by Russell Smith March. 29, 2021 150 views

Beef is the meat of choice usually for the dish that we now call Barbacoa. If the name looks similar to Barbaque there is a reason for it. It makes for an interesting read if you want to search it some more. Short version is it comes from South America and or the Caribbean Indigenous population. At one time it would be the whole animal. Any more it is usually the Beef Cheeks and well it is rarely cooked in an old method of digging a whole. Starting a fire adding rocks to the fire until they get screaming hot. Put rocks in whole, season meat and then wrap (Banana is typical) in leaves, Put on rocks then cover the whole :P thing up with dirt and forget about it for hours and hours. Then dig it up and enjoy dinner. Todays method is well going to be a bit more modern.

Tomatillo Salsa

Tomatillos with husk, partial husk and no husk.

Tomatillos with husk, partial husk and no husk.

Tomatillo what is it. I am not sure how wide spread this fruit is across the globe so I will give a brief explanation of it. While it may look like a plant called Chinese Lantern I do not believe it is related. It is in the Nightshade family but then again there are several others in that family we eat and is not well poisonous to us. It is a common item to see in Mexican Foods. Flavor wise the only point of reference that I have is an extra tart green Tomato. The acidity of Tomatillos is great. To make this Salsa which is a broader category than at lot of people realize and this is a blended or smoother not chunky salsa.
Now onto the list of what you need for this part if you want to make this Salsa.

One Pound Tomatillo- Husks removed and wash they can have a resin feel to them. Look for ones that are firm not mushy and the skin is not wrinkled.

One Onion- Peel and Quarter or half it up to you. I like more char flavor so I quarter them.

4-5 Cloves of Garlic skin left on (more or less up to you and your tastes)

One Jalapeno (can go more or less but do not omit completely depending on your taste buds)

Two Serrano (again less spicy add less more well add more or maybe even Habaneros)

Bit of Oil for the above items.

Heat Oven to 450-475 F or 232-246C

Roast 15-30 min.

The key is you will have to check. The garlic may get soft first and a bit roasty and need pulled first. Flip the peppers and tomatillos so it gets charred on multiple sides. Charred as in Black patches is key to the flavor. |
Alternative would be fire up the grill and char them on multiple sides or take advantage of the grill going and do this. Oh and if doing this inside you may hear the song of a home chef ie the smoke alarms probably maybe will go off. \

Once Roasted move to Food Processor or Blender (with extreme caution so lid does not blow off and coat you and kitchen in hot green mess) Add Cilantro and blitz it until it is a smooth puree but not a baby food consistency. Season with Salt and Black Pepper to taste.

This Salsa can be made a day or two early and kept in the fridge. I think the best flavor is around the day after to two day mark but it stays good for a week or two maybe longer I have never had it last over 2 days before it got devoured.

This round made about a pint and a half. I found these containers on Amazon and honestly I use the heck out of them. They work well for the freezer, leftovers, prep work a variety of uses. I get several uses out of them before they hit the round file in the corner but honestly even the plastic stuff from the store I only usually get a few uses out of them before they are stained or smell like whatever spice a dish had in it.

Now this is the point that this recipe takes a hard left or right from "traditional" or even modern "traditional". Instant Pot or a modern pressure cooker. So a slow lower temp dish becomes a much faster cooking dish.

Beef Cheeks. It is well Cheeks from a Cow. It is a meat that begs for long cooking methods like braising. If you cannot find these at your local market visit a Mexican Tiendas or other Latin American Market maybe even Asian Markets but the theme is Ethnic Markets at least here in the States. Honestly I would suggest poking around in them because you may discover that things like spices are well better and less costly and they are great places to learn. If they have a hot food section try that too you may find an amazing inexpensive spot to get a quick bit.

Now if beef cheeks is a bridge too far or beef cheeks do not exist for you then there is a reasonable substitute and that is a Beef Chuck Roast. It will give you a similar texture.

3-4 pounds Beef Cheeks trimmed of silver-skin (It never becomes edible) and majority of extra fat but leave some.

One teaspoon Cumin Powder

One teaspoon Mexican Oregano (Regular Oregano is fine if that is all that you have)

Two(ish) Large Garlic Cloves

One Large Bay Leaf or Two small Leaves(dried is fine fresh is better)

Juice of Two Limes maybe three depending on how juicy they are. Mine I used four as the limes I get here are one step above garbage. Lemons could be used but a flavor difference will happen. Sour Oranges would be good but those are super hard to find.

One Small Bunch Cilantro or Coriander leaves

One tablespoon Minced Chipotle Peppers in Adobo Sauce. More for extra heat but I would not go under 1/2 because you will loose the flavor it adds.

Two Cups Beef Broth If you drink beer then maybe one cup of a Mexican lager and a cup of beef broth would work well

Salt and Pepper to taste so maybe One teaspoon of Kosher Salt.

Add all the items to the instant pot then start it on a high pressure cook setting for 50-60 when time is done turn off and let pressure release naturally. Then pull the meat and shred it. For those without an instant pot or pressure cooker. I would say a crock pot on high for 6-8 hours (until it falls apart). Or in a deepish pot (with lid) that is oven safe I would go 250-275 F or 121-135c for 4-6 hours (until falls apart). If in the oven you may have to add liquid from time to time.

Raw Meat is not photogenic but the reason that I put this image in is well Stems. We at least here in the states use Coriander Leaves and forget the stems. In dishes like this I will use the stem and save leaves for garnish. Roots if you grow them or can find them are delicious also. In longer cooking dishes I will add the stems diced finely and let them go as they soften and well they do not turn OD Green like the leaves when cooked for a long time.

Taco Toppings:

Onions Diced


Lime Wedges


Guacamole if desired

Taco Shells- Corn or Flour and smaller ones in size.

Cheese if desired. Cotija Cheese would be best option it is a hard cheese similar to Parm .

Taco Shells- Corn vs Flour. For a lot of dishes I prefer Corn Tortillas. I am not talking about those hard things Ol El Paso or other brand sells. I am talking about a soft corn tortilla. If you have a Tortilleria near you that makes their own Masa take a moment and drive, walk, ride there. Be warned though it will spoil you for life. The flavor is like no other.
Ok seriously the choice of vehicle for the meat. In my humble opinion you have Corn- Good- Store bought stuff. Better- Homemade from dried masa. Best- Fresh from factory or home using fresh made masa from scratch.
Flour- Good-Store bought Better/Best- Homemade or factory fresh. Flour Tortillas are relatively easy to make and quick too. I tend to make 99% of my own flour tortillas. Corn well from time to time I will make them.

Today I am using a combo of Flour and Corn today and I will warm them wrapped in Tin Foil in the Oven at a lower temp.

Condiments , Limes, Cheese, Onions, Guacamole, Salsa, Jalapeno, Cilantro

Condiments , Limes, Cheese, Onions, Guacamole, Salsa, Jalapeno, Cilantro

Meat and Tortillas

Meat and Tortillas

The setup to get your Tacos.....

The setup to get your Tacos.....

Plate o' tacos.....

Plate o' tacos.....

Dinner is served........

Dinner is served........

This is a dish to make again. For my wife who is a big texture person I will add a chunk of Chuck Roast for her and crisp it up on the stove before I serve hers. Overall this dish is a hit I will be doing again.

Join the conversation
There are 10 comments , add yours!
Camellia Staab 4 months ago

Excellent post! Both as far as giving us the step by step as well as the photos that went along. Very well done since my mouth is watering to no extent. I have never used tomatillos although they are found around here, but I think your recipe for the salsa definitely requires that I try them.

On a separate note, seeing your info about the tubs. I have become addicted to Cook's Country, both their website and TV show. And no doubt you know that they are part of America's Test kitchen. Anyway, yesterday they were testing containers (or tupperware as we call it here even though they are not made by Tupperware) of sorts. While they did recommend different companies one of them being Rubbermaid, they did recommend one that was "free". That one being yogurt containers. Apparently, they are the strongest when it comes to freezing and washing in the dishwasher as well as microwaving.

4 months ago Edited
Jay Boggess 4 months ago

Growing up in San Antonio, Texas, I was introduced to authentic Tex-Mex cooking at a very early age and still find it to be my favorite at 75-yrs! You recipes and excellent photographic record of this classic dish looks very authentic & delicious, right down to the double corn tortilla wrappers for the barbacoa! Great work, Russell! Thanks for taking the time & effort it must have taken to present this wonderful detailed post! Bravo!+1smile+1

4 months ago Edited
Russell Smith Replied to Jay Boggess 4 months ago

In Fla it was more Cuban influence. We did spend about 2 months in Mexico when I was a young teen this was one of the dishes I had cooked the old way and I fell in love with it and a number of other dishes. It is a cuisine that I adore.

4 months ago Edited
Jay Boggess Replied to Russell Smith 4 months ago

Me too! I love carne guisada, carne asada, fajitas, carnitas, chile rellenos, etc, etc, etc....+1

4 months ago Edited
Antonio Gil 4 months ago

Love all the sequence. Enjoy my friend

4 months ago Edited
Russell Smith Replied to Antonio Gil 4 months ago

I appreciate it.

4 months ago Edited
John Durham 4 months ago

Great pics and some tasty stuff - just the way I like it. Too bad my people don't eat spicy (i.e, any kind of peppers).

4 months ago Edited
Russell Smith Replied to John Durham 4 months ago

Thank you. This is a dish you could leave out the spicy foods. Sub in Ancho Chili which is about the same heat level as a bell pepper and add a few drops of a hickory or oak smoke to get the smoky flavor of the chipotle. If Cheeks is a bridge to far then Chuck roast would work. Add maybe a 1/4 of a large or 1/2 a small bell pepper (green) to the salsa.

4 months ago Edited
John Durham Replied to Russell Smith 4 months ago

My brother and sister-in-law (with whom I live and cook for most nights) think fresh cracked black pepper is too spicy and that green bell peppers will kill them in their sleep. I can slip in red bell peppers that are cooked, but that took some doing. I end up often making two pans of a dish for dinner. I think that if the food don't make your head sweat, something is wrong.

4 months ago Edited
Russell Smith Replied to John Durham 4 months ago

I will make two pans on a semi regular basis. I know over the last 20 years I have increased my wife's heat tolerance (and it has taken 20 years to do that slowly). When we first started dating Franks Red Hot was too much even if I put only a teaspoon in a large pot of soup. I have  not gotten it to  anywhere near my liking or my daughters. Funny thing is when she was about 2 she grabbed a Cayenne off my plate and shoved it in her mouth before I could stop her. She cried for about 30 seconds and grabbed it again. My wifes face was a funny shade of red by then. My daughter has been eating hot stuff ever since. I had to put the hotter sauces up high out of reach so she would not con the neighborhood boys and girls into trying say a Habanero or Ghost Pepper Sauce. I did not need that level of anger from a parent lol.

4 months ago Edited