This Mexican Braised Beef with Sweet Potato has big, bold, delicious flavours and will leave you full without weighing you down. It’s a family favourite and happens to be paleo and Whole30-compliant, so feel free to enjoy without compromising your programs.
Over the years I’ve slowly discovered a few secrets that take an already amazing dish to the next level.
My first tip is to use whole, dried chilies and to reconstitute them in stock (chicken, vegetable or beef work equally well). Don’t get me wrong, the dried stuff can be great but when it comes to producing punch-you-in-the-face-delicious-flavours they just don’t compete. It helps that Mexican chilies (ex. Ancho, Guajillo, Cascabel, Morita, etc.) are now readily available at local grocery stores. I used to have to make a special trip to a Latino market every few months to stock-up on bags full of the stuff. Not that I ever minded!
Rather than using a store-bought marinade or cans of crushed tomato, I like to blend the reconstituted chilies and the stock they steep in to make a velvety, rich and flavourful sauce to braise the beef in. This is the same technique I use to make my taco meat (which you can get the recipe for here) with ground beef and it works perfectly for just about any type of meat, be it ground or otherwise. There’s also something unbelievably rewarding in making your own sauce, never mind the fact that it is far healthier than anything from a store.
The second tip is to use well-marbled cuts of beef. Lean cuts will dry out and no matter how long you braise them they will never be as good as something with a bit of fat on it. Shoulder or chuck work well here. Same rules apply if using pork. Keep in mind, not all fats are created equal and I strongly encourage you to buy grass-fed beef or other types of meat that are raised without the use of antibiotics or hormones. In Toronto, I recommend The Healthy Butcher for meat.
I should mention that this recipe uses a traditional braising method that requires a Dutch Oven (aka French Oven or Cocotte). I love this Staub model and can honestly say that it is worth every penny if you use it as regularly as I do. Alternatively, you can use a slow cooker. If you opt for the latter, I recommend you either brown the meat before adding it to the slow cooker along with the other ingredients. Or, purchase a model that has a removable insert that can be placed directly on the stovetop (like this model from ALL-CLAD). Either way, you can’t go wrong.
My last tip is to make enough to have leftovers the next day. I’ve become fairly well-known for my epic morning-after skillets and believe me when I tell you that Mexican Braised Beef makes the ultimate breakfast skillet, which you can get a recipe for here. It’s an elevated riff on Huevos Rancheros and when served with heaping spoonfuls of simple and delicious Pico de Gallo will take you to brunch heaven!
3-4 pounds beef shoulder or chuck
1L stock (chicken, beef or vegetable) – substitute water if unavailable
2 medium sweet potatoes – peeled and cubed
2 dried Ancho chilies
2 dried Guajillo chilies
2 dried Cascabel chilies
2 dried Morita chilies
2 small yellow onions (approx. 2 cups loosely packed) – sliced into half-moons
7-8 cloves garlic – smashed
1 tbsp spicy Spanish paprika
1 tbsp smoky Spanish paprika
1 tbsp coriander powder
4-5 sprigs fresh thyme
1 tbsp kosher salt
- Add the stock and whole-chilies to a small saucepan and bring everything to a low boil. Reduce heat to the lowest setting, cover with a lid and let steep for 15-20 minutes. Set aside.
- Preheat your oven to 350F.
- Drizzle 1/2 tbsp avocado oil in a large Dutch/French oven and set over med-high heat. Dry beef with a paper towel. Brown all sides of the until the edges form a golden brown crust. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.
- Reduce the heat to medium-low and add in the onions and garlic and season with a pinch of salt. Sauté until softened, approximately 6-8 minutes.
- Keeping an eye on the sautéing onions, get to work on the chilies. Reserving all of the chili-infused water, deseed and discard the stems of the chilies. Transfer the chilies to a blender or food processor along with all of the chili-infused water (careful to strain the stock for all loose seeds). Blend until it forms a smooth, rich and creamy consistency. Set aside for the moment.
- To the onions and garlic, add paprika, smoky paprika, coriander powder, and kosher salt. Stirring constantly, toast the spices for 60 seconds.
- Deglaze the pot with the blended chili puree, scraping off any brown-bits that have formed on the bottom and sides of the pot.
- Add in the browned beef along with all of the rendered juices that have pooled at the bottom of the bowl. Add in the sprigs of fresh thyme. Bring everything to a low boil then cover with a heavy, tight-fitting lid and transfer to the preheated oven set to 350F. **Note: depending on the size of your pot you may need to add a bit of water so that beef is almost entirely submerged.
- Braise approximately 3 hours occasionally rotating the beef so that the top does not dry-out.
- Remove from the oven. Transfer the beef to a large bowl and allow to cool enough to be handle by hand. Once cooled, shred the meat by hand.
- Add shredded beef back to the pot along with cubed sweet potato. Return to oven for another 15-20 minutes until sweet potato is fork tender.
- Serve in individual bowls. Garnish with sliced avocado, diced tomato, fresh cilantro and lime wedges.