Mexican Braised Beef

Prep Time: 30 minutes               Cook Time: 180-240 minutes             Servings: 2-4

This weekend was a little crazy for me.

Not only was I trying to catch up on an overdue consulting project, my husband was out of town for work. He was traveling by coach bus halfway across the country, taking a dozen or more school-age teenagers (and a half-dozen parent chaperones to boot) to an athletic competition in Dayton, Ohio.

At the same time, my sister traveled completely across the country by plane, popping in for a brief but welcome 36-hour visit between business meetings in Boston.

Finally, as befits April in the Northeast, the weather here in Upstate New York went from sunny and warm to cold and rainy seemingly overnight. I woke up this morning to a combination of hail and freezing rain, and spent a good 15 minutes scraping a half-inch of ice off my car windshield.

So when my husband told me this afternoon he would likely get home around 9PM on Sunday night, and that he would dearly love to sit down to a real, home-cooked meal rather than wash down yet more beef jerky with protein shakes scrounged at a highway rest stop, this particular dish of Mexican Braised Beef immediately came to mind.

I’ve adapted this recipe from one of my favorite sites – Nom Nom Paleo – adding my own personal touch, including caramelizing the onions properly and braising the beef very slowly in a cast-iron Dutch oven. If you don’t have the four or more hours that this dish takes to braise in a low-temperature oven, you can do it in an Instant Pot or pressure cooker. You can also let it the beef go all day in a slow cooker (about 8-10 hours on low heat). Either way, it will still taste great but it won’t have the same richness and depth of flavors that you get using the method described below.

This dish also keeps really well, with the flavors of the braised beef developing even more fully when chilled in the refrigerator overnight. Be sure to make some extra to take to work the next day, although you may need to fend off your ravenous office mates with a spork once they see the leftovers that you brought for lunch.

Ingredients:

2 – 2½ pounds beef stew meat cut into 1- to 1½-inch cubes

1 tablespoon Mexican chili powder

1½ teaspoons Himalayan salt

1 tablespoon coconut oil or ghee (I use the latter, usually homemade)

1 medium red onion, sliced thinly

1 tablespoon tomato paste

4 – 6 garlic cloves, peeled and minced

½ cup roasted tomato salsa

½ cup homemade chicken stock

½ teaspoon Red Boat fish sauce

½ cup minced cilantro

2 radishes, thinly sliced (I used radishes that I’d pickled, just like in Portlandia)

½ avocado, sliced

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 300º F (150º C).

Combine the stew beef, chili powder, and salt in a large bowl and set aside (FYI: Check out my brand-new, hand-forged and gorgeous Damascus steel knives!).

Melt the coconut oil or ghee over low to medium heat in heavy Dutch oven (I prefer a well-seasoned cast-iron Dutch oven, like this one from Lodge). If you don’t have a Dutch oven, an oven-safe pot will work but you’ll want to check it more frequently during the oven braising step as pots don’t seal the moisture in as well.

While the oil or ghee heats, prepare the onion, garlic and other ingredients (i.e. get all of your mise en place done).

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Add the onions to the Dutch and gently sauté until caramelized. This gives the beef an incredible richness of flavor. Despite what many cookbooks will tell you, caramelizing onions properly is a long slow process that takes about 20 minutes. Doing it faster over and higher heat doesn’t caramelize so much as toast or burn the onions. If you have the time, do it right. If you are in a rush, you can just sauté the onions until they are translucent. The dish will still taste great but without the same complex layers of flavor that the caramelized onions bring.

Once the onions are caramelized (or at least translucent), stir in the tomato paste and garlic. Cook while stirring constantly until slightly fragrant, about 30-60 seconds. You want to cook the added tomato paste and garlic long enough to roast it slightly but not burn it. Burnt garlic, in particular, can bring an unpleasant bitterness to this and other dishes. If you smell the garlic strongly, get it off the heat immediately before it burns (this is also a good tip when pan roasting nuts … if you can smell them they are done to well done to burnt).

Add the seasoned beef, salsa, chicken stock, and fish sauce to the Dutch oven and bring to a simmer.

Place the lid on the Dutch oven (or oven-safe pot) and place in the pre-heated oven for 3 hours or so until the beef is fork tender. The longer and slower you cook it, the more tender that the beef will become. You can, for example, cook it for 3½ to 4 hours at a lower temperature (i.e. 250 to 275º F or 120 to 135º C). Just make sure to check it once and a while to make sure it doesn’t dry out, adding more chicken stock as necessary. You’ll also want to do this if you use a pot rather than a heavy Dutch oven.

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Serve the beef by itself or over riced vegetables, sprinkling it with cilantro and adding sliced radishes and avocado to taste. A dab of sour cream, crème fraiche, or non-fat Greek yogurt is also a nice accompaniment.

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