Look out taco night – gravy’s coming! Fill your favorite tortillas with tender, moist chunks of beef swimming in a bold blend of smoky dried chilies and cumin. This Carne Guisada is gonna be a hit!
Gravy makes the world go ‘round. Okay, maybe that’s gravity, but gravy definitely makes lots of things better – mashed potatoes, biscuits, that Thanksgiving turkey Aunt Mary always overcooks. Gravy is also what makes Carne Guisada such a standout dish and an extra special filling for tacos or burritos. If you’ve missed this one on the menu at your favorite Tex-Mex spot, it’s a Latin-American inspired beef stew, slow cooked in a thick, rich gravy spiked with dried chilies and cumin. My Carne Guisada recipe is muy casero, a “homey” dish that builds intense flavor with just a few ingredients (and some patience) and will turn taco Tuesday into a comfort food fete.
“Carne guisada” means “meat stew,” and it’s one of those dishes that has as many variations as there are mothers’ kitchens. In some parts of Central and South America, carne guisada looks like a typical beef stew. Carne guisada Salvadoreña (from El Salvador), for example, has potatoes and carrots and is seasoned with thyme and wine. Puerto Rican carne guisada may add a few green olives to the veggie mix, but it’s seasoned with cumin and cilantro and served with rice. A carne guisada recipe Mexican-style is often served con papas (with potatoes), but it has the magical gravy that made me go ga-ga the first time I had this dish. My family always makes this without the veggies, so mine would likely be classified a Tex-Mex carne guisada recipe, devoid of anything except beefy goodness and the warm, slightly fruity flavor of the chilies and cumin.
This really is an easy Carne Guisada recipe, but there are a couple of ingredients to fuss over. First, as with any good stew, choosing the meat is important. Carne Guisada is meant to be served as tender chunks, not shredded beef, so I use a whole chuck roast and cut it into big pieces. Chuck is my go-to for stews and any slow-cooking recipe because it has lots of connective tissue that will break down over time, leaving succulent, tender pieces of beef, naturally thickening the sauce, and upping the richness factor.
Speaking of thickening, some stew recipes, even ones for carne guisada, either coat the meat in flour before browning or use a roux to thicken the gravy. Flour and corn starch impact the mouth feel of gravy to me, though, and I just don’t like that in this rustic dish. If you’re wondering how to make carne guisada gravy like mine, you’ll just need to use the correct amount of liquid so the natural evaporation plus beefy breakdown will result in a thick, luxurious gravy without any added thickeners.
Most of the other ingredients in this recipe are ones you’d find in sofrito, a flavorful veggie/spice paste used in Latin American dishes to make their amazing rice and beans but also to season stews: onions, garlic, jalapenos, oregano, tomato, and cumin. I also add some chili powder and a signature (not quite secret) ingredient – whole ancho chilies. (You can find these in the produce section or on an international food aisle at the grocery store.)
Ancho chilies are dried poblano peppers, the ones you see sliced and sizzling on a fajita skillet or stuffed with queso asadero and fried for chile relleno. They’re already a very mild pepper, served fresh when they’re green, but they turn red as they ripen and mellow out even more. This is when they’re picked and dried.
I like them in this recipe because they impart a deep, warm, intense flavor – slightly sweet, slightly bitter, and it’s important to bring out these qualities by toasting them a few seconds first. You’ve probably seen chefs measuring dried herbs into their palms and rubbing them a bit to release the natural oils. That’s essentially what you’re doing when you dry roast these chilies, along with adding a hint of smokiness from the charring, both of which balance the complex flavors of these little guys. Trust me, Rick Bayless, and Serious Eats: http://www.seriouseats.com/2010/07/should-you-toast-your-dried-chiles.html
These ingredients will all be percolating away on your stovetop while you get your taco fixings ready and do a good bit of quality control on that bowl of guacamole. Your house will smell like someone’s grandmother’s house, south of the border, and soon you’ll be ready to grab your tortillas and dive into this gravy-laden soon-to-be staple of your recipe box.
Beef – Make sure you brown the beef in batches so it gets a nice crust. If you crowd the pan too much, the beef will steam instead, and you’ll miss out on all the good stuff that sticks to the pan during the browning process. I usually brown the meat in 2 or 3 batches depending on the size of the chunks and the size of my pan. Using pre-cut stew beef is not my choice for this dish, mainly because the pieces are scraps from different cuts, all with different amounts of marbling and fat. Sometimes, though, the price will make the decision for you, so if you need to substitute it, be sure to pick the package(s) with the most uniformly sized and marbled pieces (http://www.thekitchn.com/why-stew-meat-isnt-actually-the-best-choice-for-stews-225514).
Serving – I usually serve this as Carne Guisada tacos, with a bit of avocado, cilantro, and my family’s favorite taco toppers, but this Carne Guisada is so versatile I often make a double batch and freeze it for whatever my imagination conjures up on a random weeknight. You can make burritos (with a little refried beans and cheese), use it as a filling for sopes, serve it on top of polenta or noodles, make an epic shepherd’s pie, or serve it on game day as a new twist on Frito pie (queso fresco, chopped onion and cilantro, and a mountain of jalapeno slices – doesn’t get any better than that!).
Cooking options – You can definitely adapt this for a Carne Guisada slow cooker recipe, doing all the toasting, browning, and sautéing steps, then dumping everything into your slow cooker to work its magic on low for 6 – 8 hours. If you need to shorten the cooking time, you can also do all the early work on “Saute” in your Instant Pot, then cook it on high for about 35 minutes (naturally release or manually if the smell’s making you impatient). Note that you might need to add some thickener with this method since the time’s not working in your favor to create a nice thick gravy.
- Yield: Serves 6-8
- Prep Time: 40 minutes
- Cook Time: 3 hours minutes
- Dried Whole Ancho Chiles - 2
- Boneless Beef Chuck Roast, Trimmed and Cut Into 1 1/2 Inch Cubed - 1-4-5 Pound
- 2-4 Tablespoons - Vegetable Oil
- White Onion, Finely Chopped - 1 Large
- Fresh Garlic, Minced - 1 Tablespoon
- Jalapeno, Minced - 1
- Dried Oregano - 1 Tablespoon
- Ground Cumin - 1 1/2 Teaspoon
- Chili Powder - 1/2 Teaspoon
- Beef Broth - 3 Cups
- Tomato Sauce - 1-(15 Ounce) Can
- Stem, seed then tear or cut the Ancho chile pepper into large pieces that can be flattened out. Heat a Dutch oven (dry) over medium heat. When hot, toast one at a time. Lay a piece flat in the hot pan, pressing down with a spatula, until the chile is fragrant (should take just a few seconds). Repeat with remaining pieces. Transfer toasted chiles on a plate.
- Dry beef pieces with paper towel then toss beef with 2 teaspoons salt and 1 teaspoon of pepper. Heat 1-2 Tablespoons of oil in the dutch oven over medium high heat. When oil shimmers, add half the beef and brown on all sides, about 7-10 minutes. Transfer beef to a plate, then repeat with remaining beef, adding more oil as necessary.
- Heat 1 tablespoon oil in Dutch oven then add onion and 1/4 teaspoon salt and cook over medium heat, scraping up the brown bits from the meat, until soft, about 5 minutes. Add garlic, jalapeno, oregano, cumin and chili powder and cook until fragrant, 30 seconds. Return toasted peppers and meat to pan. Add broth and tomato sauce and bring mixture to a boil. Reduce heat a simmer, partially covered, until meat is tender and sauce is nice and thick, about 2- 2 1/2 hours. Adjust seasoning.
- Serve with fresh tortillas and avocado, cheese, sour cream, fresh tomato, cilantro!