Birria de res is a tender meat stew packed with chili flavor served on its own, or chopped and piled onto doubled up corn tortillas (tacos de birria). Now ubiquitous in California, the best birria tacos I’ve ever had came from a small food cart in an industrial parking lot in Boyle Heights. It was one of the first times I had ever had the tender beef tacos and as I dunked the corn tortillas into the rich broth, red oil dripped down my chin.
I love anything that comes with broth or sauce – adding additional punches of flavor wherever possible. In fact, I became hooked on the tender meat wrapped in the corn shell. After moving to New York I decided to create my own authentic birria taco recipe. I’ve included instructions for making birria on the stovetop, braised in a Dutch oven, or cooked in a slow cooker or Instant Pot.
Chunks of meat are stewed in a flavorful broth with spices. The dish is traditionally made using goat meat, but it is also commonly made with beef, veal, lamb or pork. In the United States, you can expect birria to be made with beef, specifically with chuck roast.
Dipping the corn tortillas in the spiced cooking liquid before pan-frying them gives the tacos their signature deep red color. The birria tacos are topped with a simple mixture of chopped white onion and cilantro with a side of sliced radish and lime wedges. Then a small cup of consumé, the cooking broth, is served alongside the tacos for dipping.
A lean, tough cut of beef is used for this recipe. It’s a cheaper cut, perfect for stewing so the meat has time to break down as it’s slowly cooked over a longer period of time. While it’s a recipe that takes some time, the flavor and tender meat makes it well worth it.
Traditional Birria made with goat meat comes from Jalisco, Mexico and can be traced back centuries. In addition, the style of birria de res (made with beef) originated in Tijuana, Mexico where it’s become extremely popular.
In the past few years, birria has become one of the most trendy recipes in the US. It’s definitely “Instagram-able” food. Teddy’s Red Tacos in Los Angeles and Birria-landia have become two of the most popular trucks. Teddy’s has even opened brick and mortar restaurants featuring the tacos once reserved for trucks.
Ever since 2019 my recipe feed has been filled with tacos teeming with tender meat shown dipping into a bright red consumé, glossy from the greasy broth. While dipping the tacos in the broth is not traditional in Mexico, it’s become a popular way of eating birria in the US. Social media has led to the increase in popularity of smaller taco stands – allowing people to track down locations of roadside businesses with the tap of a location tag.
Add the guajillo, ancho and chiles de arbol to a large bowl and then top with boiling water. Let sit until the chilies are soft. Remove the stems from the chilies and shake out the seeds and discard. Save the soaking liquid.
Add the chilies, apple cider vinegar, tomatoes, garlic, organo, paprika, cumin and 2 cups of the chili soaking water to a blender and blend until the mixture is smooth.
Heat oven to 300ºF (150ºC). Season the cubed beef generously with salt and pepper. Heat a large Dutch oven over medium heat, then add the oil and heat through. Working in batches, add the beef and sear until golden brown on all sides, about 8 minutes.
Add all of the seared beef back to the pot and top with the blended chili mixture, onion, beef stock and 2 cups of water. Wrap the bay leaves, thyme, cinnamon stick and cloves in cheesecloth, tie to close and then add to the pot.
Bring to a boil over medium heat then cover the pot and transfer to the oven. Braise the beef until fork tender, about 3 hours.
Discard the spices. Remove the meat from the braising liquid to a cutting board. Let cool slightly then chop the meat with a cleaver or large knife.
Add to a large mixing bowl with about 2 cups of the braising liquid and ½ cup of the chopped cilantro.
In a small mixing bowl stir together the onion, remaining cilantro and lime juice. Season with salt and then set aside.
Heat a large non-stick skillet over medium heat, Dip the tortilla into the top fat of the braising liquid. Add to the pan and then fry for about 30 seconds.
Serve topped with the beef and onions or to make quesabirria add some of the cheese on top followed by some of the beef. Fold over and continue to cook like a quesadilla, until the cheese melts, about 1 minute. Repeat with remaining tacos and meat.
Ladle the consommé into small bowls for dipping. Top both the tacos and consommé with the onion mixture and serve hot with sides of limes and radishes.
In this recipe I use chuck roast though bone-in short ribs or a combination of both can be used. The beef can be substituted for more traditional ingredients like goat.
There are a few different non-traditional variations on serving birria apart from tacos. It can be served as a soup (en caldo) with chunks of the shredded meat sinking to the bottom.
Quesabirria, as it’s served below, refers to the term for birria and melted Oaxaca cheese (I use mozzarella based on availability) in corn tortillas which are dipped in the red fat and pan fried. It can also be served as quesadilla in flour tortillas.
It can also be served sandwiched between small corn tortillas (mulitas) or cooked on a toasted crispy tortilla with cheese like a meaty, cheesy tostada that was crisped on the plancha or in a pan (vampiros).
Braises like this are great made ahead of time. As they sit the flavors can really meld and develop. You can start by making the chili braising liquid a week ahead of time. Store it refrigerated in an airtight container. The braise can also be made ahead of time and stored refrigerated in an airtight container or frozen until ready to use. I recommend storing the meat and remaining braising liquid for dipping/cooking the tortillas separately. Simply reheat on the stove for about 10 to 20 minutes.
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