Monday, April 11, 2011

Barbacoa (Beef Cheek Tacos)

My first experience of barbacoa was Chipotle which, despite what Steve Ells may claim, isn't exactly authentic Mexican cuisine. But who am I to complain? Hello, one barbacoa burrito, no rice, pinto beans, corn and hot salsa, extra sour cream, cheese, lettuce, hello deliciousness! Hurry into my mouth! At this point I should also admit that, possibly, my only experience of barbacoa is through Chipotle. If I am truly honest with myself I didn't even know it was cow head (or cheek) until I began dating Seth. My first thought was, "Do other Chipotle customers know what barbacoa is?" followed by, "I really want another burrito."

Can you imagine my excitement when I saw beef cheek at HEB (major Texas grocery store)? Maybe not, but I'll tell you it was more to do with the fact that the store carried beef cheek - and beef heart, knuckles, sweetbreads, probably lung if I asked - and that I saw it for the first time after attending the country fair. "That could be one of the winning show cows!", I whispered to myself. And I knew I wanted to eat it.

When I bought the cheeks my first thought was to braise them French style, as a search through Epicurious brought mainly French-style braises, simmering the cheeks in a bottle of red wine along with other savory ingredients. Sounded kind of good, but also seemed like roast beef or braised short ribs and I wanted to something different. Another day, another search and boom, a recipe for beef cheek tacos on the fabulous A mole-like marinade of coffee, peanut butter, honey, cumin, paprika, garlic - holy taco! It was necessary to marinate the meat overnight and cook it slowly for 3 1/2 hours, but waiting was the hardest part. Plus some tasty pickled onions to go along with the whole thing, mmm mmm mmm, my excitement was palpable.

And then my bubble burst. I might not be an expert on barbacoa (in case anyone is confused, beef cheek is normally used to make barbacoa) but I know it should easily shred when cooked. I know the fat, the copious amount of fat in those cheeks, should have melted and melded with the meat, creating that mouth-watering tenderness only lard can provide. Sadly, that did not happen to my cheeks. No shredding, no melting, only sadness. The end result still tasted good and was tender enough to slice and chew, but it was the pile of remembered deliciousness I was expecting. My sister-in-law and I agreed that the oven temperature must be off because a week ago she cooked brisket and had a similar problem.

You win some, you lose some. At least the onions turned out well! I won't repeat the recipe until I manage to successfully prepare it, but you can find it here and best me. Let me know how it turns out!

1 comment:

  1. I'm enjoying reading your blog. What a fascinating life you have living in so many places, especially overseas. I'm going to try out some of the recipes you posted. I just thought I'd mention that Barbacoa is a method of slow cooking meats. Barbacoa de cabeza is slow cooked beef cheeks. So Chipotle is just serving you run of the mill beef chuck or round.