Recently CSN Stores gave me a $40 gift certificate to use at my discretion, as long as I reviewed whatever item I purchased from them. After taking an informal poll on the blog, I opted for a slow cooker (just barely edging out the ice cream machine, which has been out of stock anyway). I was actually quite excited for this new addition to my kitchen, and I knew there would be no better way to consecrate the device than by whipping up a dish for Big Brother premiere night. All I needed to do was settle on a recipe.
Well, there’s a restaurant nearby called LoterÃa Grill, which specializes in upmarket Mexican fare. One of my favorite items on the menu there is a carne deshebrada. Garlicky, juicy, flavorful — my mouth waters for it nearly around the clock, it seems. I knew I could somehow replicate this wonderful shredded beef; so off to the Internet I went, and lo and behold, Epicurious seemed to have just what I was looking for: Carne Deshebrada en Salsa Roja! Truth be told, this recipe was designed for a dutch oven, but one of the commenters left a review saying he or she had executed the dish in a slow cooker to excellent results. Could this have been more perfect?
I took a perfunctory glance at the recipe and decided this was what I’d be making. To be fair, I hardly even read the steps involved. I just jotted down the ingredients, went to the store, and got to work. The results of this endeavor after the jump…
The slow cooker in all its glory. A 7 qt Hamilton Beach beaut.
Me proudly displaying the inner container. I’m actually quite excited.
First things first: I have to defrost a two pound chuck roast. This takes about an hour.
Next I throw some bay leaves, some allspice, a clove, and some garlic into the pot.
In goes the meat, sliced into smaller, friendlier sizes.
Two and a half quarts of water enter the equation next.
I have limited time (5 hours instead of 10); so I regrettably have to put the cooker on high. I would have liked a power light. Some visual feedback never hurt anyone.
The lid goes on, and I head out the door for some afternoon errands and activities.
Me anxiously leaving the slow cooker behind.
Four hours later, I return home to find my apartment smelling wonderful. However, I also hear a loud fizzing sound. Turns out that a puddle of warm condensation has accumulated on the outer rim of the slow cooker. Air bubbles from deep within are then splattered the water on the nearby countertop. It’s slightly messy.
Aforementioned splatter on the counter, now on my finger.
As the meat enters its final stages, I begin making the sauce, which turns out to be an excessively complicated process. First, I must quarter three tomatoes, toss them in vegetable oil, and then broil them. Here they are about to enter the wonderful world of my toaster oven.
Next I have to slit, deseed, and stem three ounces of dried guajillo chilies.
This process leaves behind an enormous number of seeds.
I then have to toast the chilies in a skillet until they change color.
After toasting comes thirty minutes of soaking in water.
Meanwhile, the tomatoes have emerged from the broiler looking wrinkled and slightly charred. All is well.
I must now puree the tomatoes with garlic, onions, salt, allspice, cumin, a clove (also toasted in a skillet), and chiles de Ã¡rbol.
Oh yeah, I also have to add two cups of this beef broth to the puree.
In an effort to get just the broth, I must strain it into a bowl. Note the number of dishes quietly building up over the course of this recipe.
The meat, meanwhile, looks moist and succulent. I can’t wait to try it.
Nevertheless, the broth (and the soaked chilies) go into the blender. It’s a tight fit. Perhaps too tight. But I’m determined to get this all done in one batch.
The instructions then say the pureed sauce must be heated through in a pot. Out comes the dutch oven. DAMMIT. What’s even the point of the slow cooker if I have to use a dutch oven too?
Meanwhile, I easily shred up the beef. I give it a taste test. It tastes like… nothing. There’s no flavor. And it’s not that moist (probably due to the “high” setting). I’m massively disappointed. However, I know I’ve just made a giant batch of sauce; so moisture won’t be an issue. The lack of garlicky goodness will be.
I heat the sauce in the pan. I do a taste test, and… IT’S DULL. How could this damn sauce with all its ingredients be so flavorless? This is turning into a disaster. Not only am I already using way too many dishes, but nothing is actually tasting too wonderful.
The meat goes in, and I immediately notice that my sauce to beef ratio is way off. That’s the least of my concerns. I just want it to taste better. I immediately toss in more salt and three or four more garlic cloves.
After five or ten minutes of simmering and adjusting, I’m finally happy with the dish. I pack it up in Gladware and go off to my Big Brother viewing.
The Verdict: pretty good. Nothing amazing. Definitely, by the time I arrived at my friend’s place twenty minutes later, the dish tasted much better. I imagine the added garlic had time to disseminate throughout the sauce. In fact, later in the evening, when I had a second helping, the flavors most certainly had improved even more. And then the next afternoon, it was even better. Still though, this dish was not mindblowing. It wasn’t anything that would make a crowd gush with praise. Plus, it was a touch too runny, making tacos a drippy, messy affair.
The main problem really though was that this recipe necessitated so many different pots and pans. Part of that might have been my own lack of efficiency, but still, for something that had seemed so straightforward and easy, it certainly became rather labor intensive toward the end. If I were to make this again, I would a) cook the meat on the low setting; b) throw a full head of garlic into the slow cooker; c) massively increase the garlic in the sauce; d) up the salt in the sauce too, but carefully, and e) add more beef or add less sauce.
This was a fun experiment, but it was nowhere near my lofty goals of making a LoterÃa quality deshebrada. For my next experiment, I’m chucking the recipes and just going by instinct. I’ll toss whatever I want into the slow cooker and see what happens. Needless to say, there’ll be garlic. Lots and lots of garlic…