Machaca is a type of dried meat from northern Mexico that is frequently made from beef. When access to fresh beef is intermittent or otherwise challenging, this preservation method comes in handy, but it also concentrates the flavour of the meat, allowing you to do much more with less. Traditionally, strips or slices of beef are marinated with seasonings like salt and garlic before being dried out in the scorching desert sun. The flesh looks and tastes like jerky once it has finished this natural drying process, which can take many days.
However, what follows makes it machaca: With a big, rough mortar and pestle, the dried meat is traditionally pounded or crushed by hand until it is broken into little, fluffy pieces. After that, the machaca can be stored in a zip-lock bag for later use, whether that be adding it to scrambled eggs to form the Sonoran dish machacado con huevos, cooking it in a braise to rehydrate and soften, or mixing it with boiling tomatoes and onions to make a burrito filling.
Best beef cut to use
The type of beef used for machaca depends on your preferences or, much more often, your budget. The brisket used in this dish, chuck roast, and top sirloin are all well-liked options. Because the muscle fibers in the cut easily detach after drying, I usually order brisket. I choose brisket because the muscle fibres in the cut easily separate once it has dried. If you do decide to use brisket, make sure to take off the majority of the fat from the cap and, if you can, freeze it for an hour before slicing it because partially-frozen meat is simpler to slice thinly.
Techniques for Drying
This recipe utilises your oven as opposed to relying on a hot, dry climate (a dehydrator works great, too, if you own one). The salted and seasoned beef is first dried in a very low oven. If your oven has a “keep warm” setting, use it; if not, set it to the lowest temperature it will go; from there, adjust the heat by cracking the door as necessary. To ensure that your oven doesn’t get too hot, you must use an oven thermometer.
Pounding the Dried Meat
It’s time to pound the beef once it has dried. If you have a mortar and pestle, feel free to use it, but I’ve discovered that a meat pounding mallet’s sharp tenderising teeth work just as well. Be nice to yourself and take rests; otherwise, this pounding step may surely strain your hand and wrist. Even though it can be tempting, it’s not a good idea to shred the beef in a food processor since it will result in bits of meat that are too small for machaca.
- 900g trimmed flat-cut brisket, partially frozen for about 1 hour before slicing
- 10 medium-sized cloves garlic, finely minced
- 2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
- 1 ½ tablespoons salt
- Preheat the oven to “warm” and position oven racks upper and lower; use an oven thermometer to ensure the temperature is between 140 and 160°F (60 to 70°C). If there isn’t a “warm” setting, set the oven to its lowest setting and regulate the temperature by leaving the door ajar and/or opening and closing it as needed while keeping an oven thermometer handy. You can also use a dehydrator; set it to 145°F (63°C).
- Slice the brisket thinly, between 1/8 and 1/4 inch, into pieces measuring approximately 3 by 1 inch, cutting against the grain. Toss the beef strips with the garlic, black pepper, and salt in a large mixing bowl until evenly coated.
- Wire racks should be placed on two rimmed baking sheets. Arrange the beef in a single layer on wire racks, making sure no pieces touch. Both baking sheets should be put in the oven to dry for 30 minutes. Flip the steak slices over and dry for a further 30 minutes. Rotate the baking sheets from front to back and top to bottom as you continue to dry the beef in the oven, flipping it once or twice more as it dries, for another 2 hours or more, or until it has darkened and taken on the consistency of jerky. After drying, let the machaca cool.
- As you pound the machaca, prepare a sturdy work surface that will not move or slide around. Working with 3 to 4 machaca slices at a time, cut them into 1/4-inch strips. Arrange these strips in a flat, tightly grouped layer on the work surface, then smash machaca with the spiked side of a meat pounder/tenderizer until the beef breaks apart into shreds and smaller pieces. As you strive to stop the chunks of beef from flying away, keep re-gathering them. Any fragments that are larger than a pebble can be torn apart with your hands. You should have a blend of fine fluff, crumbs, and tiny pebble-sized pieces.
- The shredded machaca can be frozen in zipper-lock bags with the air squeezed out for up to a month, refrigerated in an airtight container for up to a week, or used straight away in a dish that asks for it.