Cooking Like A Mexican

Machaca

Machaca is a traditionally dried meat, usually spiced beef or pork, that is rehydrated and then used in popular local cuisine in Northern Mexico and the Southwestern United States. The essence of machaca is an ancient technique to preserve food that has been used by many ancestors in many cultures, in various eras and places. It’s amazing there are so many similarities in food in cultures that are so different. Dried meat is one of the most typical ingredients in the north of Mexico, reaching the Baja in a way that almost makes us believe it is a typical dish from here too.

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Prepared machaca can be served any number of ways, such as filler in tightly rolled flautas, tacos, or burritos, or on a plate with eggs, onions and peppers (chiles verdes or chiles poblanos). Machaca is almost always served with flour tortillas, that tend to be large, up to 20 inches in diameter.

The native Mexicans who lived in the north of the country realized they could preserve their meat and transported it in long rolls, sort of like edible sleeping bags. They would eat it dry, no seasoning or condiment. Dried meat was usually hard to take a bite out of, so they would take a couple of rocks and smash it until it broke down, giving it the name “machaca” (to grind). Later, they discovered quail eggs, and soon scrambled eggs with machaca was born. Also, since beef had not really made it to the Americas yet, deer meat was used. It still is used and very typical in northern Mexican cooking.

Nowadays machaca is quite different from what it originally was, and like all the good Mexican dishes and ingredients, there is a legend behind it. The most popular says that around the seventeenth century, northern Mexico’s economy revolved around mines and cattle. A bunch of miners grew tired of just dried, plain meat, so they asked a cook to change it up a little bit. She added whatever she had on hand which was onions, tomatoes, chiles and eggs and so was invented the typical machaca scrambled eggs.

Another of the stories says that in Nuevo Leon, around 1928, a lady called Tía Lencha (aunt lencha) was in charge of feeding the engineers and builders who were working on the road to Laredo. She felt bad for them, poor men eating dry meat with lime juice, so she went in her kitchen and made machaca friend in pork lard, with tomato, onion and chiles. She threw some refried beans on the plate and handed them flour tortillas. They loved it.

After the arrival of refrigeration, dehydration was no longer needed for preservation. Nowadays most dried beef is sold in the U.S. as jerky. In Mexico, it is still sold for cooking and snacking; this is done mostly in the north and in small-scale operations. Most machaca dishes now are made from beef that has been well-cooked, shredded, and then cooked in its juices until the desired consistency is achieved, which in Phoenix can be soupy, dry, or medium. In Tucson and south, the preparation is almost always dry, and approximates more closely the taste and texture of the original dish prepared from dried meat. Carne seca (dry meat), is an alternative name for machaca in Tucson and Sonora.

Whichever story is real, machaca was spread all through the north of Mexico, even the parts that were sold to the United States, but they call it jerky. Each state claims it as their own and has their special recipe.

This recipe is to make “artisanal” machaca, meaning a small batch, and some people might always prefer store bought, but I believe there is a magic in making things, at least once, so you can appreciate the real value of them. Machaca is traditionally hung and dried in a cool room, but it can be made in a dehydrator or an oven too. If you try the room method, you’ll have to get creative because the meat has to be hung.

Machaca can be made with any cut of meat, but the best ones are thin and have low fat, like black pulp, rump and loin.

Machaca needs a little sun dry process, so it is best to make it on a sunny day. It also will take a while, from two hours to two days.

This recipe makes one pound of dried meat.

Ingredients:

1 pound of beef meat.

Pepper to taste

1 ½ spoonful’s of salt

Procedure:

Prepare the meat. Trim all the fat and slice in thin, long strips.

Sprinkle the salt evenly on both sides, until a thin crust of salt is formed. You can use more salt if needed.

Place all the strips of meat on a clean, flat surface, leave to “cook” under the sun between 3 and 30 minutes. This depends on the type of meat, until it becomes light brown. Cover it with a big plastic bag or a piece of fabric. Make sure that the covering is not in direct contact with the meat and there is no holes where insects can get in.

Turn over the meat once it reaches a light brown color, and repeat the process. Make sure, however, that you don’t leave it under the sun for too long, and if it turns a greenish hue it is no longer edible.

Sprinkle with pepper and finish the process.

In a room: hang the meat to dry in a cool and airy room. Leave to dehydrate for 48 hours, until completely dry and even a lighter brown. You can place a fan in the room to quicken the process.

In the oven: preheat the oven to 158ºf. place all the strips on a baking sheet making sure they don’t touch each other. Place in the oven for 1 to 3 hours, until they are very well cooked and dry. They should also turn a lighter brown.

Smash the meat until it reaches the “machaca” consistency, or place it in a blender, but I wouldn’t recommend the latter.

That’s it! Enjoy with some scrambled eggs!