How to Recipe: Birria de Pollo (Chicken) (PHOTOS)
What is Birria?
"Birria" is a rich Mexican stew, made with very mild dried chilies, and a combination of spices that have hints of sweet, peppery, earthy and smokey flavors. The version I am familiar with is more of a rich consomme/stock with tender moist meat. Traditionally it is prepared using a whole goat, though folks who aren’t fans of goat will often use bone in or fattier cuts of beef or pork. Keep in mind turkey can be used as well and in this case I’m using chicken. Note, that depending on the region of Mexico the dish can greatly vary (from braised in the oven, to baked, to cooked in a pit, stewed, or in the form of a soup). Spices can vary but the common elements of the dried chilies, garlic, and a type of smokey and earthy spice with an aromatic herb remains a common element in all recipes I've seen.
Scroll down for step-by-step recipe & photos
The first Birria I ever cooked was made using my grand-aunts recipe - which was good but I always felt it was missing something.
Then I experimented one day and used a combination of sweet and earthy spices as well as using chile ancho which I suspected was a contributor to the brown tinge of many of the ones I've seen at Mexican eateries. For the first Birria I fried all the spices and chiles to prepare the meat, resulting in a tasty but I must admit excessive result.
Today I decided to pan-roast all the spices, and ingredients used to flavor this dish, as well as adding ground toasted sesame seeds and when I had blended everything I was like "Damn! This smells like the simmering vessels of Birria I’ve smelled at some of my favorite eateries, and I’m just starting to cook the meat and everything together. BINGO! This is it!"
So what led me to prepare it with chicken? Well as the day rose slightly cold for Southern California…I was craving something that would warm the soul, be rich, and flavorful.
I was imagining Pozole, Menudo, Birria, some kind of roasted meat. Visiting the grocery store - chicken drumsticks were 79 cents a pound. So that was that. I knew the bone-in, skin on drumsticks would produce a flavorful, moist chicken, as well as a consomme that would be as rich as using goat, or richer cuts of pork or beef. In addition I just wanted to eat something that would make me feel healthy as well as introduce people to another variation or option for those who for whatever reason may have an aversion to beef, pork, or goat.
I was very pleased with the results, and would recommend anyone to give it a try, the stew turned out to be just what I had envisioned. Don't be intimidated by the long list of ingredients, the procedures are pretty simply and straightforward, you’re just going to need a good blender and you’re set!
-6 lbs of chicken drum sticks (2 whole chickens cut into segments can be used)
-5 dried chile california or guajillo peppers
-3 dried chile cascabel (if you do not have it use 3 more guajillo peppers)
-2 chile anchos or pasillas
-3 roma tomatoes
-12 cloves of garlic
-1/4 of a large onion
-1 inch piece of ginger peeled
-3 small cinnamon sticks or one large one
-10 allspice berries
-3 cloves (the spice)
-10 black peppercorns
-1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
-1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
-2 tablespoons sesame seeds
-1/4 cup of vinegar (you may use a fruity vinegar like pineapple vinegar or apple vinegar I used white)
-2 bay leaves (they add a deep flavor and help cut any gamey taste)
-salt to taste (atleast 2 teaspoons)
-water (enough to barely cover meat, maybe to submerge about 1 inch)
(1) To pan roast, your going to need a large griddle or a pan with a sheet of aluminum foil over it, your going to heat it over high heat, and add the garlic cloves with the skin on (to prevent them from turning bitter), the tomatoes, onion, and ginger, let those spices get charred, like a grilled kind of look. (see picture below)
(2) Meanwhile, remove the stems from the dried chilies, cut them open (I used scissors) remove veins, and seeds. Wash under water, drain or pat-dry and add them to the hot pan or griddle about 30 seconds pressing them against the pan. Then remove and put them in a small pot with enough water to barely cover, bring to a boil and set aside to soak at least 5-10 minutes (more time won't hurt it though
(3) Now in the same griddle or a separate small pan, toast all your spices (except bay leaves) over medium high heat, along with sesame seeds about 3-4 minutes until fragrant. Set it aside.
(4) Now you have already done the hardest part, now all you have to do is add all those ingredients into a blender when they have cooled a bit, add the vinegar, and blend them along with salt until you get a smooth paste. Feel free to add a little bit of water at a time to get everything to blend well. Set aside. This is what will make your Birria taste like Birria.
(5) Now that you have prepared the spice blend and seasoning, get the meat that you are using in this case chicken drum sticks, and clean them well under running water, I like to let them soak briefly in the sink in water, generous salt, and some vinegar (call me paranoid but it get's rid of that gamey taste meat can have), drain it, and now rinse each piece individually. Set it inside whatever vessel you will cook it in.
Pour the marinade all over it, coat well, cover and allow to marinade at least 1- 2 hrs. (overnight is better but I understand we don't always have time for that).
(6) After the meat has marinaded, put the pot on the stove top, and pour some water enough to submerge the chicken about 1 inch deep (it really depends how soupy you want it), add bay leaves and bring to a rolling boil.
(7) Give a good stir, when boiling strong for about 5 minutes taste to see if it needs more salt, if so add it now. Cover and simmer on low for 1- 1 1/2 hrs.
(8) Serve in a bowl topped with minced onions, cilantro, lime wedges to squeeze over it and warm corn tortillas. Oh and your favorite hot sauce or salsa. Enjoy!
By Nathan Gutierrez
Nathan is an avid cook of Spanish, Cuban, and Mexican food and a food writer for Hispanic.com