As I mentioned earlier today, one of my favorite tacos in Los Angeles is the carne deshebrada from Lotería Grill. I have consumed many of these garlicky, beefy concoctions (often in burrito form too) for years now, and all the while, I have wondered how I could recreate the magic in my lil’ home kitchen. To be fair, I did once try my hand at the elusive deshebrada, but it was a middling failure (see pictures of the whole affair from my younger, slimmer days here). Of course, that was 2010, and all I had to guide my naive self was a random Internet recipe from Epicurious. Nowadays, I’m older, wiser, and more importantly, equipped with a subscription to Cook’s Illustrated (thanks, Mom!). Naturally, when I saw that this detail-oriented cooking mag had its very own carne deshebrada recipe, I knew I had to give it a whirl.
Would I strike out a second time? Or would I finally find success? Pictures after the jump…
Things start on an easy, albeit brown, note. I throw beer, apple cider vinegar, tomato paste, garlic, bay leaves, cumin, oregano, salt, pepper, cloves, and cinnamon into a Dutch oven. The recipe also calls for dried ancho chiles, but all I could find were Chile California Entero. So be it.
Next I cut up some onions into thick slices and use them to create little pedestals on which I’ll be placing meat. It’s very architectural.
Boneless short ribs soon enter the fray. They sit on their onion lily pads, half submerged in the liquid (I added extra beer and vinegar to get more of the meat into the drink). Also, I realize this is yet another blurry photo, but my only camera is the one on my crappy iPhone 4S. I suppose it’s time to pony up and replace my Canon that drowned in the Atlantic Ocean last year.
The meat goes into the oven at 325 degrees, and while it cooks away for the next two and a half hours, I make a quick, tangy slaw. It’s basically just cabbage, carrots, jalapeño, onion, apple cider vinegar, sugar, salt, and oregano. Takes ten minutes to make. Word to the wise though: use a big bowl.
After a painless two and a half hours, the meat is fork tender and slightly browned (thanks to only being partially submerged). My apartment, I should add, smells like cinnamon-y heaven. Just for the aromas alone, I feel like this has been a success… until it dawns on me that if I’ve messed this up, I’ve wasted three pounds of perfectly good meat.
Now the more involved part of this recipe. First, I remove the meat to a separate bowl and cover it loosely with foil. I taste a small bite and am immediately unimpressed. Kind of just tastes like… unseasoned meat. Platoon-like memories of the first deshebrada fiasco flash before my eyes. This can’t be happening again. I suddenly feel hot and clammy, but to be fair it’s just the beef steam hitting my face.
Next I drain the liquid into my favorite new device: a fat strainer. Let me tell you all something: I am a terrible fat skimmer. I don’t have the patience for it, and I never seem to get enough of it out of my stocks and stews. Plus, I always feel like I’ve scooped out more broth than fat. Well, this handy contraption fixes everything. Even better, it allows me to gawk at all the gross fat I’ve accumulated. So nasty. And yet… sort of fun.
Meanwhile, back in the Dutch oven, I discard the onions and bay leaves, leaving me with a jumble of chiles and garlic.
The solids from the pot go into a blender along with a cup of the strained cooking liquid. Magic, as it turns out, is nigh.
The puréed liquid is brick-red and thick. As I pour it back into the pot, I take a quick taste. It’s… amazing. Tangy, rich, and complex. There is hope after all.
Meanwhile, in beef land, I get to the somewhat tedious task of shredding the short ribs with two forks. It takes about five minutes. I’m enthused by all the squishy noises, which seem to indicate that this meat is juicy and perfectly cooked.
Finally, over medium heat I toss the shredded beef with the sauce and allow the deshebrada to take its proper form.
The only thing left to do is plate these bad boys. I plop a few scoops of the meat mixture onto some corn tortillas and top them with the cabbage-carrot slaw and some cilantro.
Moment of truth: did I nail it or was this just another deshebrada failure?
These tacos… are… spectacular.
I can’t even believe these tacos came out of my kitchen. They were ridiculous. Like, ridiculous. First off, the meat mixed with the sauce was truly delicious. It actually tasted nothing like the deshebrada served at Lotería Grill, but that hardly mattered. This richly flavored meat mixture was tangy, warm, and robust. Yes, ROBUST. The slaw, meanwhile, was nothing special on its own, but as a topping — perfect. Its acidic bite was the perfect counterpoint to the stewed meat’s heaviness. The final bite was bright and full of textural INTRICACY.
And the yield was huge. I’ll be eating these all week. Happily.