Barbacoa is one of those very few dishes that brings me food related memories of my dad. As a typical Mexican man of a certain vintage, dad is very traditional in his views of labour division at home: the man provides, the woman stays at home. A man in his early 70s, he was brought up in a traditional Mexican home, and like many men of his generation, he expected his four daughters to be well versed in the home arts... and yet, so unlike many of his peers, he always urged us to be able to look after ourselves and to see the world before we settled in: 'marriage isn't a sure thing -he would always say- you gotta be able to provide for yourself in case something goes wrong'.
He, himself, never sets a foot in the kitchen, which is considered my mam's territory. He expects to be fed three meals a day every day of the week, except Sundays, when he must 'provide' breakfast for the family. Ever since I can remember, dad would get up early on Sundays, get dressed and go and buy a kilo or two of Barbacoa to feed breakfast to the entire family. As he has gotten older, his grandchildren phone to see if he's up and if he's getting taquitos de barbacoa so they can come for breakfast too! He would pride himself of knowing where to get the tastiest Barbacoa in town.
Barbacoa is a beef or Lamb meat that is slowly steamed with herbs overnight in massive galvanised bins and served hot in warm, freshly made corn tortillas, topped with fresh chopped onion and coriander and a spoonful of a good salsa. A good barbacoa seller would know that apart from good meat, you also need a good salsa, so they would experiment with different salsa recipes to give their barbacoa the edge! You're given your meat, a bag with the chopped onion & coriander and a couple of bags of salsa. If the salsa is really good, they will sell you extra portions at a hefty price. Traditional Barbacoa is cooked in pits or holes in the ground that have been lined with maguey plants or banana leaves and it is slowly smoked-steamed over a couple of days. It's called 'barbacoa de pozo' (hole barbacoa). The most tender meat, and the most expensive barbacoa, is made of tongue and if you have a lay in and get there after 10 a.m. there will be no good barbacoa left! So dad's job in providing us with barbacoa is very important for those of us who like good barbacoa, but also enjoy a little extra sleep on Sundays!
When I moved to Ireland, I yearned for barbacoa. My grandpa Pedro (dad's dad) was at some point in his life a butcher, so mam was able to dig out a recipe for barbacoa for me. I'm not about to dig a hole in my garden to make traditional barbacoa, so I make mine in the slow cooker (or crock pot), this is my adaptation of the traditional recipe. In my favour however, I must say that all my Mexican friends who have tried it said it tastes as good as any you'd buy in Mexico, so enjoy!
Note: meat cooked like this reduces a lot, so if you buy 2 kilos of meat, you might end up with only 1.5 kilos of barbacoa or less. It freezes really well, so you can freeze portions and just defrost when you feel like making tacos of this and there is a couple of dishes with leftovers of barbacoa that you can make, like this barbacoa in red salsa.
Arrange the pieces of rib stake in the slow cooker, one by one making sure you'll leave a bit of space at the top of your slow cooker.
Put the Mexican oregano, garlic cloves, onion, tequila, water and salt in a blender or food processor and blend until you have a uniform sauce. Make sure everything is liquidized properly, we don't want any lumps.
Pour the onion & tequila mixture over the meat, followed by enough boiling water from the kettle to fill the slow cooker to its maximum capacity.
Place the bay leaves on top and cover the slow cooker and cook overnight at a medium setting or for 6 hours at a higher setting until the meat is completely cooked and shreds to the touch of a fork. Slow cookers vary greatly, mine is a bit of a dinosaur I got in Argos for about 30 quid. It does the job perfectly. If yours is more modern, adjust the settings accordingly.
When the meat is done, use a perforated spoon or ladle to fish the chunks of meat out of the oniony stew and place it in a serving dish. Shred the chunks of meat with two forks. If you are not eating the barbacoa straight away, reserve some of the juices to pour over it when heating it gently in the microwave before serving. If you are freezing some, add a few spoonfuls of the juices to the meat, this will help it keep it moist after defrosting and reheating.
Your drunken barbacoa is ready to eat. I made tacos with it by heating a few corn tortillas, adding a spoonful of warm barbacoa, chopped fresh onion and coriander and topping it all up with a delicious green tomatillo salsa. Fabulous dinner that can be made well in advance.