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Mexican Birria



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The word birria means something that is a mess or deformed, but it is an affectionate name for this beloved meaty rustic brothy stew. It is usually made from lamb or goat but can also be made from beef or a combination of all three. It is marinated in a red chile paste and then cooked in a pit barbeque with steaming liquid below. The juices from the meat fall into this and are used to make a wonderful broth that is served with the meat in a bowl. It is then garnished with a scattering of chopped radishes and onion, a rubbing of Mexican Oregano and served with tortillas or quesadillas on the side, for a rich, festive, family meal. For our European kitchens we have placed the marinated meat on a steamer inside a lidded casserole dish, sealed with masa to keep in all the aromatic vapors (explained later). However, a pressure cooker would work very well if you have one. Any leftover meat from the birria makes great tacos and quesadillas for the next day.


  1. If your meat is rolled, undo the strings and flatten out. Trim off any excess fat, cover and place in the fridge whilst you are making the marinade.
  2. Open out the chiles by making a slit down the side. Toast the chiles one at a time, in a dry fry pan over medium hot heat. Press them down on both sides with a spatula until a sweet nutty aroma emerges and the colour changes slightly. Place the chiles in a bowl as you go along. When you are finished, cover them with hot tap water, place a small plate on top to keep them submerged and let soak for 20 minutes or until soft.
  3. Wipe the fry pan out to remove any seeds, place over a medium heat, toast the cumin seeds and black peppercorns until fragrant, remove to a plate to cool.
  4. Add the garlic in their skins and the tomato to the same frying pan. Roast the garlic and tomato, until they are soft and little black spots appear, turning occasionally, this will take about 15 minutes for the garlic and about 25 for the tomato. Remove from the pan and leave to cool, once cooled pop the garlic out of its skin and put to one side with the tomato.(place the tomato is the fridge as you will use it later when making the broth)
  5. Drain the chiles and place in a jug suitable for a stick blender, add the vinegar, roasted garlic, toasted cumin and peppercorns, salt and ¾ cup of water, blend until as smooth as possible, then strain through the medium meshed sieve into a large bowl. Remove ¾ of a cup of the puree and reserve in the fridge. Add the meat to the remaining marinade, rubbing in well, cover and refrigerate overnight.
  6. Pre heat the oven to 160oC. Add 3 cups of water, the bay leaf and quartered onion to the casserole dish. Fit the steaming rack which should sit at least 2.5cm off the bottom and add the meat with its marinade.
  7. Mix the Masa Harina with the warm water until you have a soft dough. Roll between your palms ropes of dough that are about 2cm thick, place them around the rim of the pot and then press the lid into it. Ensure the dough is making a seal and there are no gaps. If there is any dough remaining keep it to fill in cracks that might appear as it shrinks whilst cooking. Place the casserole dish in the oven and bake for 3 hours.
  8. Remove from the oven and break the seal of the masa on the casserole dish. Carefully move the meat to a plate or bowl, then remove the steamer and pour the broth into a measuring jug. Leave the broth to cool slightly and remove the congealed fat at the top. Tear the meat with the grain into large chunks removing sinew and gristle as you go.
  9. To prepare the broth, blend the roasted tomato until smooth, add to a saucepan over medium low heat along with the broth and Mexican Oregano, simmer gently for 20 minutes. Season with salt until tasty.
  10. To serve, toss the cooked lamb chunks in the reserved marinade, place on a baking sheet and pop into a hot oven for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and slice the large chunks against the grain into bit size pieces, distribute evenly between bowls and pour the broth on top. Bring to the table and pass around bowls of diced sweet onion, sliced radishes, Mexican Oregano, lime quarters and hot sauce for people to pimp their bowl ‘al gusto’. Plenty of toasty corn tortillas on the side are a must to mop up the sauce, quesadillas go down well too.
  11. To use a pressure cooker, follow all the instructions except you will not need to preheat the oven or make the masa dough. Set up the steamer rack with water and aromatics, add the meat and marinade, seal with the lid, set to high pressure, bring up to pressure and then set the timer for 45minutes. When the time is up, remove from the heat and allow for natural release, the meat should be very soft, if not reseal and cook for a further 10 minutes. Carry on with the recipe above.