Puerto Vallarta — and Mexico for that matter — has a long tradition of great and delicious street food. One of the dishes that best represents the home state of Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, is Birria.
Birria is a wonderful traditional Mexican dish, originally made with goat meat, but now can be found made with beef, veal, lamb, or pork. This traditional breakfast food (yes, breakfast food) can be served as a stew, taco filling, chilaquiles topping, and inexhaustible other variations (it’s decadent on a buttery baked potato). In recent years Birria has crossed borders to become a trendy food in cities across North America, and has gained social media fame with nearly 2 million Birria related mentions across social platforms. The New York Times calls Birria’s popularity “Relentless.”
In gastronomic terms, the word Birria means “exquisite savory dish, full of culture and tradition.” In literal terms it refers to something of no use or value, and that has to do with the original meat base of Birria being goat, a meat that became a staple in this Mexican recipe not out of love, but rather necessity.
Birria originates right at the center of Vallarta’s home state of Jalisco, in the town Cocula. During the era of the “Conquista”— around the 16th century — the cultural exchange between the Spaniards and the Mexicans changed the way they lived and ate, giving birth to new foods and traditions. The conquistadors also introduced exotic spices and new animal species, never seen on this side of the Atlantic, and changed Mexican cuisine forever.
The first hundred years after the conquest were very difficult and devastating for the Mexican people; the alarming decrease in the native population caused by disease and subjugation by the conquistadors, was in part, the reason for their endangerment.
Some newly introduced animals were well accepted by those who lived in Mexico at the time. A favorite among the newly integrated animals were pigs, which soon became a staple, and were raised by many. But not all new farm animals enjoyed the same acceptance as pigs, chickens, and cattle; and this was the case for goats, or as we call them in Mexico, “chivos.”
Goats became a real nuisance to the inhabitants of Mexico. Goats breed quickly, causing devastation to crops and land. Herds ate everything in their path, including crops and seedbeds of the indigenous peoples. Remember, back then, paddocks and fencing didn’t exist; before the conquest, no large farm animal roamed these parts. The suppression of farming due to the over population of goats contributed greatly to a famine and the cause of the famine soon became an unappetizing solution. During the famine families began using goats for meat out of necessity. And just like that, the first “birriero” (birria maker) was born.
Indigenous peoples found goat meat to be too gamey, especially the meat of older goats. As a way to combat the strong taste and smell of the meat, complex mixes of herbs, chiles, and fragrant spices were used to temper the flavor of the meat. But all the spices and flavors couldn’t mask the toughness of the meat, so a “low-and-slow” method of stewing the meat underground overnight for many hours, both tenderizing the meat and also making it ready to eat during early morning “breakfast hours.” Traditionally you will find Birria only available into the early afternoon, with the exception of weddings and quinceañeras where it is used as a cost-effective way to feed large groups by stewing a whole goat.
From the beginning, Cocula, Jalisco, is considered the birthplace of the dish we now call Birria. The tradition of the “Birriero” families continue to this day, all with their unique recipe and style which gives Birria its distinct and delicious flavor. Though most Birria today is stewed in pots on a stovetop, there are still a few places across Mexico where the original underground technique is used. Birria is usually eaten in the morning as a breakfast or an early lunch meal sold from street stands or small mom-and-pop restaurants called “birrierías.”
Here at Vallarta Eats, when you take The Birria Experience tour, you will get to try four distinct preparations of this savory and tender dish, including traditional goat stew, that has stolen the hearts and stomachs of many in cities across North America. If you have fallen in love with its flavor and just have to make it at home, here is an easy recipe that you can follow.
Traditional Jalisco Style Birria Recipe
By The Spruce
For the Chile Paste:
4 guajillo chiles
3 ancho chiles
3 cascabel chiles
2 tablespoons vinegar
For the Meat Rub:
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1 teaspoon oregano
1/4 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon thyme (or 2 to 3 sprigs fresh thyme)
For the Meat:
3 to 4 pounds goat meat (mutton, beef, veal, and/or pork, with or without bones)
1 cup water
1 onion (peeled and coarsely chopped)
2 bay leaves
6 cloves garlic (peeled and finely diced)
For the Garnish:
1 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 cup chopped onion
Make the Chile Paste:
Toast the chiles on a hot griddle or skillet over medium heat until browned, but not burned.
Remove the seeds and veins, then place the chiles in a bowl and cover them with very hot water for 15 to 20 minutes.
When chiles have rehydrated, drain them.
Process chiles and vinegar in a blender to make a paste.
Make the Meat Rub:
In a small bowl, mix together the salt, pepper, cloves, oregano, cumin, cinnamon, and thyme.
Rub the meat well with this mixture.
Marinate the Meat:
Coat the meat with half of the chile paste.
Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let it marinate overnight in the refrigerator.
Cook the Meat:
Pour the water into a Dutch oven or deep casserole dish and add the coarsely chopped onion, bay leaves, diced garlic and the remaining chile paste.
Place meat on a rack that sits just above the water mixture. Place lid on the pot, making sure that it covers tightly, and bake for 4 hours at 350 F (176 C).
Finish and Serve the Birria:
Remove the meat from the Dutch oven and distribute it among 6 to 8 bowls.
Finish the birria and serve with broth (as a soupy stew) or as a saucy taco filling with corn tortillas.
Brothy Birria Variation:
After removing the meat from the Dutch oven, let the liquid cool slightly and remove the bay leaves.
The broth can be left as is or it can be blended into a smooth sauce.
Add enough hot water to the broth to make at least 2 cups. Ladle the liquid over the meat and top with chopped cilantro and onion. Serve with a spoon and warm corn tortillas.
Saucy Birria Variation:
After removing the meat from the Dutch oven, remove the bay leaves from the liquid. If the liquid is watery, reduce it by boiling in a small pan to thicken.
Break the meat into chunks and coat them with the reduced liquid. Fill warm corn tortillas with the filling and top with chopped onions, cabbage, and cilantro.
Original publish date: 12/08/2017- Updated: 04/03/202