RECIPE: Venison Barbacoa Tacos
I'm of the opinion that tacos are proof that there is a god, and that he, she, or they want us to be happy. Tacos are delicious, they're easy to make, and they satisfy me in a way that few other foods can. This version uses venison cooked barbacoa style. While making traditional barbacoa usually involves a wood fire and digging a pit in the ground, a slow cooker or a Dutch oven will do the trick just fine!
This recipe works great with tougher venison cuts, like those from the front shoulder, neck roasts,
and even shanks! The long, slow cooking time will make the meat fork-tender and full of flavor.
One of the great things about this recipe is how easy it is to make and assemble. You simply add all of the ingredients into your pot of choice, and then let time and temperature break down the meat into a succulent, rich base for your tacos. I prepared my ingredients in the morning and let everything cook down in a slow cooker while I was at work. When I got home, all I had to do was pickle some onions and make fresh tortillas, and then dinner was ready!
Pickled onions are one of my favorite toppings for tacos. To make them, you simply slice half a red onion thinly, then toss with a 1/2 cup of fresh lime juice, a tsp. of kosher salt, some fresh cilantro, 1/4 teaspoon of black pepper, and a pinch of sugar. They will be soft and flavorful in about a half hour, but I like to let them pickle for at least an hour or longer if possible.
Pickled onions are an easy way to up your taco game.
If I could give people one single piece of advice that will make them the hero at any Taco Tuesday, it would be to make your own tortillas. I used to think making tortillas was a closely guarded art, known only to friendly grandmas from small villages in Mexico. But they're very easy to make yourself, and the flavor is light years better than even the best mass-produced tortillas. And you don't even need a tortilla press! To make them, simply combine 2 cups of Maseca (corn flour, available in most grocery stores) with 1 3/4 cups room temparture water, then mix for 2 minutes in a bowl. Heat a dry, cast-iron skillet, then form the dough into balls about the size of a golf ball, and press flat between two sheets of plastic with a heavy bowl or bottom of a pan. Toss immediately into the hot skillet, and cook for 2 minutes, flipping every 30 seconds or so. Here's a quick video to show you just how easy it can be done.
For the Barbacoa:
2 to 3 lbs. venison (preferably a tougher cut, such as a shank, neck, or front shoulder)
1 red onion, chopped
6 garlic cloves chopped
1 jalapeño pepper, sliced lengthwise, with seeds
2 bay leaves (I prefer the Turkish variety)
1 tsp. paprika
1 tsp. freshly ground, toasted cumin
1 tsp. freshly ground cloves
1 tbsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. Maldon smoked sea-salt
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1 quart of wild game stock (I used wild turkey stock, but any homemade or store-bought stock will do)
1/4 cup olive oil
To garnish the tacos:
Fresh cilantro, roughly chopped
Pickled onions (see recipe above)
Hot sauce (I prefer Arbol, sold at Tacombi restaurant in New York City)
Combine all the Barbacoa ingredients in either a slow cooker, or a Dutch oven, and cook, covered, for 3-6 hours or until the meat falls from the bone (if using a slow cooker, use the high setting, if using a Dutch oven, cook it in the oven at 300 degrees.)
Remove the meat from the pot once it is finished cooking, and using two forks, shred the meat, going withe the grain.
Ladle two cups of the cooking liquid into a sauce pot, and reduce over medium heat until thickened, 5-10 minutes. Once the sauce is thick enough, add it into the shredded meat and stir to combine.
Assemble your tacos by adding several spoonfuls of the shredded venison to fresh tortillas, and top with pickled onions and whatever other garnishes you like! Enjoy!
This recipe is my variation of Hank Shaw's recipe for venison Barbacoa, found here. Hank has written several outstanding books on wild-game cooking.