A Bowl Of Birria Will Raise The Dead

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After a night of drinks, a bowl of birria is perfect.

Birria is a broth made with goat meat seasoned with spices and dried peppers. Its recipe dates back to the 17th century in the Jalisco, Mexico, area.

Everyone in the state — at their homes, in restaurants or market kitchens — prepare it. They traditionally serve the warm broth with shredded meat in clay bowls. Diners add chopped onion, cilantro, salsa and lime.

Guadalajara, capital of the state of Jalisco, Mexico, where birria took on a style of its own. (Urvashi Makwana)

How was birria born? 

After the Spanish Conquest, Mexico underwent a cultural exchange that included a fusion of ingredients, cooking and serving methods at the gastronomic level.

The Spaniards brought goats, lambs, cattle, pigs and donkeys to the Americas. In regions with hot weather — such as Guerrero, Puebla, Jalisco, Hidalgo, Oaxaca and San Luis Potosí — goats and lambs reproduced without control and became a pest. People began cooking them as a means of animal control.

Both goat and lamb have very tough meat, are challenging to cook and have a powerful smell. Birria cooks address this issue by using a handful of spices.

“Before cooking goat meat, one must wash it very well,” said Mauricio Hernández Castro, who graduated in gastronomy in Veracruz. “This mitigates the meat’s strong smell. Through experience, the dish has improved with the addition of other ingredients and [the transformation of] cooking methods.”

Jalisco-style birria is famous. To prepare it, cooks make “a sauce of tomato, tomatillos, morita and árbol peppers, and salt,” said Hernández Castro. “If it is cooked on firewood, much better. Its flavors would grow.”

The city of Guadalajara, Jalisco, is known for its birria. (Roman Lopez/Unsplash)

To ease hangover discomforts, Jalisquillos (people from Jalisco) enjoy their birria with a lot of árbol peppers, accompanied by handmade tortillas and a cold beer. The popular belief is that birria helps people sweat out the alcohol.

Jalisquillos say that birria could “raise the dead,” but only if it is spicy.

“We open the birriería [birria restaurant] very early on Saturdays and Sundays. Part of our clientele come with a few hours of sleep after an intense night of drinks,” said Alan Utrera González, owner of the El Chivo Dorado restaurant in Veracruz. “We prepare birria in the Jalisco-style and people may add spice. That’s where they get the zing. We also serve tacos with birria meat. They are very sought-after by those who don’t want the broth.”

Birria for 15 diners

Ingredients:

1.6 pounds of rack of lamb

1.6 pounds of beef ribs

3.3 pounds of pork belly

6 ancho peppers

3 guajillo peppers

10 bell peppers

18 black peppercorns

4 cloves

1 tablespoon of salt

¼ teaspoon oregano

¼ teaspoon cumin

¼ cup vinegar

6 roasted garlic cloves

½ medium roasted onion

1 can of tomato purée

½ cup finely chopped onion

Agave or banana leaves

Preparation:

Cut meats into chunks.

Roast the peppers and soak them in warm water until soft. Drain and blend them with garlic, onion and spices until they turn into a thick paste.

Spread the paste on the meat and wrap it with agave or banana leaves, which can be replaced with plastic if necessary. Let the mix sit for at least 4 hours.

Pour a cup of water in a large and thick saucepan. Use a rack to prevent the meat from touching the water. Cover the saucepan. Cook over low heat for three and a half hours, making sure the water does not dry up; do not open the lid too much while checking the dish.

Uncover and set the meat aside. If the stock in the bottom is too concentrated, add more water.

Fry the tomato purée and add to the broth. It should simmer for 20 minutes.

Serve with the meat in corn tortilla tacos.

(Translated and edited by Gabriela Olmos. Edited by Carlin Becker )



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