Birria is a slow-cooked protein stew flavored with a variety of chiles and spices. It’s typically made from goat’s or sheep’s meat, though in the United States you will find that most birria recipes will call for beef, as goat and sheep are less commonly available. If you do have the opportunity to make yours with goat or sheep, prepare yourself for the best birria you have ever had! This is a recipe we often make for large parties, as it can easily be doubled or quadrupled.
6 dried California chiles, stemmed and seeded
2 dried pasilla chiles, stemmed and seeded
2 dried guajillo chiles, stemmed and seeded
2 yellow onions, chopped
6 garlic cloves, peeled
11⁄2 tablespoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon ground cumin
3 pounds (1.4 kg) beef chuck roast or goat’s or sheep’s leg meat, cut into 6 to 8 equal pieces
10 black peppercorns
4 medium bay leaves
Leaves from 1 small bunch cilantro, minced
6 dried chiles de árbol, fried or toasted
Place the dried California, pasilla, and guajillo chiles in a medium saucepan and add water to cover. Place the pan over high heat and bring it to a boil. Turn off the heat, cover, and allow the chiles to rest for 5 to 10 minutes. Using tongs, remove the chiles from the saucepan and place them in a blender with about 2 cups (480 ml) of the boiling liquid, 1⁄2 chopped onion, the garlic, oregano, and cumin. Blend until smooth but not too thick, adding more of the reserved boiling liquid
Place the meat in a large saucepan or Dutch oven and add water to just barely cover the meat. Add the peppercorns, bay leaves,
and 1 tablespoon salt. Add the chile paste and stir to mix it in. Cover the pan, place it over medium heat, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to very low to maintain a bare simmer and cook for about 2 hours (don’t worry about overcooking it—the longer you cook it, the better the flavor develops), until the meat is fork-tender and falling apart, gently mixing it every 30 minutes and checking the sauce level. The meat should be completely covered with braising liquid (see Notes); if not, add hot water and make sure the heat is not too high.
Remove one of the pieces of meat. Using tongs and a fork, break up the meat in the center of a shallow bowl and fill it with broth
to cover the meat by three quarters. Sprinkle on some cilantro and remaining onion, garnish with a dried chile de árbol (crumble the chile to add more heat), and serve.
Keeping the meat covered with braising liquid is important so that the meat cooks evenly and breaks apart perfectly for the final presentation.
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