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Slow cooker puts new twist on ancient dish

If you enjoy Mexican-inspired food, then you’ve seen barbacoa on the menu of many Mexican restaurants. It’s slow-cooked, well-seasoned beef known for being so succulently tender it literally melts in your mouth.

Barbacoa is a cooking technique originated by the Taíno, indigenous people of the Caribbean. The technique involves cooking meats slowly over a fire or in a hole dug into the ground with the meat wrapped in maguey (agave) leaves. As the technique spread throughout South America and Mexico, the meat of choice varied from lamb to pork to beef.

In the U.S. barbacoa has become an integral part of Southwestern cuisine. This is where we get the word barbecue.

Traditionally in the Southwest, barbacoa would be made with the heads of cattle, especially the cheeks. Now, I’m a huge supporter of the nose-to-tail philosophy of not wasting any part of the animal. But when I ask my family “What sounds good for dinner?” never once has anyone said, “cow face.” So, I make mine with chuck roast. And, since I generally don’t have time to dig a fire pit and I don’t even know where to source maguey leaves, I’ll use a slow cooker. Sound good?

SLOW COOKED BEEF BARBACOA

What you’ll need:

Spices

1 tablespoon ground cumin

1 tablespoon dried Mexican oregano (or regular oregano)

1 teaspoon black pepper

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

Meat

3-4 pound chuck roast, cut into big chunks

1 teaspoon salt

Olive oil

1 white or sweet onion, sliced (about 1 1/2 cup)

½ cup beef stock or water

3 bay leaves

Liquid

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 chipotle in adobo sauce, minced (or more to taste)

1 teaspoon adobo sauce

1 4-ounce can chopped green chilies

Juice and zest of 2 limes

1/4 cup apple cider vinegar

Serve with corn tortillas, cilantro, cotija cheese, avocado and lime juice.

Here’s how:

Mix the spices together and set aside.

Heat a skillet to medium-high heat. Cut the roast into large chunks. Season with salt. Add the oil to the skillet and sear the meat in batches, until well-browned on all sides. Place in the slow cooker. Add the spices and toss to coat the meat.

Sauté the onion in the skillet until golden and place in the slow cooker. Pour the broth in the skillet, scraping with a wooden spoon to get the fond (the little brown bits in the pan) and add to the slow cooker.

In a bowl, mix the liquid ingredients and pour over the meat. Add the bay leaves. Cover and cook on high for 3½ to 4 hours.

Chilies in adobo are smoked, dried jalapeños rehydrated in a purée of tomato, vinegar, garlic and spices. They add amazing smoky depth of flavor but they’re spicy. When you buy a can, you’ll find soft smoked peppers and this amazing sauce. The heat is controlled by how much you use so start with only one pepper. You can always add more but you can’t take it out.

Freeze the remainder for later use in an ice cube tray or flat in a zip-top freezer bag.

If you’re not into spice, omit the chilies completely or substitute ground chipotle pepper for less heat.

When I first tasted the meat (I snuck a forkful. See how I am?) it was spicy. Whoa, Nellie! But I realized the spice concentrated on the outside of the meat. After the meat was shredded it had just enough heat. I couldn’t stop eating it and neither could my family. The five of us consumed all 4 pounds plus the added goodies in one sitting. Consider yourself warned.

Lifestyle expert Patti Diamond is a recipe developer and food writer of the website “Divas On A Dime – Where Frugal Meets Fabulous!” Visit Patti at www.divasonadime.com and join the conversation on Facebook at DivasOnADimeDotCom. Email Patti at divapatti@divasonadime.com.

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