Tacos de Cabeza are Sonoran and Mexico City specialty. Traditionally the meat from a whole head of beef is used. However, I prefer to use beef cheeks, which are more readily available. When the meat is cooked, it is tender and flavorful.
Another Mexican Marvel Taco in a Series
Tacos de Cabeza is another marvel of Mexico and its lengthy obsession with tacos. Check out Cochinita Pibil, Tacos al Pastor, Shredded Mexican Style Beef Short Rib Tacos, and Arrancheras Tacos on this blog.
Corn or Flour Tortillas?
In Sonora, flour tortillas are king. In Mexico City, corn tortillas are the way to go. Either way is delicious. However, I do prefer the chiltepin salsa favored in Sonora. It’s super bright and hot and gives the richly flavored meat the right amount of kick.
Tacos de Cabeza - Beef Cheek Tacos
- 6 or 8-quart heavy stockpot with lid
- chef knife
- cutting board
- measuring cups and spoons
Braised Beef Cheeks
- 2½ lbs beef cheeks picked over and cleaned of excess sinew and fat
- 1 whole onion, white, peeled, cored and roughly chopped
- 2 whole chilies, Sandia, or Anaheim seeds/stems removed and roughly chopped (Sandia chilies made famous in Hatch, New Mexico. Sandia's come in three different heat levels. Mild, Medium, and Hot. Choose your level of heat.)
- 1½ cups tomato puree
- 4 large cloves garlic, peeled and finely minced
- 1 tbsp oregano, dried
- ½ tbsp cumin, ground
- 1 tbsp salt, kosher, or sea
- 1 tbsp pepper, black ground
- 2 tsp bay leaf, ground, or (3 dried bay leaves)
- 3½-4 cups water (just enough to cover the meat)
- 1 cup onion, white, finely chopped, and rinsed in cold water
- ½ cup cabbage, green, finely shredded
- ½ cup cilantro washed and chopped
- 1 whole lime, Mexican cut into small wedges
- ½ cup cheese, Oaxaca, Asadero, Queso Fresco or Quesadilla shredded
- 5-6 dashes of Sonoran Chiltepin Sauce or any Mexican style hot sauce
Check the Beef Cheeks
- Look over the beef cheeks for any sinew of extra fat and remove it. In many cases, you can have your butcher do this for you.
Prepare to Braise
- Peel and core the onions, garlic, and peppers. Measure out the seasonings and place everything in a (6 or 8-quart) stockpot. Add the tomato puree and just enough cold water to cover the meat.
- Place the stockpot over a burner on medium-high heat until the mixture comes to a boil. Lower the heat to low or medium-low and allow the liquid to percolate. Cover with the lid and allow to cook
- After (5-6) hours, check the meat for tenderness. Keep gently cooking until the meat is super tender and falls apart. (sometimes 1-2 hours more)
- After the meat has become very tender and is easily shredded, remove it from the heat, and allow it to cool uncovered for 20 minutes. Once the meat has cooled, carefully remove the meat to a different container. Strain the sauce through a chinois or china cap. Using a ladle, press out all the sauce through the strainer. Discard the vegetables.
- Once the sauce is strained, check to see if there is any excess fat. If there is, remove this with a ladle. Then, add the beef cheeks back into the sauce and reserve. (I like to cook the meat the day before and refrigerate the sauce/stock overnight. The next day the fat will have set up. Lift the fat layer off and discard)
- Look the beef cheeks over and remove any excess fat or sinew. Shred the rest into medium chunks. Add the de-fatted stock/sauce to the meat and reheat over medium heat until it reaches 165°F. Turn the meat and sauce to low and cover with a lid until needed.
- Take a warm tortilla and fill it with some of the meat with sauce. Top with Oaxaca cheese (optional), finely shredded green cabbage, minced onions, and cilantro. Top the whole taco with dashes of Sonoran Chiltepin Sauce or your favorite hot sauce.