by Diana Gabaldon
December 24, 2014
Christmas Eve is the Busiest Night of the Year at our house, so you likely won’t hear from me until sometime on Christmas, after the dust has settled. But as a small pre-Christmas present, here’s another bit of traditional Mexican (New Mexican) food. It ain’t Taco Bell, baby…
Developed by Mexican peasants faced with the prospect of eating elderly goat, stringy rabbit, or the leftover remnants of the village cow, machaca is a way of rendering any cut of meat both edible and tasty. That being so, it really doesn’t matter what cut you select, or how big it is, but I usually buy a large rump roast, because it’s not very fatty, and is easy to clean. By and large, a pound of raw beef will yield about 10 to 12 ounces of machaca.
- A large chunk of beef, any cut (one pound will probably feed 2-3 people)*
- 1 onion, any color (yellow Spanish onion is traditional)
- 1 green bell pepper
- 1 red bell pepper
- 1 head of garlic (yes, I do mean a whole head)
- Cilantro, chopped (optional)
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Crushed red pepper flakes or other chili pods (I like the little brown Piquin peppers, myself) (optional)
*Note: Traditional Mexican cookery occasionally uses carne seca—dried beef, or jerky—instead of fresh beef. In this case, you don’t need to boil or shred it, but will need to allow a longer steaming time. (Note: don’t use spiced jerky if you employ this option.)
Preparation has several steps; this isn’t a recipe for people rushing home from work and wondering what to microwave. On the other hand, once made, machaca will keep—and improve in flavor—for up to a week in the refrigerator, and can be used in a number of different quick, tasty dishes.
1. Boil the beef. This is simple; it just takes a while. Put the raw beef in a large pot, cover it with water, and put over a medium-high flame. Bring to a boil, and keep gently boiling for 3 to 5 hours. The only thing to remember is to check the pot and add more water, to prevent the meat boiling dry. You know it’s done when you stick a fork in the meat and it begins to fall apart.
2. Chill. Scoop the beef out of the water, put it in a large bowl, cover and put in the refrigerator to chill. Overnight is best, but 2 or 3 hours will do.
3. Shred the chilled, boiled beef with your fingers, removing any gristle or fat. Put shredded beef in a large frying pan or stewing pan—any wide, shallow pan with a lid (or that can be covered with a sheet of aluminum foil).
4. Add the vegetables and spices. The thing to observe here is that the vegetables are spice in this dish. Ergo, you don’t want to have big chunks of garlic, onion, and peppers—you want to use quantities of very finely minced vegetable, which will desiccate in the cooking and flavor the meat. How much? Depends on how much you like garlic, essentially. For a 4-to-6 pound roast, I’d use a whole head of garlic, myself. Mince a quantity of onion equivalent to the quantity of garlic, and an equal quantity each of red and green peppers. If you like cilantro (aka coriander leaf) and can get it fresh, add 2 or 3 tablespoonfuls, also minced. Mix all the minced vegetables into the shredded beef, adding a light sprinkle of salt and pepper—and if you want a spicy machaca (also known as barbacoa), add red chili flakes or pods, to taste.
5. Steam. Pour a small amount of water over the meat and vegetables—3 or 4 tablespoonfuls. The water is to keep the cooking meat from sticking to the pot, and to gently steam it, not to braise or stew it, so you don’t need a lot. Cover the pan and set over a low heat. This is a good dish to make while you’re doing something else time-consuming in the kitchen, because while you don’t need to do anything but stir it occasionally, and now and then add more water, you do need to keep an eye on it. Check every 5 to 10 minutes, stirring the meat, adding water as needed, if the meat begins to dry or stick. Add additional salt or pepper, as desired, when stirring. Continue this process until all the vegetables are desiccated—appearing as no more than colorful shreds among the meat—and the meat is uniformly moist and totally shredded. This usually takes 30 to 45 minutes.
6. A version of this dish in Cuban cuisine is known as ropas Viejas—"old clothes"— which will tell you something about what it looks like when done. Machaca can be served as a main dish, accompanied by fresh salsa, fried plantains, or fried potatoes, rice and beans (traditional Mexican-style Pinto beans—whole or refried—or Cuban black beans), or eggs. It also makes a delicious filling for tacos, flautas, enchiladas, tostadas or burritos—my favorite is a machaca burrito, made by ladling a couple of large spoonfuls of machaca into the center of a flour tortilla, covering with grated cheddar cheese, and sticking in the microwave for 30 seconds (just enough to melt the cheese). Top with chunky tomato salsa (fruit salsas are also great), wrap the tortilla, and eat!
Machaca is time-consuming, but remarkably simple to cook—and since the flavor will improve even more as the pepper-onion-garlic flavors continue to blend, it’s great to make a big batch to keep in the refrigerator.
A variant on machaca is something called beef barbacoa. Essentially, this is machaca with red chili and a little additional water added. I use dried Piquin chili pods, but Ancho, Chipotle, or any other dried red chili will work. You add this to the steaming machaca, to taste—I judge it by color, myself; the meat should have a uniform reddish look, and be moister than regular machaca; enough liquid to ooze out when you drop a spoonful of the meat into a tortilla. Some people would leave the bell peppers and cilantro out of barbacoa, but I usually include the bell peppers.
This page was created on Sunday, January 11, 2014, by Loretta. This recipe was originally posted on Diana’s official facebook page.