The quesabirria taco is an ooey, gooey hybrid of a taco and a quesadilla. Originating in Jalisco, one of Mexico’s western states, this rich taco made with slow-cooked meat tossed in a fragrant seasoning blend was originally made with goat. When it moved up the west coast to California, chefs increasingly chose beef as the primary meat in quesabirria. We used pork butt in our version, a tough and muscle-y cut of meat with an abundance of marbling that is perfect for long, slow braising. This recipe makes a lot of meat, but it’s easy to portion and freeze. If you prefer beef to pork you can easily use that instead, and it would also be wonderful with leg of lamb.
If you want to go for full-on authenticity in your flavor, buy some soup bones—or get a bone-in cut of meat and de-bone it—to get your broth started. Roast the bones at 450° F for about a half an hour, and add them to the braising pot right before it goes in the oven. This will make the broth even richer, and add to the fat you’re going to use to dip the tortillas in. The end product will still be rich without the bones, so this step is entirely optional. The bones just take the flavor to 11.
When you cook meats in low heat for a long period of time, the fat marbling the meat melts through the muscle fibers, making them juicy and tender, and tough connective tissues gelatinize, allowing the meat to pull apart easily. This is the target texture for braised meat—juicy, tender, shreddable, and in this instance, perfect for stuffing into tacos. We gave the meat a bit of a tender boost by marinating it with acidic lime juice, but this marinade is ultimately all about adding flavor, and not tenderization.
You don’t need a lot of oil to brown the pork in. Since you’re cooking on medium-low heat some of the fat will start to cook into the pan and contribute to the overall amount of oil in use. Remember that food needs room to cook properly; crowded food will steam instead of brown. To make sure you have enough space in your pan, brown the pork in batches. If you want to move this process along more quickly, brown the meat in two pans. And keep the heat low, so you don’t scorch the seasonings.
Put meat and soup bones, if you’re using them, into the Dutch oven. Pour beef broth and marinade into the pot, and put the whole thing in the oven. Some of you may be thinking, “I thought we weren’t supposed to use marinade after it’s been used.” In many instances you would be right. If the marinade wasn’t going to be cooked long enough to kill any errant microbes living in the liquid, it should be thrown away. But this marinade is going to cook for three hours and reach food-safe temperatures, so it’s fine to recycle it into the braising liquid.
One of the techniques to work on when making this dish involves getting the oil from the braising liquid onto the tortillas. The shortcut version, which we make use of here, simply involves dragging the tortilla across the oil floating on the braising liquid. You don’t want the tortilla to sink so it starts dragging through the braising liquid, because that could waterlog the tortilla, you just want to skim across the layer of oil. If you don’t feel comfortable doing this, skim the oil off and put it into a separate bowl, then dip it or use a brush to paint the oil onto the tortilla.
Once your tortillas have been crisped, and stuffed, and crisped again, add some fresher flavors. The taco itself, browned in seasoned fat and filled with a luxurious, meaty braise and melted cheese, is very rich. Add snappy flavors for contrast; we like cilantro and Pickled Red Onions, but a wide variety of toppings will work here. Try avocados paired with cabbage tossed in lime juice, or some fresh cucumbers with pickled jalapeño slices. Keep the toppings simple; the objective is contrasting brightness that cuts through the dense flavor of the meat. We suggest having something pickled as one of your toppings, because the acid is an immediate and playful contrast to the fat. Yes, you’ll have to pull apart the gooey cheese to stuff the taco, but watching the cheese stretch just adds to the fun. Drain the remaining oil off the braising liquid and serve the braise in small bowls with the tacos for dipping. Then get a pile of napkins, roll up your sleeves, and dig in.
- 4 pounds pork butt or shoulder
- 1 cup Birria Taco Seasoning
- 1 cup water
- 4 limes, juiced
- 2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
- 2 Tablespoons tomato paste
- 3 cups beef broth
- 2 cups shredded Monterey Jack cheese
- 32 soft corn taco tortillas
1. Cut pork into roughly 2 inch cubes and remove excess fat and sinew.
2. In a large bowl combine Birria Taco Seasoning, lime juice, and water and stir to form a thin paste. Add pork cubes and mix well to make sure the pork is completely covered. Cover and refrigerate for at least 12 hours and up to 2 days.
3. When you are ready to cook, preheat oven to 225° F.
4. Shake off excess marinade; reserve it for later use. Put in vegetable oil--it should be just enough to cover the bottom of the pan--and brown pork in a Dutch oven, over medium-low heat. Take your time browning because the spices coating the meat can easily burn; expect this step to take 20 minutes or so. When the pork is almost fully browned on all sides add tomato paste and stir.
5. Mix reserved marinade into the beef broth.
6. Add broth to pork and tomato paste and bring to a simmer. Cover and cook in the oven for 3 hours or until pork is soft enough to be easily broken apart.
7. Remove pork from broth. Reserve broth. Shred pork and set aside.
8. Heat a large skillet, preferably cast iron, over medium heat.
9. There will be a thin layer of fat on top of the broth which you will use to brown the corn tortillas. When the cast iron skillet is hot, drag the tortillas, one at a time, through the fat so it coats both sides of the tortilla. Lay the tortilla flat in the hot pan and lightly brown one side. Don’t let the tortilla get too brown or start to harden.
10. Flip the tortillas and add approximately 2 ounces of pork and 1 ounce of cheese to the tortilla. Gently fold the tortilla using a small spatula and let the bottom of the taco brown. Flip the taco and brown on the other side.
11. When tacos are browned remove from heat. Add a spoonful of broth inside each taco and serve a bowl of broth on the side for dipping. Top with your favorite taco garnishes and serve.