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One of the things I miss most on a round of Whole30 is a fresh, juicy, hot taco. I’ll take a taco however I can get it, but under ideal circumstances I want some spicy, slowly-braised short rib, a heavy dollop of fresh guac, chopped cilantro, slices of pickled onion and some finely shredded cabbage wedged between a freshly-pressed corn tortilla!
Under less ideal circumstances, or during a round of Whole30, I’ll happily settle for a taco salad! And while super tender short rib remains my absolute favourite taco meat (beef cheek is a close second), I don’t always have short rib on hand or have the time to prepare it. I do, however, ALWAYS have ground beef in the freezer. For some strange reason unbeknown to me, my local Organic Garage (a small chain of grocery stores in the Toronto area) carries grass-fed ground beef that is less $’s/lbs than the hormone-laced junk being sold at most big stores. So, I always buy 5 or 6 packages of vacuum-sealed, grass-fed ground beef at a time and keep them in my freezer until ready to use.
I have two go-to methods for making so-called ‘taco meat’ using ground beef. The first is fairly involved and very similar to my recipes for Mexican Chili Braised Short Ribs and Crockpot Barbacoa. It involves rehydrating dried Mexican chilies, making a purée, braising, etc. In terms of flavour, this process can’t be beat. But sometimes a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush and if you’re hangry, tired from a long day at work and desperately craving tacos on a Tuesday, it doesn’t matter how delicious a recipe promises to be. Am I right?
The other recipe is a quick and easy approach. It’s a one pot, minimal ingredients and lots of spices situation. The spices are really, really important here. With the correct combination you can achieve one of the most flavourful mouthfuls of juicy, succulent, taco meat.
I realize that it is fairly rare (if not entirely impossible) to encounter ground beef tacos in the streets of Mexico. No need to remind me! As always, this recipe is an inspired one and not meant to serve as an authentic version of anything.
Nevertheless, I do have some golden rules if you are going to make this recipe at home. In fact, this applies to almost every single recipe that involves ground beef:
- Source the highest quality lean ground beef you can afford. Ideally, you will be able to find grass-fed beef. If not, try to get organic. Still out of the question? Get the best tasting lean ground beef you’ve tasted. High-quality beef will emit a sweet, delicate perfume when being browned. If the kitchen smells funky when you’re cooking the beef, that’s a bad sign.
- Use lean or medium ground beef. Extra lean is for the birds. You need some fat content here and if you’re using high-quality, grass-fed or organic beef the extra bit of fat is not necessarily a cause for concern.
- Thoroughly dry your meat before browning. All pre-packaged beef, ground or otherwise, is covered in moisture and a wet piece of meat will not properly brown – it will steam! Take the time to pat the beef dry with some paper towel. I cannot stress this point enough!
- Try to let the ground beef come to room temperature before cooking. A cold piece of meat will toughen when thrown into a hot pan. If you’re short on time, don’t worry about it too much. As mentioned, bird in the hand…
- I’m not crazy about substituting ground turkey or chicken with this spice mixture. The spices can overpower the flavour of poultry. I am, however, OK with you using ground lamb!
I hope you like this recipe and be sure to let me know what you think in the comments below!
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INGREDIENTS: (serves 4)
for the taco meat:
2 lbs lean ground beef – preferably grass-fed, organic
1 large onion – diced
1 serrano pepper – diced (remove seeds for less spicy version)
5 cloves garlic – finely chopped
1 cup chicken stock
1 tbsp regular paprika
1 tbsp onion powder
1 tbsp coriander powder
1 tbsp ancho chili powder
1 tbsp dried oregano
2 tsp cumin powder
1 tsp cayenne pepper (or more depending on preference)
salt and pepper
1-2 tbsp avocado oil
for the salad:
1 head romaine lettuce – shredded
compliant salsa – homemade pico de gallo works
finely sliced radish
lime wedges – for garnish
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- Heat 1 tbsp avocado oil in a large stock pot or dutch oven over high heat. Add the ground beef and brown in batches. If required, add more avocado oil to brown the second batch of beef. Transfer browned meat to a bowl. Drop the heat to medium-low, add the diced onion and serrano peppers. Sauté until onions are soft and translucent – approx. 8 min.
- Add garlic and cook an additional 60 seconds. Add paprika, onion powder, coriander, ancho chili powder, oregano, cumin, and cayenne. Stir and cook 45-60 seconds. Return browned beef to pot and stir everything to coat.
- Add chicken stock, bring everything to a boil, lower the heat to low, cover with a lid and cook 30 min, stirring occasionally to avoid burning. Note: the longer you cook this, the better it will taste! An hour is ideal.
- Serve taco meat over a bed of shredded romaine. Top with pico de gallo, sliced avocado, thinly-sliced radish and lime wedges.