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Unread 12-15-2009, 10:59 AM   #1
mgwerks
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Default Barbacoa at home

In South Texas, barbacoa (bar-bah-COE-ah) is not Spanish for barbecue. Fairly well-known in South Texas and along the Mexican border, it remains either unknown or poorly-copied in most other areas of the country. After telling you the old way of preparing it, I'll show you a much simpler way that is every bit as good but much less work.

Traditional barbacoa de cabeza is made form a whole cow's head, which may be more of a challenge than most people want to take on! The head is then cleaned, eyes, ears and tongue removed, and then sprinkled liberally with salt and pepper. Then it is combined with chopped onions, garlic and maybe cilantro, wrapped in a burlap sack, then wrapped well in maguey leaves. A large hole in the ground is dig, and a large hardwood fire built in in. Once that is reduced to coals, the wrapped head is placed in it and covered with more leaves, dirt, and more coals. Then the whole thing is buried under more dirt and left alone all day, or even over night. The next day, you dig it up, and shred off all the meat you can. Quite a large production, but there is a simpler yet just as tasty method.

Barbacoa isn't just braised or baked beef, and it isn't pot roast made from a cow's head. What really gives barbacoa it's unique taste and texture is the quality of the fat and connective tissue that is unique to that part of the animal. Around here, you can generally buy barbacoa two ways - regular or all meat. The only difference is that the all meat barbacoa does not contain all the little glands and other parts which come from the head, it is only the meat itself. Call me a wuss, but I go the all-meat route. Unfortunately, many places serve 'barbacoa' made from all different parts of the cow - I've even heard of it being made from chuck roast or even bottom round and brisket! That's a shame, because the best and easiest way to make it only takes a little effort to locate just the right ingredient.



Above is a shot of two cryovac bags of cheek meat, about 3.5 lbs. each. Most of the good solid meat from the head comes from the cheek muscles, which obviously get a lot of exercise, as cows spend most of their lives eating. It's meat, just like a roast is meat, so there's no need to be squeamish about it. Ask your butcher, or in supermarkets that serve an Hispanic population, and you can find beef cheeks for sale fairly reasonably - these I picked up for $2.39/lb. Now I have to warn you, it doesn't look like a roast or steak might - it's pretty ugly stuff. But you can easily see that the fat and other tissue looks different that you are used to seeing, and that is what gives real barbacoa that special taste and mouth-feel. Nothing else will do, because like I said before, we aren't making pot roast here.



Preparation is simplicity. For each couple of lbs of meat you chop up one whole large onion, and add a rounded teaspoon of minced garlic. The recipe is scale-able for whatever amount of meat you use. Here I have used three very large onions, tossed in the garlic, and am sauteing it for a bit in some vegetable oil.



Once the onions are a bit translucent, in goes the meat. Some people say to remove the silver skin, hard fat and other things before cooking, but I find it much easier afterward. Water is added to almost cover, the pot is brought to a boil and then reduced to a simmer. Then the waiting game begins. This batch cooked for about 6 hours, or until the internal temperature in the thickest part of the meat reached about 200 degrees. You'll need to check occasionally to keep the liquid level up.



Once the meat is falling apart, you remove it from the cooking liquid. Reserve the liquid and strain out the vegetables.



Once it cools, you can shred the meat off of the remaining connective tissue, silver skin and other non-edibles. Nothing works better for this than hands; be prepared to spend a little time here so you don't miss any of the good stuff. Once shredded, the barbacoa will have a tendency to dry out rather quickly. I put the reserved strained liquid back in the pot, and add the meat back in. This will keep it tasty and moist, and you can serve it by straining or squeezing it out.



Barbacoa is a dish with a light and unique taste this can be lost if served among a lot of other flavors, like in enchiladas or other heavy sauces or salsas. Not that it wouldn't be good, but you'd miss some of the flavor nuances. Now on to the tortillas.



Corn tortillas are the traditional conveyance for barbacoa. They can be rather delicate if just heated in a microwave, I give them a quick dip for just a few seconds in hot oil before serving. Just wait for the small bubbles in the tortilla and pull it out of the grease.



You don't want them crispy, but it gives them some firmness and keeps the tacos from falling apart. If you hear crunching when you fold them in half to drain, they might be overcooked. Just make sure and drain them well on paper towels.

In it's most traditional form, it is served on corn tortillas and topped with salt and pepper and sliced onions and chopped fresh cilantro leaves, then finished with a drizzle of lime juice. Sometimes, a simple fresh Pico de Gallo goes well. The meat is the focus, and all the waiting proves very worthwhile from the first bite. Here is a shot of the finished dish, prepared and served in the traditional style.



Barbacoa freezes very well, so preparing a large batch and saving some in vacuum sealed bags works well for always having it on hand when you want some! Here is 3 lbs. of today's batch headed for the freezer.



Oh, and that juice you reserved? Drizzle some of that on your dog's dinner and see how much he loves it!
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Last edited by mgwerks; 12-15-2009 at 01:10 PM..
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Unread 12-15-2009, 11:05 AM   #2
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Very interesting - thanks for sharing!

It's not on the top of "my list", but it does look lile something worth trying...
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Unread 12-15-2009, 11:23 AM   #3
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You're killing me with that post. I was just looking at the packs of cheek meat at Sam's the other day wondering how to make it. Thanks for the awesome post. It always something I buy on Sundays with fresh corn tortillas. You did an awesome job neighbor!
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Unread 12-15-2009, 11:30 AM   #4
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very nice! good to see some REAL mexican food.
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Unread 12-15-2009, 11:31 AM   #5
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I love barbacoa
the more authentic, the better
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Unread 12-15-2009, 11:33 AM   #6
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Looks great. I have cooked a pretty simple Barbacoa. Its great to cook in the crock-pot while I am at work but I will have to give this one a try. The recipe I use has tomatoes in the mixture while cooking and gives the meat and liquid a little red color. I guess this is not how barbacoa is traditionally cooked but wonder adds to or takes away from the dish.
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Unread 12-15-2009, 11:35 AM   #7
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FARK.........I SO hate you right now!! That is making me VERY hungry!! That 'coa looks fantastic. And simple......onion and cilantro with a shake of salt and maybe a salsa de arbol.
Back in the day buying the whole head was cheaper. We did many a beef head in the "hoyo"/"hole". But we left the eyes, brain and tongue in it. They got eaten too. The cheek meat has a fantastic beefy flavor, the one distinguishing characteristic is that is has lots of coalgen in it. So it's actually "sticky". Plus, those small white little balls of beef fat that are mixed in it........well, that's flavor.
I found out the other day that the Wal-Mart and Sam's around here carry cheek meat. Looks exactly like what you got there. Real 'coa is cachete meat. Everything else is desebrada(pulled beef) and does not have the same flavor.
you can also replicate the 'Hoyo" method on a much smaller scale using foil and a gas grill. Make a foil bomb with each one of those pieces. The smaller each bomb, the faster it cooks, but you could make one big bomb using all three of those meat pieces too. In each bomb place 2-3 bay leaves, onions and garlic, some cilantro and salt and pepper. Then add some liquid like water or beer. This will help with steaming. Wrap them up into tight bombs and use plenty of foil. Put them in a grill or oven and leave em alone for a few hours. They will steam in the liquid, their own juices and the wonderful collagen and makes for some good eating. Plus clean up is easy. Toss the foil. One note, don't place the bombs over direct heat. Due to all that collagen, these will burn and stick to the foil very easily. So you want to rotate and flip the bombs periodically so they cook evenly.

DAMN............I'm hungry now!! That looks fantastic. I'D HIT THAT!!!!
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Last edited by BobBrisket; 12-15-2009 at 04:30 PM..
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Unread 12-15-2009, 11:39 AM   #8
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Great. Really great. Some cabbage ensalada would also go nicely on that...I would be making the tortilla my self as well...I love warming my comar, and my wife makes the best ensalada...I doubt she would be eating cheek meat, but I would love to eat that...any day of the week. Nice post, very informative.
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Unread 12-15-2009, 11:40 AM   #9
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Nice work! Great easy recipe too. Also, thanks Bob for your input as well!
I'll have to try both methods - IF I can find the cheek meat.
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Unread 12-15-2009, 11:49 AM   #10
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That looks great, nice job, the cheek meat comes pretty dear around here, seems they sell out fast. I have had goat cooked that way too. Can goat head be considered barbacoa as well?
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Unread 12-15-2009, 11:57 AM   #11
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Contrary to some beliefs, barbacoa (bar-bah-COE-ah) is not Spanish for barbecue. Fairly well-known in South Texas and along the Mexican border, it remains either unknown or poorly-copied in most other areas of the country. After telling you the old way of preparing it, I'll show you a much simpler way that is every bit as good but much less work.

================================================== =====

Your photos / food look awesome. I looked up barbacoa in Microsoft Encarta. I used the Spanish to English translation feature and this is what came up...

barbacoa
feminine South America barbecue.
Translation dictionaries Copyright C. Langenscheidt KG Berlin and Munich 2000.


I think perhaps you are using the term "barbacoa" and interpreting it as the name of a particular dish. Much like the way some Texans would interpret "barbecue" as only a beef dish. LOL! I just thought I would point this out.
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Unread 12-15-2009, 12:27 PM   #12
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OK, so what time is breakfast on Saturday morning?
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Unread 12-15-2009, 12:27 PM   #13
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That looks awsome!! Now I'm going to have to see if I can get cheek meet in Arkansas!!
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Unread 12-15-2009, 12:41 PM   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bogus Chezz Hawg View Post
Contrary to some beliefs, barbacoa (bar-bah-COE-ah) is not Spanish for barbecue.

================================================== =====

Your photos / food look awesome. I looked up barbacoa in Microsoft Encarta. I used the Spanish to English translation feature and this is what came up...

barbacoa
feminine South America barbecue.
Translation dictionaries Copyright C. Langenscheidt KG Berlin and Munich 2000.


I think perhaps you are using the term "barbacoa" and interpreting it as the name of a particular dish. Much like the way some Texans would interpret "barbecue" as only a beef dish. LOL! I just thought I would point this out.
Correct. Barbacoa is a word that has been much misused over the years.

I am starting a new thread to discuss this, so I won't hijack this thread
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Unread 12-15-2009, 01:06 PM   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jshepwnc View Post
Correct. Barbacoa is a word that has been much misused over the years.

I am starting a new thread to discuss this, so I won't hijack this thread
I misstated that in my first post - I have corrected it.
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