Pre-Hispanic recipe that we enjoy today
Mexico is a territory full of tacos. Each area of the country has its representative taco, and each neighborhood has its trusted taquería. Therefore, defining the authentic taco “king” of this country is a more than complicated task. Yet, without a doubt, the Mexican barbecue (or barbacoa in Spanish) is a strong contender against any other taco you can name.
Mexican barbecue is a dish that is served in a taco, with its soup, onion, coriander, sauce, and a cold beer, being a typical dish for Sunday mornings. It seems easy to prepare, but nothing, NOTHING, is further from reality.
The barbacoa ritual takes hours and hours for its preparation. By taking a bite out of the taco, you are getting a taste of culinary history. You are tasting a pre-Hispanic preparation method that, over the centuries, has been perfected resulting in what we can taste every Sunday morning. Here I tell you everything you need to know about the Mexican barbecue.
Let’s start from the beginning. What is the Mexican barbecue?
The barbecue is basically a cooking method that may vary from region to region around the world. In Mexico, it was discovered by the ancient Maya and is also known as “pib”. It consists of making a hole in the ground which will function as an oven. Once the meat is inside, it is completely sealed so that the heat doesn’t come out. That’s when the magic happens.
This cooking technique reached the center of the country and was perfected in Tlaxcala. The Tlaxcalans, who perfected the use of the maguey and all its benefits, began to use its stalks to wrap different animals such as turkey, armadillo, deer and iguanas. Then, they used the ovens on the ground to complete their cooking.
This method of preparation was popular among Mesoamerican cultures, but it was until the arrival of the Spanish that the use of lamb meat for barbecue was introduced. And this is the traditional barbecue that today we can find in many street stalls in Mexico City and the center of the country.
Where to taste the best Mexican barbecue?
This is the million-dollar question. Every Mexican has his favorite barbecue, and therefore I will not recommend a specific restaurant. What I can tell you though is that Tulancingo, Hidalgo, is the capital of the barbecue. I can also tell you that many of the taqueros that sell it in Mexico City come from its surroundings, from the State of Mexico, Hidalgo and Tlaxcala.
So where can you find the best Mexican barbecue? Mexico City is the answer. And if you don’t know how to choose which taquería is the best, follow this simple rule: the most crowded one. That formula almost never fails.
How is Mexican barbecue prepared?
It differs from the now traditional American BBQ, but the technique can be similar, considering that it takes the meat a long time to cook over low heat. Yet, Mexicans have perfected a style from their predecessors. Those who know say that the secret is to have a lamb between 8 and 10 months old, fed with straw, alfalfa, grass, and oats, in addition to natural grains such as corn, wheat, sorghum, and barley. Also, the maguey leaves must be the right ones. The oven begins to heat with wood that generates the necessary heat to cook the meat.
After preparing the oven, put a large pot with rice and chickpea. On top of it, put the raw meat and then cover it with maguey leaves so that it is well sealed. The oven is then covered with a metal lid and sealed with earth. Cooking can last more than 6 hours.
What to order and how to do it?
Being a dish dedicated to eating exclusively on Saturdays or Sundays, the traditional way of going to eat barbecue is with the family, so you can order by kilo. Here you have some recommendations:
- Maciza: Soft meat, with little fat and, therefore, a little dry.
- Espaldilla: The best! (in my opinion). It is the perfect balance between fat and meat. I will not lie to you, it’s greasy, but delicious. Very juicy!
- Costilla: Ribs always make it work. It also has a delicious balance between fat and meat, however, I don’t like it so much because of the bones, therefore, it is not my favorite.
- Pancita: We call “pancita” all the entrails of the lamb that are seasoned with dried chilies and cooked with the barbecue. It is delicious! Although it has a strong flavor, I recommend that at least you try it.
With this in mind, I would recommend that you order:
- 600 g of espaldilla
- 200 g of maciza
- 100 g of costilla
- 100 g of pancita
I was forgetting this, but if you are going to eat barbecue, you cannot forget the soup. Remember the big pot that was put in the oven with rice and chickpea? Well, all the juice from the meat that runs off while it cooks falls into this pot. Just by writing it, I can smell it. It is, simply, all the concentrate of the richest flavor of the barbecue. Don’t forget to ask for a liter for every kilo of barbecue.
What is the Mexican barbecue accompanied with?
The best compliment to the barbecue is, without a doubt, a good blue corn tortilla. If it can be handmade, the better! You can’t miss the vegetables, onion, coriander and a few drops of lemon juice are almost mandatory.
The best is yet to come. Let’s talk about the sauces.
The traditional sauce for barbecue is called “salsa borracha”. Its preparation is with tomato, dried chilies, salt, garlic, onion and the magic ingredient: pulque.
Beside it, we can accompany it with raw green sauce, or sauce prepared in a molcajete. Let yourself be carried away by the experts, but, if you have “salsa borracha” available, don’t hesitate to try it.
If you want to add more green to the barbecue, a nopales salad is perfect. And, to close with a flourish, a good endowment of avocado cannot be missing.
Mauricio, and what am I going to drink with the Mexican barbecue?
I’m getting there, calm down. I know that the drink is important, and I must be very honest with you, the best companion to the barbecue is beer. Light or dark beer, whichever you prefer, but very cold, is the best combination for your barbecue tacos.
You can also accompany it with the typical Mexican fresh waters of horchata, jamaica, lemon, or tamarind. Now, if you want the complete experience, a jar of pulque is the best option.
This is all you need to know about Mexican barbecue, although honestly all you need to know is that it’s delicious.