My task was simple, yet challenging: Create a salad that doubled as an entrée. For me, the challenge was twofold. I didn’t want to just present a salad with a unique protein on top. I wanted to go with something that really incorporated all of the flavors of the dish into one profile. Since I enjoy and appreciate simplicity of execution with a slight “do it yourself” twist, I decided to go with a braised beef taco salad. Therein lies the twofold challenge: Braising is probably my least familiar cooking technique. However, the complexity that braising brings to a dish is fantastic, and my appreciation for the technique has grown immensely.
Begin with a 2-3 pound chuck steak/roast. As always, the more local the origin of your beef, the better. Braising combines the techniques of sautéing and boiling. This magnifies the herbs and spices you choose to use. Slightly caramelizing the onions adds a subtle sweetness to the beef that is a terrific counterpoint to the heat of the fire-roasted serrano peppers. The combinations of heat from the peppers, richness of the avocado, savory from the beef, sweetness from the tomatoes, and fresh pop of cilantro combine magically to give this salad an experience you’ll want to have again and again.
• 2-3 lb. beef brisket (excess fat removed)
• Cayenne pepper
• Chili powder
• Garlic powder
• Kosher salt
• Black pepper
• Chipotle peppers in adobo (diced is fine)
• 1 yellow onion (diced to about ¾-inch)
• Olive oil
• Flour tortillas (I used 8-inch size)
• Sour cream
• Limes (or fresh lime juice)
• Shredded cheese (I prefer cheddar jack)
• Black beans (optional)
• Stock pot or slow cooker
I chose to omit the ingredient amounts so that you can tailor this recipe to your tastes and also to the size of the brisket.
Begin by heating a sauté pan with just enough olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan. Meanwhile, combine two parts cumin, chili powder, and garlic powder with one part cayenne pepper in a small bowl. Season the brisket lightly with kosher salt and black pepper and rub with the spice blend. Once the oil has just barely begun to smoke, add the brisket. Sear each side for roughly 4 to 6 minutes, depending on the size. Set aside. Do not drain the pan! The rendered fat and juices from the beef will only add to the flavor of the dish. Add diced onion and sauté until tender and slightly caramelized. Add chipotle peppers and two cans (about 1 ½ cups) of water.
Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium low. Simmer and reduce to about half the liquid you began with (this begins to concentrate the flavors). Once reduced, cover brisket with sauce and onions in your slow cooker. Add just enough water to immerse the brisket, and set to low heat. Leave it alone for 6 to 8 hours. When you come back, the beef should be fully cooked and able to be pulled apart using only two forks.
After you’ve pulled apart the brisket, you can choose to let it sit in the sauce and gain even more flavor. At this point, however, it is ready to serve if you need.
For the taco shells, simply place a tortilla in an oven safe bowl. Insert the bowls into a preheated 350-degree oven on a cookie sheet. Bake for 20 to 30 minutes, or just until the tops begin to turn golden brown. I’ve noticed that the bottoms tend to be underdone at this point. To remedy this, remove them from the bowls, leave them on the cookie sheet, and turn off your oven. Leave the oven vented in order to cool evenly.