Birria is an incredible Mexican dish that originates in the state of Jalisco in the west central part of Mexico. It is a meat stew made from goat meat (but is also made using beef or lamb). Birria is a celebratory dish most often served at weddings and baptisms or at Christmas and Easter.
It's going to be a while until we can travel overseas again so I'm travelling with my tastebuds. Today we're taking your palate to Mexico with this wonderful way of cooking a leg of goat or lamb (or you can use gravy or chuck beef too!).
Birria is served either as meat for tacos or as a stew. The pressure cooker, instant pot or slow cooker/crock pot is also wonderful for cooking birria too especially if you don't use a whole leg and use pieces. I will give times for these below.
You do need to do some sourcing of the chillies but you can often find these online. If you don't want to buy a whole bag, Tamaleria & Mexican Deli, Dulwich Hill sells them by the piece.
The world of dried Mexican chillies: You use dried chillies in birria and when chillies are dried, caramelisation takes place (eg. the difference between a sun dried tomato and a fresh tomato).
Dried chillies have a different name from a fresh chilli; for example chipotle is the name of a dried jalapeno chilli.
Pasilla and Ancho (top), Arbol (right) and Guajillo chillies (bottom left)
The small red Arbol chilli (right in pic) is a hot chilli also known as a bird's beak chile and rat's tail chile,
Guajillo chillies (bottom left) are the dried form of the mirasol chili pepper. Guajillos are smooth and slender and are the second most popularly used chilli. Most often found dried it has a tangy and fruity flavour to it. Interesting fact: guajillo chillies are the ones used in Harissa, the Tunisian chilli paste. The name means "little gourd".
Pasilla chillies (top) or chile negro is the dried version of the Chilaca chilli are wrinkled and black in colour and are the largest of the three chillies used in this dish and are the skinnier, wrinkled chillies at the top. And Ancho Chillies at the top mixed with the pasilla are the wider, wrinkled chillies. These are the dried poblano chilli.
Can't get goat? I know it can be difficult to source here in Australia. You can also use a lamb leg, lamb pieces or gravy beef. A lamb leg will take around 3 hours to cook while gravy pieces of lamb or beef 1-2 hours.
Dear Reader, as I write this recipe out I am covered in goat juices. This is not the dish to make when you're wearing a pretty apron and if you're me, aka clumsy. While turning my goat leg, I accidentally lost my grip using the tongs and the goat juices splashed everywhere.
Birria is such a wonderful and flavoursome dish. I served this to Mr NQN and he wolfed down six tacos in one sitting only stopping because I didn't give him more. He's not even a meat person and usually stops eating meat long before I do. Obviously this isn't a dish to make on a week night but if you have some time on a weekend and have people over, this is a worthwhile project to feed many.
I mentioned that I needed some goat to a food twin Monica one day over lunch. "I can get you some," she said and in the space of a few days, she was messaging me that she had a leg of goat ready for me! She also had all the chillies I needed available because she makes chilli oil. Her Lulu's Remedy chilli oil is incredible and I urge everyone to try it-SERIOUSLY. I'm addicted to it and go through a jar of it once every 2-3 weeks. Luckily I have a supplier ;)
"How much do I owe you?" I asked Monica and transferred her the money. I tried to put a goat emoji under the description but the bank wouldn't let me. So I put it under GOAT (Greatest Of All Time) which describes her. Because she keeps me supplied in goat, dried Mexican chillies and chilli oil! Having a food twin in life definitely helps in more ways than one.
So tell me Dear Reader, do you have a food twin? Have you ever cooked goat?
DID YOU MAKE THIS RECIPE? Share your creations by tagging @notquitenigella on Instagram with the hashtag #notquitenigella
Birria of Goat, Lamb or Beef
Rated 5.0 out of 5 by 7 readers
An Original Recipe by Lorraine Elliott
Preparation time: 30 minutes plus marinating overnight time
Cooking time: 6-7 hours
This recipe needs to be started 1 day ahead
For the spice paste:
- 2.2kg/4.9lbs goat or lamb leg or beef pieces
- 5 ancho chillies, dried whole
- 4 guajillo chillies, dried whole
- 3 pasilla chillies, dried whole
- 4 cloves
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/2 cup white or apple cider vinegar
- 6 cloves garlic, peeled
- 2 bay leaves
- 1-2 teaspoons salt
- 1 teaspoon sugar or to taste
- 4 cups/1 litre/33flozs chicken stock or beer
- Oil for frying
- 1 onion, peeled and diced
- 4 cloves garlic peeled
- 800g/28.2ozs. tomatoes, diced (fresh or tinned)
- 1/2 cup/125ml/4flozs. of the cooking liquid
Step 1 - First toast the three types of chillies in a dry frypan for a few minutes. While they are toasting measure the cloves, cinnamon, oregano and cumin. Once the chillies are all toasted, remove from the pan and toast the spices for a minute or until fragrant and remove from heat.
Step 2 - Remove the stems from the chillies and seeds. The seeds should easily slip out of the ancho and guajillo chillies when you remove the stems but you may need to split the pasillas and pull out the vein laden with seeds. Place the chilli skins in some very hot water from a recently boiled kettle and cover and allow to rehydrate for 30 minutes. Drain.
Step 3 - Place the rehydrated chillies, vinegar, garlic and spices in a food processor or Thermomix and make a smoothish paste (Thermomix setting: speed 5, 30 seconds). Make slashes in the goat meat with a sharp knife and cover the leg of goat all over with the paste; there should be plenty of paste. Marinate overnight.
Step 4 - The next day bring the goat to room temperature for 1-2 hours. Preheat oven to 160C/320F and add 1 cup of stock to the dish and the two bay leaves. Cover with foil and tent this so that the meat doesn't get stuck to the foil. Bake for 6 hours. I turn the goat every hour and basted it with the liquid. At hour 2, I add the remaining cup of stock and if it dries out keeping adding stock every hour or so. After 4 hours remove the foil and roast for 30-45 minutes until caramelised. Taste the sauce for seasoning adding as much as needed.
Step 5 - While it is roasting, make the tomato stew. Fry the onion in the oil on medium heat until soft. Add the garlic and then the tomatoes and 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid from the goat. Simmer for 20-25 minutes with the lid off and season with salt and sugar. Blend with a stick blender and add to the goat leg or you can serve it separately.
Step 6 - Slice up the goat leg and serve the meat with corn tortillas, lime wedges, Cotija cheese (similar to feta), avocado and coriander. Or you can serve it as a stew with the tomato base. I also like to cook the leg bone in a pressure cooker with water and get a rich stock for another soup.
Cooking times for stove top, pressure cooker/instant pot, slow cooker/crock pot. You will need to use 1.5 kilos or 3 lbs of meat cut into pieces because a whole leg won't fit in any of these cooking vessels. If you're using goat, try bone-in pieces for maximum flavour. If you are using lamb, try lamb shanks as they will make wonderful taco meat. If you are using beef, any sort of gravy beef is wonderful or oxtail or beef cheek.
Pressure Cooker: cook at 45 minutes on high.
Slow Cooker: slow cook for 6-8 hours.
Stove top Dutch oven: simmer with lid on for 3 hours.