Thursday, April 9, 2009

How to Make Beef Machaca

Is it Thursday already? Recipe day? Well, this time I'm giving you a really simple recipe, one that can be used as a side dish, such as a companion to eggs for breakfast or brunch, or as filler for enchiladas, flautas, tacos, tamales or many other recipes. Called machaca, this is so easy to make and so superior to ground beef for nearly any Mexican food requiring a filling that I can't imagine why anyone would choose hamburger once they've learned about it.

Sort of a Mexican version of beef jerky, machaca was prepared originally from dried, spiced meat (most commonly beef) that had been rehydrated and pounded to make it tender. The reconstituted meat would then be used to prepare dishes such as I have noted above. The drying of beef with chiles and other native spices was specifically developed by the ranchers and cowboys of northern Mexico, and machaca is not universally made throughout Mexico. Thus, it is considered a regional dish-- though I have enjoyed it as far south as Puerto Vallarta and southeast in Cancun and it seems to be spreading exponentially.

Since the arrival of refrigeration the drying/rehydrating process has mostly died out, though you can still find commercially packaged "carne seca" in many Mexican tiendas. Most machaca dishes now are made from beef that has been braised until tender, shredded then cooked in its juices until the desired consistency is achieved, which can be dry, medium or soupy according to personal taste. Like meatloaf or chili, no two recipes are alike.

I like to make a big batch of machaca and freeze most of it in ziploc bags for later use (there is just the two of us, so we get several meals out of this). It comes in very handy when you don't feel like cooking. I like mine a little soupy but DH likes his dry, so we have compromised on a medium texture. This basic recipe will get you going, and you can adjust it any way that pleases you.

  • 2-3 pound beef chuck roast, trimmed and cut into large pieces
  • 1 large yellow onion, diced
  • 1 small poblano pepper (or substitute 1 green bell pepper), diced
  • Several cloves of garlic, to taste, minced or pressed
  • 6 peppercorns
  • 1 fresh Jalapeno pepper, minced
  • 1 14-oz can diced tomatoes or tomatoes with green chilies (a can of Ro-Tel tomatoes works well)
  • 1/2 cup beef broth
  • 1 Tablespoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • Vegetable oil for searing the beef

In a large heavy pot, heat a few tablespoons of vegetable oil over medium-high heat until very hot. Place a few pieces of beef at a time in the hot oil and sear until they (and the pan's bottom) have developed a rich brown color. Repeat until all the meat has been nicely browned; remove beef from pan.

Add the onions, peppers, and garlic to the hot pan and saute for a few minutes, stirring constantly until the onions are translucent. Place the beef back in the pan and add the remaining ingredients. Bring to a slow boil, scraping the browned bits off the bottom of the pan. Reduce heat to low, cover and braise at a slow simmer for about 2 hours. The meat should be tender enough to easily fall apart when tested with a fork.

Remove pot from heat, remove peppercorns, remove meat to a cutting board and let it cool a bit. Shred meat with a pair of forks, then return to the pot and bring back to a simmer, uncovered. Reduce the liquid until it is as thick/dry as you prefer. Add salt, pepper and additional "heat" to taste.

You can serve it right away or refrigerate (or freeze) for later.

Note that some people like to marinate the beef before searing it, so if you have a favorite marinade you might want to try that. This recipe skips that step, because I generally make this on the spur of the moment and don't want to take the time to marinate it. Shame on me. :)

Buen Provecho!

Do you have a favorite recipe you'd like to share? Send an email to and put "Recipes" in the subject box so I'll know what it's about!


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