Cambrian: Opinion

Birria’s a spicy stew that’s just the ticket for winter warmth

Instead of roses, Consuelo Macedo chose a stalk of Brussels Sprouts this week at farmers market, ready to roast and deep-fry the winter vegetables.
Instead of roses, Consuelo Macedo chose a stalk of Brussels Sprouts this week at farmers market, ready to roast and deep-fry the winter vegetables.

After winter’s late arrival in Cambria, it moved us right into soup weather. As a Fresno kid, we had lots of multicultural meals to enjoy, and good Mexican food was at the top of the list. I loved Albondigas, meatballs with characteristic mint accent; menudo, a tripe soup spiked with hominy and chopped sharp white onions; and pork pozole, with its depth of flavor.

As discussion about food frequently comes up with friends here these past 15 years, my chat with Christine Quinn turned to her favorite Birria, which she recommended highly. Sure enough, on my way home from our appointment with my pretty nails, I stopped by at Medusa’s on Main Street for a quart of that soup to take home, along with fresh corn tortillas they make on the weekend.

To be fair, when I later learned it is also a menu specialty upstairs at El Catrin, I brought home a quart of theirs and learned the fresh tortillas are available all week! I can recommend both to anyone like myself, who may not have been familiar with the dish. I scooped some of the chunks of meat to enjoy with chopped onions and cilantro in a tortilla, enjoyed the rich copious broth as is, and used some as a base for yet another meal. The dish is a regional specialty in the state of Jalisco, including Guadalajara and Zacatecas, where my maternal grandmother came from the family sheep ranch.

I guessed the meat might have been customarily goat or lamb, but research indicates it also can be made with pork or beef, or any combination of the four. I like mine made with meat on the bone to provide some viscosity, but our friendly butcher at Cookie Crock recommended tri tip, which is economical, tasty and readily available. The most elaborate production involves marinating the meat in chili paste overnight, and roasting it in a pit in the ground with special leaves, but we will simplify:


4 guajillo chiles

4 ancho chiles

1 cup hot water

3 pound beef tri tip, in large chunks

3 quarts water

1 large onion

5 cloves garlic

1 fresh bay leaf

7 sprigs fresh thyme

2 tblsp. cumin powder

1 tblsp. Mexican oregano

Salt and pepper to taste

Side Sauce:

1/2 cup red wine vinegar

2 cloves garlic

1 tsp. chile powder

Roast the fresh chiles, soak in hot water for about 20 minutes. Remove stems (and seeds if you wish) and puree in a blender with the cooled liquid; reserve.

In a 5-quart stewpot, place the large chunks of meat, water, onion and garlic. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer about an hour; skim off any foam. Add chile puree and herbs, salt and pepper, and simmer another 30 minutes. Prepare the side sauce ingredients in a blender; prepare fresh garnishes: diced white onion, chopped cilantro, and two limes cut in wedges.

Serve the soup in big bowls, sprinkled with your choice of garnishes and a sprinkle of the sauce and/or lime. Recipe adapted from Aaron Sanchez; serves eight.

Cook’s Note: Marjorie Ott will assist Gayle Jenkins in her demonstration class on appetizers at the Olallieberry Inn on Monday, Jan. 25. Call 927- 3222 for reservations.

Consuelo Macedo’s column is special to The Cambrian. Submit recipes and ideas to her at The Cambrian, 2068 Main St., Cambria, CA 93428; or email to