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Taco Tuesday: Buckets of Birria
So long, and thanks for all the goats
[Welcome to Taco Tuesday, where I write short articles on occasional Tuesdays about tacos, taco restaurants and other interesting tidbits on Mexican cuisine. Let's dig in.]
It seems like I can't look at anything to do with current events in the U.S. right now that doesn't include something about birria. Birria, it appears, has entered the north-of-the-border consciousness with a vengeance. But, perhaps you're a bit behind on the news cycle - so let me catch you up.
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What is Birria?
Traditionally, birria is goat meat stewed for many hours in a broth flavored with a variety of spices and chiles. When the Spaniards began arriving in what is today called Mexico, they brought with them animals from Europe - including goats. Goats tend to grow their populations rapidly, and they aren't very good to eat - so the Spaniards didn't have much use for them. They let them wander off into the countryside. The indigenous peoples of Mexico grew and cultivated crops. Goats like crops. Goats ate the crops. Goats became a nuisance to the indigenous populations. So, largely out of necessity, some indigenous peoples began slaughtering goats for food. But similar to the Spaniards, the indigenous populations found goat meat to be smelly and bad tasting. So, being much more culinarily industrious than the Spaniards, the indigenous peoples in and around what is today the state of Jalisco learned how to spice and slow cook goat meat so that it was palatable. Thus was born birria.
Today, birria is made not only with goat, but with beef, lamb, pork and chicken. In the U.S. it is largely made with beef, although there is at least one restaurant in Chicago that makes it the traditional way with goat. The state of Jalisco, being the birthplace of birria, is where the best birria in Mexico can be found, and it is often still made with goat there. If you are in other areas of Mexico and you've never heard of birria, that's not surprising - it is much more popular in and around Jalisco than it is in the central, north or eastern parts of Mexico.
How is Birria Served?
The meat is slowly cooked in the birria broth - consomé, in Spanish - until it is falling apart and fork tender. It can then be served in a variety of ways: in a bowl with the broth and meat, sort of as a soup; in a cup with just the consomé liquid; or with the meat removed from the consomé and served inside a tortilla as a taco. When served as a taco, it can be in just a plain corn1 tortilla, or in a tortilla that is dipped in the broth, stuffed with the meat and then grilled or fried - this is known as a birria dorado taco.
Where is Birria Served?
In a birriaria, of course! A birriaria - which you can find all over Jalisco, Michoacán, Nayarit - is a restaurant that specializes in birria, and often serves only birria. A person who specializes in making birriais called a birriero or birriera. When you order a birria taco in a birriaria, make sure to let them know whether or not you want it dorado. You can also request a cup of the consomé to sip while you wait for your tacos. See what I did there? I said "tacos". Plural. Don't order just one!
Why am I Writing This Instead of Eating Birria?
No idea. My mouth is watering as I type, and I'm not even hungry. Eating a birria taco for the first time is like discovering tacos all over again. Do yourself a favor and don't visit a part of Mexico that serves birria without trying it. There is a reason that it is making a big splash nowadays in all kinds of culinary contexts outside of Mexico. Find out for yourself what that reason is. You won't be disappointed.
Not flour - don’t even get me started!