With Cinco de Mayo right around the corner you may be starting to get into party planning mode. You know there is much more to Mexican meats than fajitas and tacos so why not consider these authentic dishes when planning your feast? Whether you’re attracted to traditional or exotic fare, there are plenty of options to impress your guests and add to your culinary repertoire.
Carne Asada (al Carbon)
If you’re looking for something quick that doesn’t skimp on flavor, try al carbon. The term al carbon refers to any sort of meat grilled over charcoal which results in a deep, smoky flavor. The most well-known al carbon preparation out there is carne asada. Carne Asada is all about the marinade. You take a nice piece of steak, marinate it with some delicious flavors, and then head out to the grill for a flavorful piece of beef you can eat plain, on a taco, burrito, or anything else you can think of.
Carne asada is traditionally skirt steak or flank steak. The two cuts are very similar and can be nterchangeable. The two meat cuts do have a few differences. Flank steak is a more lean option and has a great, intense meaty flavor. Skirt steak also has an intense meaty flavor but does have more tough fibers than flank steak. Only cook it to rare or medium-rare, otherwise it may become unpleasantly chewy. Cut both kinds against the grain.
The name carnitas translates to “little bits of meat” and pork is the star. Carnitas is shoulder of pork that’s been seasoned, braised until tender with lard, orange and herbs (oregano, marjoram, bay leaves, garlic). Then you pull it apart and oven roast it until slightly crisp. You can then eat it by itself or use it as a filling for tacos, tamales, tortas, and burritos. There is arguably no taco more about the meat than classic carnitas and the Mexican state of Michoacan is to thank for this delicious dish.
Al pastor is crisp-thin shavings of vertical spit-roast pork, with guajillo chiles and achiote marinade, and tortillas. The name Al pastor translates to “like the shepherd,” in reference to the Lebanese immigrants who arrived in Mexico in the early 20th century. They brought shawarma with them and it eventually evolved into tacos árabes (a Pueblan dish involving lamb on a spit that ends up on a pita) and even further into al pastor.
Al pastor tacos involve marinating meat (historically lamb but now often pork). This dish is Mexican-meets-Middle Eastern flavors like charred onions, garlic, achiote paste, cumin, cinnamon, allspice, and cloves. After the pork butt marinades overnight, you layer it onto the vertical spit and cook it for hours until the meat is tender and caramelizes.
Cochinita pibil is whole suckling pig or pork shoulder that’s marinated in citrus with achiote, then wrapped in banana leaves and roasted. The traditional way to make Yucatecan cochinita pibil is to bury a pig in a steaming, smouldering, stone-lined pit and cook it slowly for many hours.. A marinade of bitter orange juice and achiote makes this slow-roasted pork juicy and tender, and it’s what to eat in Mexico when you’re in the Yucatán.
What is Achiote?
Achiote is another word for Annatto – an orange-red condiment and food coloring derived from the seeds of the achiote tree, native to tropical regions from Mexico to Brazil.
Cochinita means baby pig, and pibil translated means buried. Usually cochinita pibil is pulled and served simply in its own juices with hot tortillas and pickled onion. Be careful not to stain your clothes though because the achiote turns the meat bright orange!
Each region of Mexico has its particular way of making barbacoa. The variations are endless, from the variety of Mexican meats and the type of condiments to the material wrapping the meat . Even the baking or steaming process itself can vary. American barbacoa means spicy, shredded, slow-braised beef that you then pull apart.
Traditionally in Mexico, barbacoa involves lamb (though you’ll also see beef or goat). It is wrapped in maguey (aka agave) leaves then slow-roasted overnight in an underground oven lined with hot stones.This dish is a Mexico City street food staple on the weekends. Here you can get your hands on barbacoa as tacos or served with consommé –– a soup made from the meat drippings and mixed with garbanzo beans and rice.
Tinga is usually shredded chicken in a sauce with tomatoes, chipotle chiles, and onions. From the Puebla region, it has a somewhat sweet and extremely flavorful taste. Tostadas de tingas is a popular rendition of this dish, which is tinga de pollo on a tostada with a layer of refried beans and topped with avocado, shredded lettuce, cheese, sour cream, and salsa.
Chorizo is another popular Mexican meat that you see at a lot of taquerias and restaurants. It’s a spicy sausage that originated from Spain and Portugal. However Mexican chorizo typically contains ground beef or pork seasoned with a hefty amount of chili powder and other seasonings. Chorizo sausage serves many purposes because it can be a main feature for both breakfast and lunch or dinner. Chorizo and eggs is a commonplace meal for breakfast in Mexico.
Birria is commonly a special occasion type of food at holidays or gatherings and is a spicy stew of goat or mutton, i.e. birria de chivo or birria de res. Although Birria is a fancy food, there are always plenty of birria street vendors and restaurants available in your area.
These next three dishes may not sound so appetizing!
Lengua is probably one of the most exotic Mexican meats. The word lengua is Spanish for “beef tongue” and it is more popular in Mexican restaurants than you might think. It’s a chewy, buttery, high fat meat that the chef chops up into chunks.
Buche is another meat for the adventurous. This meat comes from pig stomach and often finds its way into a stew with spices and chillies. It comes out tender and sometimes crispy, depending on the cooking length.
Last but not least…Tripas is the meat of a cow’s stomach or intestines that have been cleaned, boiled, and grilled. Also known as “chitterlings” in English, the origin of tripas traces back to Portuguese heritage. The process of cooking tripas is actually quite intricate and detailed. They are cooked in a “disco” which is two discs connected to an iron pole in the center that forms a big wok-like bowl in the middle. The first disc is filled with water which is boiled to cook the tripas. The second disc is filled with the heat source of wood or charcoal.
You can prepare Tripas in three different ways. ‘Soft’ preparation is cooking the meat until just tender enough, ‘medium crispy’ cooks the tripas until it has a crunchy exterior, and ‘extra crispy’ cooks the meat all the way through to make it extremely crunchy. Tripas can take many different forms, but usually includes cilantro, onions, and chilli sauce.
With so many Mexican meats to choose between which one will you choose to celebrate Cinco de Mayo this year?