Birria de Res Tacos
Birria de res, or beef birria, is undoubtedly this year’s biggest food sensation here in the States. Specifically, Americans have fallen head over heels for Tijuana-style birria — a rich, brothy stew of beef brisket and beef fat slow-cooked for hours in an adobo and, eventually, stuffed into a taco.
According to an Eater article on the “Great Birria Boom,” Tijuana-style birria de res was invented by Don Guadalupe Zárate, a taquero who moved from Coatzingo, a small town in Puebla, to Tijuana in the 1950s. But it’s thanks to two Mexican-American birrieros, Teddy Vasquez and Omar Gonzalez, and the power of social media, that birria de res has had its big break. And after making this version in the test kitchen, we can say with immense certainty that it deserves all of the hype — by which we mean, it’s one of the best things we’ve ever eaten.
Birria is a low-and-slow kind of cooking project, where you put some ingredients in a pot, take a nap while it gently bubbles on the stove, and come back every now and then to give it a stir or add more spices and whatnot throughout the day. Basically, it’s the perfect recipe to make on a sleepy Saturday, or when you’re working from home and need an excuse to get up from your desk. By dinnertime, you’ll have a Dutch oven filled with sweet onions, toasted guajillo and arbol chiles, a tomato-y broth, and ridiculously tender beef — plus a boatload of seasonings. (Think: warm like cinnamon, earthy like cumin, and herby like oregano.)
From there, you’re all set to go to taco town!
We add a handful of the beef to a skillet and douse it with a spoonful of the birria broth. Once it’s a tinge caramelized, we nudge it to the side and toast some corn tortillas in the same skillet, so they soak up some of the brothy goodness. Then, we top the tortillas with Oaxaca cheese (which, by the way, is an incredible melter), the beef, and some fresh cilantro and white onion. And finally, we fold it all up, spoon some more broth into the pan, and let those babies sizzle ‘til they’re crunchy and bright sunburst orange with speckles of char and crispy, fried bits of cheese at the edges.
On their own, these tacos are everything you could possibly want: cheesy, savory, and greasy in all the right ways. But dipped in the birria broth? They’re absolutely glorious. With each dunk, you get even more bold, rich, fatty depth — plus a wave of umami from the tomatoes, some heat from the chiles, and a sweet warmth from the cinnamon. And we just love how the white onion and cilantro add the perfect amount of brightness to balance out the pockets of melted cheese and meat without overshadowing those amazing birria flavors. As one of our tasters said after their first bite: “This is straight ecstasy.”
It takes an immense amount of mental fortitude to not shovel 20 of these tacos into your face. But if you do manage to exercise some self-control, it’s well worth it: the flavors of the birria are even better on day two, after all the ingredients have had time to mingle and get to know one another. You could simmer up the birria on a Thursday, let it rest in the fridge overnight, and then serve the tacos with some cerveza for a low-key Friday night get-together with the pals (who will inevitably beg you for the recipe).
Our tips: If you want your tacos a little spicier, add some hot sauce directly to the broth and dunk away! Also, this recipe makes a ton of tacos, so it’s great for a group. Eating solo? Feel free to cut the recipe in half — or better yet, make the whole shebang and freeze some of it for emergency taco cravings.
For the beef birria and broth:
5 lb beef chuck roast, cut into 2 to 3” pieces
1 ½ medium white onions, cut in eighths, divided
20 garlic cloves, peeled, divided
15 cups water, divided
8 dried guajillo chiles, stemmed and seeded
6 dried arbol chiles, stemmed and seeded
4 Roma tomatoes, roughly chopped
4 whole cloves
1 tsp Gelson’s whole dried oregano
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp Gelson’s black peppercorns
4 Gelson’s bay leaves
1 Gelson’s cinnamon stick
2 sprigs Gelson’s organic fresh marjoram
4 sprigs Gelson’s organic fresh thyme
Kosher salt, to taste
For the tacos:
1 tsp extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt, to taste
32 corn tortillas
20 oz Oaxaca cheese, shredded
½ large white onion, chopped, plus additional for garnish
½ bunch Gelson’s organic fresh cilantro, chopped, plus more for garnish
Lime wedges, for serving
Tomatillo salsa, for serving
Hot sauce, for serving
To make the beef birria and broth: In a large Dutch oven or stock pot, combine the beef chuck roast, two-thirds of the white onions, 15 garlic cloves, and 14 cups water. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low, and skim off the fat and foam. Cover and simmer for 1 ½ hours, or until the meat is tender.
In a medium saucepan over medium heat, toast the guajillo and arbol chiles for 3 minutes, or until aromatic but not yet blackened.
Add the remaining water, chopped onions, and garlic cloves, as well as the Roma tomatoes. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 10 minutes, or until the chiles have started to rehydrate.
Add the cloves, oregano, cumin seeds, and peppercorns. Cover, remove from heat, and let sit for 10 minutes.
Pour the contents of the chile saucepan into a high-speed blender. Blend on high for 1 to 2 minutes, or until smooth.
Pour the puréed chile mixture over the beef. Add the bay leaves, cinnamon stick, marjoram, and thyme. Put the lid on the Dutch oven halfway and simmer for 1 ½ to 2 hours, or until the beef shreds easily.
Transfer the beef from the Dutch oven to a medium bowl, and shred it into large pieces. Set aside.
Strain the broth to catch the stick, stems, leaves, and any large pieces of chiles. Pour the strained broth back into the Dutch oven, season with kosher salt, and keep warm over the stove.
To make the tacos: In a large nonstick skillet, warm the extra virgin olive oil over medium-high heat. Add about ½ cup shredded beef to the pan, season with kosher salt, and about 2 tablespoons of the birria broth over the meat. Cook until it begins to caramelize.
Push the meat to the side of the pan, add 3 tortillas and lightly toast them, about 30 seconds, allowing the tortillas to soak up the birria broth.
Flip the tortillas and fill each with about 2 tablespoons shredded Oaxaca cheese.
Divide the sautéed beef between the 3 tacos, placing it on top of the cheese.
Sprinkle each taco with about 1 teaspoon each of the cilantro and white onion, and fold the tortilla over.
Add another tablespoon of broth to the pan. Press the tortillas into the pan with a spatula, and fry them for 2 to 3 minutes. Flip, and continue cooking for another 2 minutes more, or until the tortilla is toasted and the cheese is gooey and fried on the edges. Repeat with the remaining tacos.
Garnish the tacos with additional onions and cilantro. Serve immediately with lime wedges, tomatillo salsa, hot sauce, and a small cup of birria broth, for dipping.