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What Is Birria?

By P.M. Willers
Updated May 16, 2024
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Birria is a hearty and versatile Mexican stew. The stew is served year round, especially during Christmas and other big holidays. It originates from the Mexican state of Jalisco, and can be found in restaurants in the state capital, Guadalajara. The stew can be prepared a variety of ways, but most often use goat meat.

Restaurants in Mexico specializing in birria will often decorate their walls or entrance with a pair of goat horns. The goat horns serve to announce the availability of birria. Goat horns are also considered an aphrodisiac and are a symbol of the virile animal.

The type and amount of chiles used in the broth base varies from chef to chef. Guajillo and ancho chiles are the most popular ones used in birria. These peppers are toasted and soaked in hot water before being removed and blended with either vinegar or water. The peppers are then used to form a paste that powers the spicy flavor of the dish.

In addition to goat meat, birria is also made with pork, beef, or lamb. Meat from the green iguana is also used in coastal areas of Jalisco. The meat is always marinated overnight using the chile paste and a mix of other spices, including cumin, oregano, and cloves. More than one kind of meat is often used when preparing the dish.

During the cooking process, the dish is left to simmer for hours. Although cooked with the meat still on the bone, patient chefs are rewarded with meat tender enough to fall off the bone. Birria is known both for its incredibly tender meat and rich, well-blended flavors.

Most commonly, the broth is thin and plentiful enough that it is served as a bowl of soup with the meat in it. When eating it this manner, the chunks of meat are removed and placed on a small corn tortilla adorned with sides, usually including cilantro and onions. After the meat and sides are in position, it is dipped in the broth and eaten.

The second manner of eating this dish is to remove the meat and cook down the broth until it is thick and saucy. This thick sauce is then poured over the meat. Tortillas, packed with the typical sides, are then covered with the meat and sauce.

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