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Making Carne Seca - Any Sonorans out there?

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Just returned from Tucson AZ; had a food epiphany there with the carne seca!

I'd like to make it at home, but all the recipes I'm finding either call for cooking the meat in an oven all night, or salting / draining in the fridge all week. What I had down there was sun-dried in a cage on the roof.

I'm not in the desert, but I have a food dehydrator and a smoker available, and have successfully made beef jerky in both.

All I could pry out of the restaurant was that the beef was marinated and dried, then shredded (how do I do this?), then the shreds marinated again in green chili sauce overnight and then grilled very hot to give some char.

Any recipes or suggestions as to how to proceed?

It was amusing that the waiter made us taste it before ordering, because many out-of-towners complain that it's "just shredded beef jerky" and they hate it. Of course it's the fresh lime juice on the fine shreds that make this stuff so awesome!

Thanks in advance..
DAN

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  1. Carne seca isn't made with jerky. They do use dried beef but it's not the same as jerky. I believe you could make a respectable version of it by slicing up a flank steak into strips and combining them with a marinade before drying them in a smoker or drying oven. I'd go the smoker route; just for the smoky flavor. I suppose you could dry the beef in a household oven, low and slow, but that doesn't appeal to me either. I'm too fond of that smoky flavor.
    I might try marinating the strips of beef in a mixture of red wine, garlic, vinegar, beer, some steak sauce and/or a splash of molasses. I'd figure on marinating at least overnight before blotting the beef dry and putting it into the smoker. How long to hold it in the smoker? I only know you don't want it to be bone dry. If you can't chew it it's too dry.
    I suppose you'd need to wrap it up and refrigerate it for a day or two before combining it with some chopped onions, garlic, green chiles and cumin in a pot of water and stewing it until it's tender.
    I'd have to rethink the molasses ... not sure if a tinge of sweet would be welcome in this dish.
    There is a little Peruvian restaurant in the Sierra Foothills of California that makes a very good version of it but I've never asked for the recipe (not that she'd let me have it) but I may ask for it next visit.

    1. Food Channel featured El Charro's carne seca many years go: beef strips dried on metals racks in the hot Tucson sun. I can't remember any more about the recipe, but my husband and I both think it's way too tough even it must be famous for some good reason...

      1. The method I have seen used that differentiates Mexican carne seca from American jerky is that the jerky is raw when it is dried and traditional carne seca is cooked first. Here is a recipe using this process: http://www.cookstr.com/recipes/tucson....

        In what is now New Mexico (and maybe other parts of Mexico, I am not sure) the tradition years ago was to soak carne seca in some kind of liquid (like stock or just water) and use that as "true" machaca. Today most folks skip the drying step as we have refrigerators and freezers and there is no need to dry the meat to preserve it.

        1. Thanks for the replies, all. I can still taste this stuff, and it's been a week!
          I'm going to start out by buying a bag of it dried and pre-shredded at a local tiendita, then marinate that, then hot smoke it.
          Will report back here!
          DAN

          1. I live in Tucson, and while I've been tempted to dry beef on my roof, I've figured out a much easier way to make it in the kitchen. It actually starts with leftover pot roast and winds up tasting like it came from El Charro.

            Any basic pot roast cooked in a tomato-based sauce will do, though I wouldn't use something with a lot of character or its own, like sauerbraten. I usually wind up with about a pound-and-a-half of leftover pot roast, so adjust the seasonings up or down depending on how much meat you have. Take your cold pot roast and shred it, then spread it out on one or two baking sheets. Squeeze one lime over the meet.

            Mix:
            1 1/2 teaspoons of ground New Mexico chiles or other mild red chiles, such as ancho powder
            1/2 teaspoon salt
            1/2 teaspoon pepper

            Sprinkle half of it over the meat and give it a stir.

            Bake at 275 degrees for twenty minutes. Sprinkle with the rest of the seasoning and stir well. Return to the oven for about 30 minutes, until brown and dried.

            Cool, then shred it further with your hands or give it a quick pulse in the food processor, being careful not to overdo it. You want fine threads, not sand.

            To finish, heat 2 Tablespoons vegetable oil in a pan and add a small chopped white onion. Cook until the onion gets soft.

            Then add:
            two or three green chiles (such as Anaheim or poblano that you have already roasted to remove the skin, seeded and chopped up,
            a couple of chopped tomatoes,
            two cloves of minced garlic, or more if you're like me,
            1/2 teaspoon of oregano.
            Add the meat and cook until all the liquid from the tomatoes is evaporated.

            Serve on tortillas sprinkled with lime juice.

            1 Reply
            1. re: bitchincook

              Thanks! I'll put a big pot roast on the menu soon, to be sure I have leftovers!
              DAN

            2. Growing up in Tucson My grandfather always marinaded the meat and hung it up to dry outside. When I was a kid I use to get in trouble because I would sneak a piece or two before it was ready ;)
              I always made it by mincing fresh garlic green onions large can of whole tomatoes and diced green chilies. I would put a little oil in a pan and heat the garlic add the onions and shredded beef green chilies and tomatoes I always chop the whole tomatoes. I use whole tomatoes because I like the extra liquid ;) You could add hot peppers for heat. Let it simmer the meat will incorporate the tomatoe juices...cook slow until most of the liquid has reduced out of the pan :)

              1 Reply
              1. re: soulclaybaby

                My mother was from Chihuahua Mexico where she was born in 1911, and I stood by her many times in the 1950's and 1960's watching her make carne seca by pounding beef jerky with a hammer into the shredded meat to make the carne seca. The best thing to do unless you are bound and determined to do that is buy machaca in a bag. Even easier is go eat at El Minuto restaurant in Tucson and order a plate of carne seca. They are the only place I have found that makes the real carne seca. Everywhere else I've been in Arizona, California, New Mexico, and Texas dries beef in an oven and does not even come close. I just flew from North Carolina to Tucson for a visit and my first stop is for a plate of carne seca at El Minuto.