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Friday, July 2, 2010

Mexican Barbeque

Recently, Mac from Creating Home asked for people to blog about their summer memories or recipes.

When I think of summer, I think of Mexican barbeque.

Mexican barbeque is called barbacoa, and it's not your typical Texan fare.

Barbacoa is basically slow cooked beef. Traditionally, it is cooked in a pit, wrapped in maguey or banana leaves where the smoke and steam seal in the juices and imbue it with a flavor that's out of this world.

I have neither maguey or bananas growing here so I cheat and use a crockpot. It's not the same flavor, but the meat falls from the bone and melts in your mouth. You can also use a water smoker that will impart a little more of that smokey flavor.

Meats vary. Often times people will slow cook an entire goat. (On the menu, it's called cabrito.) But the best meat is a delicacy only true aficionados serve--the whole cow head.

If you've never seen a raw cow head, it is huge and there is a lot of meat on it.

Americans generally grimace at the idea, but every 'gringo' I ever introduced to traditional barbacoa will swear to you it is the most succulent meat they have ever put in their mouths.

The first time I offered some to Greg, I deliberately refrained from telling him what part of the cow it came from. As he chowed down on his third taco, I told him. He paused for a moment, looked at his food then shrugged.

"It's good."

Darn right it is. Unfortunately, he didn't feel the same way about mole poblano (pronounced: mo le, two syllables)

While I'll make barbacoa at any time of the year, summer is my favorite time for it because it is a staple of fiestas. When I was a kid, as soon as we got out of school, we drove down to Mexico to visit the grandparents. They always brought out the proverbial fatted calf (or goat) and would party for days in honor of our welcome.

I wish I had pictures of a finished spread, but I don't plan on making a barbacoa fiesta until next week for Greg's birthday.

Maybe I'll come back and add pictures so you can see the finished meal.

So what's on the menu? This year we will have:

Fajita meat cut from ribeye
Pork barbacoa
Chicken barbacoa

Pico de gallo
Shredded cheddar

Sauteed onions and bell peppers
Stuffed jalapeno peppers
Spanish rice

and my Famous Hot Sauce.

Fresh tortillas (of course)

Dessert: Fruit tart and chocolate cake for the birthday boy.

It's a lot of food, but we're expecting a small army to descend on Casa Zannini.

I'm already hungry!

So are you game? Would you be willing to try barbacoa? Have you ever had it an authentic Mexican restaurant?


Dru said...

If you don't tell me what it is before I put it in my mouth, then I'll try it.

So do you put the whole cow's head in the crock pot or is it diced and chopped already? Or do they cook the cow's head in a pit/grill?

I do like your menu, especially the Spanish rice and the pico de gallo. Do you make your own? Hey, no beans?

Maria Zannini said...

Dru: I've heard tell that few places cook the cow's head in the traditional way anymore, but that's the way it used to be done. In a pit, wrapped in leaves.

Ref: pico
Yes. It's the second to last thing I make so that it's absolutely fresh when I serve it. Guacamole is the last thing I make.

Beans: I guess I should have them on the list. Most people ignore the beans and load up on the meat. :)

jacabur1 said...

Having lived in Laredo for 3 years and other different areas in South Texas for my entire life until in my late 30's have had Barbacoa, cannot stand mole and love every item on your fiesta menu. Greg is a lucky man because if you can make all that in the true authentic style, yum good!!

Authentic Mexican Restaurant indeed, one of the best in the business is the Paradaiso in Zapata and the reason is simple all the people who cook and waitstaff are from Monterrey Mexico and cook it like home!!

jackie b central texas

Maria Zannini said...


Boy, Zapata is in the middle of nowhere, but if I ever get stuck down there at least I know where to eat.

Ref: mole

Definitely an acquired taste. :)

jacabur1 said...

Maria, mole was served once to twice a week at the Mercy Hospital where I worked in Laredo. I got so sick of the smell started avoiding the cafeteria on the days knew they would be serving it!! "Acquired taste" is the correct description! However do not eat Haggis either, not that have ever seen it!! LOL

jackie b central texas

and yes Zapata is on the a** end of nowhere land, but if the restaurant has made it in this economy it is worth the trip to find and eat at!!

Marian Perera said...

Hey Maria,

That menu sounds delicious. If you post pictures I will have to refrain from looking at them, because I only have sandwich ingredients at home these days.

I'd try barbacoa as long as I didn't have to eat the brain, eyes or ears. Those are... recognizable. I could probably manage the tongue, though.

Maria Zannini said...


ooh, brains!

Actually, I don't like them either. It's too creepy looking. LOL

And I'm not fond of tongue, but I suppose I can eat it if I have to.

Kaz Augustin said...

We don't have herds of roaming cattle around here but a local specialty is Fish Head Curry. Same kind of deal though. The head is big, up to about three pounds Imperial I should think, and cooked in curry spice with okra. And it is soooooo tasty. The Japanese believe that the best-tasting meat in a fish comes from behind the eyeball and they're right. Doesn't surprise me that cow head is also delicious. Yep sure, I'd try it. Tongue, brains, cheeks, cartilage, marrow ... I'm there!

Pig ears are nice too, thinly sliced and fried in a spice mix. I remember having that dish at 3 a.m. in the red-light district of KL after downing a bottle of overproof bourbon with a dear cousin of mine.... But that's another story. ;)

Spread sounds fabulous! Have some for me.

Mac said...

Wow, that sounds just delicious! I hope you DO come back and post some pictures, too.

Maria Zannini said...


hmm...Drunk Kaz and cousin in a red light district.

I BETTER read the rest of that story on your blog. LOL.

I can only imagine the trouble you got into.

Maria Zannini said...

Hi Mac! If I don't post them here, I'll make up a new post with pics.

Thanks for letting me join your link party.

Terri Coop said...

Sounds yummy, I'm in Kansas, it will take me a while to get there, so keep the margaritas cold!

Seriously, I would be all over your party. I love authentic Mexican food (except mole, brains, and membranes, I have limites).

We have a great family run place here in town. Most of it is rather Americanized, but they make the best rice ever. At lunch I would go get a side order of their spanish rice with chips and salsa and gorge myself.

Never had barbacoa, but I come from a family that hunts and cooks game, so I am not squeamish. Heck, up until we lost my father-in-law, every year they would string the deer from the tree in the backyard and clean and butcher right there.
Also, grind fresh meat and ready it for the freezer. (We live in town, I always wonder what the neighbors though of the strung up deer).

Maria Zannini said...

You got time, Terri. Come on down!

I'll keep the beer and margaritas chilled. :o)

Mac's Mom said...

Haven't tried Cow head, but we have done a whole pig roasted in a pit lind with rocks. Not having the leaves, we wrapped in foil and rolled in wet burlap. After the pit was dug and the rocks heated, we dropped the pig in and covered it over. left it in the ground for about 12 hours. Best pork I've ever eaten. It is a really fun way to cook for a bunch. The teenagers loved it.

Maria Zannini said...

Mac's Mom:

The wet burlap is brilliant! I had never thought of that.

I might just try that. Thanks!

Happy Fourth!!

brokenbiro said...

I'd definitely be up for a Mexican BBQ! I spent a couple of weeks driving around the Yucatan a few years ago and loved the way you get tortilla chips as a standard snack before your meal everywhere - I'm mad for guacamole! yummy yummy!

Maria Zannini said...

Broken Biro: Guacamole is my #1 favorite food!

And nothing beats a bowl of fresh hot corn chips.