- 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
- 1 cup water
- 9 oz. whole fire-roasted tomatoes 3/4 12 oz. can
- 2 tbsp dried oregano
- 1 tsp marjoram
- 3 cloves whole
- 1 tsp cumin seeds
- 1 tsp coriander seeds
- 1/2 tsp black peppercorns
- 3 bay leaves
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 4 tsp salt 1 tsp for the adobo and 3 tsp for the beef
- 1/2 white onion diced
- 3 garlic cloves minced
- 1/2 cup cilantro roughly chopped
- 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 lime squeezed
- 1/4 tsp salt
- ground pepper
1. Toast the Chiles and Soak them for 30 minutes
- Cut guajillo chiles, ancho chiles, and chiles de árbol in half and remove seeds.
- Place sauté pan on the stovetop at medium heat. Add dried chiles to the pan and toast them for 1 minute or until fragrant.
- Half-fill a saucepan with water and place the saucepan on the stovetop at high heat. Once the water is hot, turn off the heat and add the chiles. Soak for 30 minutes.
2. Toast the Spices and Prepare the Vegetables
- Place sauté pan on the stovetop at medium heat. Add oregano, marjoram, cloves, cumin seeds, and coriander seeds. Toast for 1 minute or until fragrant.
- Use a mortar and pestle or a spice grinder to grind toasted spices and black peppercorns.
- Cut onion into 8 segments.
3. Blend the Adobo and Marinate the Beef Overnight
- Add onion segments, whole garlic cloves, toasted and ground spices, fire-roasted tomatoes, apple cider vinegar, and soaked chiles (without the stems) to the blender.
- Blend until smooth and stir in 1 tsp of salt.
4. Marinate the Beef Overnight
- Add meat to the pot or dutch oven you will use to cook the beef. (I use the Le Creuset Braiser but any pot with a lid, and deep enough to hold the liquid will suffice).
- Season the beef on both sides, with 3 tsp of salt.
- Pour sauce over the beef. Cover the pot and marinate the beef in the refrigerator overnight.
5. Preheat the Oven and Cook for 4 Hours
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (177 degrees Celsius).
- Remove pot from the refrigerator at least 2 hours prior to cooking to bring beef and sauce to room temperature.
- Add water, bay leaves, and cinnamon stick to the pot.
- Cover the pot and place it in the oven for 3.5 to 4 hours or until the beef falls off the bone and is easy to pull apart.
6. Make the Chimichurri
- Dice the white onion, mince garlic, and roughly chop the cilantro.
- Add white onion, garlic, and cilantro to a mixing bowl. Add olive oil, red wine vinegar, lime juice, salt, and pepper. Whisk together.
- Let it sit for at least 1 hour to allow the flavors to blend and become pronounced.
7. Shred the Beef and Coat it with the Sauce
- Remove the pot from the oven and transfer the meat to a bowl, leaving the sauce behind. Shred the beef. Discard the bones.
- Place the pot on the stovetop at low heat. Add additional 1/2 cup of water (if desired) and stir. The result should be a thick puree sauce.
- Set aside 1/4 cup of sauce including some of the chile oil to a shallow dish to dip the tortillas.
- Once the beef is shredded, at it back to the pot and coat it with the sauce.
8. Fry up the Tacos
- Shred the cheese. Set aside.
- Place sauté pan on the stovetop at medium heat.
- Dip each tortilla into the sauce on both sides.
- When the saucepan is hot, add thet tortilla. Sprinkle cheese on the tortilla. Allow the cheese to partially melt. Spoon beef on top of the cheese. Then, spoon chimichurri onto the beef.
- Fold the taco in half and transfer to the plate. Garnish with fresh cilantro.
- Serve and enjoy.