Healthy Birria Recipe
Guys, have you tried making homemade birria yet?
This traditional Mexican stew seems to be trending everywhere I look lately, most often in the form of birria tacos or fried birria quesatacos (a.k.a. quesabirria tacos), whose melty cheese pulls and consommé-dunking boomerangs definitely seem to be the fast-rising star on taco menus around the world. Stay tuned here on the blog for more on birria tacos to come later this week.
But first, I wanted to go back to the basics and share a birria recipe served in its original and most simple form…as a cozy stew. ♡
As I explain below, there are endless variations of birria to be found nowadays around different regions in Mexico, made with various kinds of meat, cooking methods, signature blends of seasonings, consistencies of consommés (broths), and more. But the original dish is said to have originated in Jalisco, Mexico, where it is traditionally served as a stew for holidays and special occasions and made with either goat, sheep, or (my preference) beef. The meat is always slow cooked in a richly-flavored adobo (marinade) until it was melt-in-your-mouth tender, then ladled up into bowls along with plenty of its broth, garnished with lots of fresh toppings, and finally served with a side of warm corn tortillas. And as you can imagine, it is delicious.
That said, if you’re new to birria, the absolute magic of this particular Mexican stew is the delicious mix of flavors layered into its amazing broth. Good birria is always made a mixture of savory, sweet, earthy, smoky and spicy seasonings that lend soooo much flavor to every single bite. It’s essential to use some dried chiles here to season the broth, but they are incredibly easy to work with. Then I also highly recommend loading your birria up with lots of creamy avocado and fresh cool toppings (such as cilantro, chopped or pickled onions, radishes, etc), which pair perfectly with the warm stew and make this dish downright irresistible.
I’ve included options in the recipe below for how to make birria either in the Instant Pot, Crock-Pot or on the stovetop, so feel free to choose whichever cooking method you prefer. Granted, all three of these methods still require a few hours to make from start to finish, so be sure to plan ahead. But the birria recipe itself is totally simple to make and totally — as we say in Spanish — “vale la pena” (worth it). So if you have yet to give homemade birria a try, I say it’s time.
Let’s make a batch together!
What Is Birria?
So digging into a bit of history behind the recent birria boom around the world — exactly what is birria?
Birria (here is the correct pronunciation) is a Mexican meat stew that is said to have originated in the state of Jalisco, although variations can be found in many other parts of the country, including parts of Aguascalientes, Michoacán, Durango, Zacatecas, Colima, Tijuana, Oaxaca and beyond. You can find it served in restaurants or food carts called birrerias around the country — or made at home either in indoor kitchens or in traditional outdoor underground fire pits — where the stew is traditionally served for special occasions such as weddings, baptisms, and holidays.
From what I’ve read, birria was originally always made with either sheep or goat’s meat. But nowadays, birria de res (beef birria) has become increasingly an increasingly popular alternative as well and happens to be my personal fave in terms of flavor, texture, and accessibility in grocery stores. Whichever meat is slow cooked in a richly-seasoned tomato and chile broth until it is completely tender, then served either in its consommé as a stew or folded into tacos (or quesatacos) that then use the consommé as a dipping sauce.
The recent birria craze that has been sweeping across the States and other countries around the world (including here in Spain!) has seen chefs and home cooks experimenting with all kinds of variations on this classic dish, from making all kinds of birria tacos to birria ramen (birriamen), birria pizza, birria pho, birria egg rolls and more. But in its original form, the dish was served as a simple homemade stew…which is the inspiration behind the recipe we’re making today. ♡
This is certainly not a 100% authentic birria recipe — as I’ve mentioned, I do prefer to make mine with beef, and I include a few shortcut options like using beef broth as the base for the consommé and simpler indoor cooking methods vs an outdoor firepit — but it tastes remarkably similar to some of my favorite restaurant versions and is absolutely delicious. So I’m excited for you to give it a try!
Alright, before we get to the full birria recipe below, let’s chat about the ingredients you will need to make this birria:
- Meat: In Jalisco, birria is traditionally made with goat or sheep meat. But I prefer birria de res (beef birria), which has also become increasingly popular and can be made with so many different cuts of beef — either boneless (beef chuck is most popular), bone-in (short ribs, oxtail or shank are good options), or some combination of boneless and bone-in. To keep things simple, I just used some well-marbled boneless beef chuck in this recipe, which is my go-to for most beef stews. But feel free to use whatever cut(s) of beef that you prefer.
- Dried chile peppers: Yes, dried chiles are essential for achieving good flavor in birria, but they are very easy to work with! For this recipe, I recommend using a combination of dried ancho chiles (mild heat, with sweet and fruity flavor) and dried guajillo chiles (moderate heat, with earthy and tangy flavor). Then if you would like to add in even more heat, I also recommend adding in a few dried chiles de árbol (high heat, with sharp and clean flavor). You can typically find dried chiles in the Latin American part of the grocery store or I often order mine online.
- Veggies: We will sauté a simple white (or yellow) onion and lots of garlic to season the adobo sauce. I prefer to purée both into the sauce, but you are welcome to leave them out of the blender and just cook them sliced/minced along with the beef.
- Tomatoes: I like to use fresh roma tomatoes in my birria, but I’ve also included an option in the recipe notes to use canned tomatoes if that’s what you have on hand.
- Beef (or chicken) stock: This is definitely a bit of a shortcut, but I recommend using store-bought beef (or chicken) stock as the base for our consommé.
- Vinegar: Most birria recipes call for sweet apple cider vinegar, but you could alternately use rice vinegar if that’s what you have on hand.
- Seasonings: There are so many different ways to season birria, but for this recipe, I chose to go with a simple mix of ground cumin, dried oregano, ground ginger, ground cinnamon, ground cloves, bay leaves, sea salt and black pepper. That said, please feel free to experiment with this recipe and add in whatever seasonings you best prefer! More ideas for seasonings are included in the notes below.
- Tortillas: When serving birria on its own as a stew, it’s traditional to serve it with warm corn tortillas on the side. I’m quite partial to my simple homemade corn tortillas recipe, but warmed-up or charred store-bought tortillas would also be great!
- Toppings: chopped fresh cilantro, chopped white or red onion, diced or sliced avocado, lime wedges and/or sliced jalapeños
How To Make Birria (Instant Pot, Crock-Pot or Stovetop):
I’ve included detailed instructions in the recipe below for how to make birria in the Instant Pot (pressure cooker), Crock-Pot (slow cooker) or on the stovetop. But here is a quick preview of the process, plus a few important tips!
- Core and toast the chiles. All three methods will begin the same way, first by prepping the dried chiles. We don’t need the stems nor the seedy cores inside of the chiles, so I recommend just using some kitchen scissors to snip off the ends and then shake out the inner cores/seeds and discard. Then to bring out the chiles’ best flavor, briefly toast them in a hot sauté pan, stockpot or Instant Pot by pressing them down onto the hot surface for 1-2 minutes per side, until fragrant. Then transfer them to your blender or food processor and we will use them later.
- Sauté the veggies. Next you will need to sauté the onion, garlic and tomato until softened in the same sauté pan, stockpot or Instant Pot. Then transfer the veggies to the blender as well.
- Blend the marinade. Then to complete our marinade, we’ll add in beef stock, apple cider vinegar, cumin, oregano, ginger, cinnamon and cloves to the blender and purée the mixture until it is completely smooth. (As always, use caution when puréeing hot liquids since they will expand in the blender. I always tent the cap on the blender lid open slightly to let some of the hot steam release.)
- Sear the meat (optional). I always like to season and sear the meat briefly before slow cooking it, which you can do either in the same sauté pan, stockpot or in the Instant Pot. But if you’d like to save time, you’re welcome to skip this step.
- Cook. Then combine the meat with the marinade and either cook it until tender in the:
- Instant Pot: Cover and pressure cook on high for 45 minutes, followed by a natural release.
- Crock-Pot: Cover and slow cook on low for 8 hours, or until the meat is completely tender.
- Stockpot: Cover and cook over low heat on the stovetop for 4 to 6 hours, or until the meat is completely tender. (For safety reasons, be sure to stay nearby and keep an eye on the stockpot so that the meat doesn’t accidentally burn.)
- Shred the beef (optional). Uncover and shred the beef into bite-sized pieces, if you’d like, and toss it with the broth. Or alternately, you can leave it in larger chunks. Then give it a taste and season with extra salt and pepper, if needed.
- Serve. Then serve warm bowls (the beef along with its broth) garnished with lots of your favorite toppings, with a side of warm tortillas…and enjoy!
Possible Birria Recipe Variations:
As I mentioned above, there are so many different ways to make birria based on traditions from different parts of Mexico (and modern variations from different places around the world), your own flavor and texture preferences, and how you plan to serve the stew. So feel free to make tweaks and customize this recipe to taste! For example, you are welcome to…
- Use a different protein: Birria can be made with goat, mutton, lamb, beef, or a combination of any of those meats. Each will yield a slightly different flavor and texture, so feel free to experiment and find what meats you prefer.
- Add in different herbs and/or spices: There are many other herbs and spices that are often traditionally added to birria, such as marjoram, thyme, smoked paprika, coriander, and/or allspice. I would recommend using the recipe below as a starting place, then you can taste the broth and add in any extra herbs or spices that you might prefer.
- Add beans: Some states in Mexico include beans in their birria, so feel free to add some in if you would like as well.
- Strain the sauce: Many birria recipes also call for straining the sauce after blending it (before adding it to the meat), in order to yield a much thinner and brothier consommé. You are welcome to do this with a fine mesh strainer if you’d like.
Ways To Serve Birria:
This birria recipe can be served a number of traditional or non-traditional ways, so feel free to get creative if you’d like and serve it…
- On its own (as a stew): As directed below, served with its consommé in bowls, with a side of warm corn tortillas.
- Birria tacos: More details later to come this week on how to make tacos de birria or cheesy crispy-fried birria quesatacos (also known as quesotacos or quesa birria tacos), which can then be dipped in a side of consommé.
- Birria ramen: You can also use this recipe as a base and add extra broth, noodles, veggies and toppings to make your own birria ramen (birriamen).
- Birria burritos, enchiladas, tostadas, flautas, taquitos and more: Or, of course, you can use this stew meat to make any other number of favorite Mexican dishes as well. The sky here is the limit!
This delicious birria recipe (Mexican beef stew) is so flavorful and comforting, and it’s easy to make in the Instant Pot, or see notes below for how to make it in the Crock-Pot or on the stovetop.
Adobo Sauce Ingredients:
Beef Stew Ingredients:
- 3 to 3 1/2 pound beef chuck roast, roughly cut into 3-inch chunks
- fine sea salt and freshly-cracked black pepper
- 2 tablespoons avocado oil (or olive oil)
- 2 bay leaves
- warm corn tortillas, for serving
- recommended toppings: chopped fresh cilantro, chopped white or red onion, diced or sliced avocado, lime wedges and/or sliced jalapeños
- Core and toast the chiles. Slice the stems off of the dried chiles, then remove and discard the seeds inside. Press the “Sauté” button on the Instant Pot. Add the chiles and cook for 1 to 2 minutes per side, flipping once, until the chiles are fragrant and lightly toasted. Transfer them to a blender (or food processor) and set aside.
- Sauté the veggies. Add the oil and onion to the hot Instant Pot. Sauté the onion for 4-5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until softened. Add the garlic and tomatoes and sauté for 3 more minutes, stirring occasionally. Then turn off the Instant Pot, and transfer the entire mixture to the blender.
- Blend the marinade. Add 2 cups of the beef stock, the apple cider vinegar, cumin, oregano, ginger, cinnamon and cloves to the blender. Cover and carefully* blend for 1 minute, until the mixture is completely smooth. Set aside.
- Sear the meat (optional). (You can skip this step if you’d like to save time.) Briefly rinse out and dry off the Instant Pot insert. Season the beef with a few generous pinches of salt and black pepper. Press the “Sauté” button on the Instant Pot and add in 1 tablespoon of the oil. Add half of the beef and briefly sear it in the oil, turning the chunks occasionally so that they can sear on all sides. Transfer the first batch of beef to a clean plate, then sear the remaining beef likewise in the remaining tablespoon of olive oil. Turn off the Instant Pot.
- Pressure cook. Add all of the seared beef to the Instant Pot, along with the blended marinade, bay leaves and remaining 2 cups of beef stock, and give the mixture a quick toss. Cover and set the lid to “Sealing.” Pressure cook on “Manual” for 45 minutes, followed by a quick release.
- Shred the beef (optional). Carefully remove the lid once all of the pressure has released. Remove and discard the bay leaves. Then you can either choose to just leave the beef in larger chunks for serving. Or you can use two forks to shred the beef into bite-sized pieces, and then toss the shredded beef in the marinade so that it is evenly coated.
- Season. Taste and season the birria with additional salt and pepper, if needed.
- Serve. Serve the birria in bowls (the beef along with its broth) garnished with lots of your favorite toppings, with a side of warm tortillas, and enjoy!
Crock-Pot (slow cooker) method: Complete Steps 1, 2 and 4 as directed in a large sauté pan on the stovetop over medium-high heat. Complete Step 5 in a large slow cooker by cooking the mixture on “low” for 8 hours, covered, until the meat is completely tender and shreds easily. Continue on with Steps 7 and 8 as directed.
Stovetop method: Complete Steps 1, 2 and 4 as directed in a large stockpot on the stovetop over medium-high heat. Complete Step 5 in the same stockpot by cooking the mixture on low for 4 to 6 hours, covered, until the meat is completely tender and shreds easily. (For safety reasons, be sure to stay nearby and keep an eye on the stockpot so that the meat doesn’t accidentally burn.) Continue on with Steps 7 and 8 as directed.
Chiles de árbol: These small chiles are pretty spicy, so I recommend just starting with one or two if you would like a moderately-spicy stew. (You can always add fresh jalapeños for garnish later to increase the heat.) If you are spice-averse, I recommend omitting the chiles de árbol. Or if you like a really spicy stew, you can add in three or more chiles.
Tomatoes: If you do not have fresh Roma tomatoes on hand, you can alternately add in 1 1/4 cups (a little less than a 15-ounce can) of crushed tomatoes.
Straining the sauce: Some traditional recipes call for straining out the solids in the adobo sauce, so that only a thin sauce remains. If you would like to do this, just press the sauce through a fine-mesh strainer when adding it to the Instant Pot in Step 5.