Sunday, July 12, 2009

Monthly Mingle: Mexican Fiesta

This space intentionally left blank.A few weeks ago, I was asked by the purveyor of All Things Edible to participate in a blogging event involving foods. I'm generally not good about Intarwebs events because, well, I usually forget, but this time it was something well worth pursuing: i.e., Mexican foods which totally rock. Note that the actual cooking was done two weeks ago and that the end product has already been consumed with much gusto.

One of my favorite things from Chipotle, the happiest place on Earth, is their barbacoa. I can't type with any authority on what authentic barbacoa entails (cow head?!) but this is my take on Chipotle's version with some interesting twists. My version is basically a spicy braised beef with sauce and I proceed accordingly. But first! Let's inspect the ingredients.

The Raw Team
The other half onion?  Yeah, I ate it with my breakfast.  Tha's how I roll.The Raw Team in this recipe is played by two and a half smallish Vidalias, most of a clove of garlic, and about 6 pounds of chuck roast. In this case, because the butchers at my local megamart hate me, the chuck roast is boneless which annoys me to no end. I would have much rather used a couple 7-bone roasts but I'll be damned if I can find one anywhere on the eastern seaboard. I do like chuck for this application, though, since it's full of fat and connective tissue, very tasty, generally inexpensive, and is generally considered the "classic pot roast".

The Spice Team
Some like it hot.Given that this is a classic braise, we want to end up with a flavorful liquid and chunkies. Thus, we require the services of:
  • Four bay leaves
  • One can of chipotle chiles and its adobo sauce (yum)
  • One bottle of cumin, whole
  • One tablespoon of ground anchos
  • One tablespoon of ground chipotles to up the smokey goodness
  • About 3/4 of a cup of my homemade chili powder
  • About 1/4 of a cup of salt

    If that seems like a lot of spice, recall that we have about 6 pounds of meat here and it's all going into a crock pot full of braising liquid. Depending on your particular setup, you may require more or less but the intent is to end up with spicy beef when it's all said and done.

    Not a great sear, but it's all I could manage without proper ventillation.Just like I would with a normal pot roast, I seared the beef as best I could without burning down the apartment. This had the expected result of filling the place with smoke but curiously failed to set off the fire alarms.

    Into the pot also went the 2.5 onions (sliced) and most of the head of garlic (smashed), and all the spices including the entirety of the can of chipotles. For those who aren't in the know, a chipotle is a smoked jalapeno. I usually get these dried, but in this instance I really wanted the adobo. To quote the great AB: "Adobo is dang tasty but it is double dang hot so don't go addin' more unless you knows what yous doin'." Luckily, I knows what I'm doin'! I can only guess what adobo actually is but if you get canned chipotles, it's almost always present. Don't go rubbing your eyes after handling it, though, I mean it.

    Fill the pot until you get the meat mostly submerged, lid it up, turn it on, then let the waiting begin...

    The Extraction
    Note the giant disaster on my counter that always seems to result when I cook.Many hours later and your home will be filled with the aroma of cooking chiles and beef which is a pretty awesome thing. You want to cook it long enough that it's going to defy easy extraction by falling apart. In my case, I was impatient and only waited 8 hours. I usually start these kinds of things off in the early morning and eat in the late evening (10 to 14 hours).

    Seriously, wait till it cools before attempting to shred.Once extracted, allow to cool a bit before shredding. Bonus points if you can restrain yourself from eating the super-heated meat off the platter prior to shredding (super tasty, tho). If you've ever shredded pork barbecue, this is the same maneuver.

    This is where things get a little nuts. As is typcial with a large volume of water braise, most of the spice ends up in the liquid and I'm not about to let all that awesome chipotle, er, awesomeness off without a fair trial. Sadly, I have no visual evidence of the procedure, but it went a little something like this:
  • Skim off the liquid and add to a pan or wide sauce pot being careful not to grab full chipotles and the bay leaves (small bits are fine)
  • Add about a cup of good-tasting non-balsamic vinegar (I used cider)
  • Reduce by half
  • Season to taste
  • Thicken to a gravy-like consistency (I used cornstarch)

    Service Options
    It's not as tasty as it's tastier!Far be it for me to tell you how to eat your barbacoa, but here's what I did with it:
  • One whole wheat tortilla in the 8" variety
  • Barbacoa down on the bottom
  • Pile of cheese (mild cheddar in this case)
  • Lots of sour cream and sauce on top

    Fiesta rice, pintos or black beans, your choice of salsas, or guac would all be welcome additions to the feast but I didn't have any of the above on hand. Also note that the whole wheat tortilla isn't strictly on my diet but, meh, I figured I'd splurge a bit.

    Future Work
    As this recipe is a work in progress, I'm constantly looking for ways to improve it. Some of the stuff I'm thinking about:
  • I love cumin but the flavor almost never comes through in large pot braises. I'd like to try toasting it and grinding it immediately prior to cooking but don't have a suitable spice grinder yet.
  • AB's "potroast without the pot" is a fun approach but I didn't think the foil would hold up well to the adobo. That said, the recipe would certainly benfit from having less water present.
  • It definitely needed more spice. I'll try steeping dried anchos, chipotles, and arbols in something tasty and adding it to the pot next time. Maybe some smoked paprika would help too.
  • Moar sear.

    Jenny said...

    Nice job on that.
    Did you know that you can buy an inexpensive coffee grinder and use it for spices, and only spices? To clean it out, you grind up rice.
    That being said, I don't own one yet, I own a mortar and pestle, which also works.

    ktorrek said...

    Yes, but I haven't yet found one that I like and don't want to sacrifice the one I use for coffee.

    Joanne said...

    This looks awesome. I love that you used a crockpot to make it.