When it comes to Super Bowl food, people usually make culinary specialties from the hometowns of the opposing teams. With no disrespect to this year’s contenders, Green Bay and Pittsburgh, at my Super Bowl party I’m going to honor Dallas, this year’s host, instead. And while there are several dishes that remind me of Dallas, one I love the most is a large plate of brisket tacos.
Brisket tacos, if you’ve never had them in Dallas, are soft tortillas stuffed with succulent strands of brisket, pulled from a roast that has been braised overnight. The brisket isn’t smoky nor is it fiery—instead it’s tender and juicy, with a rich depth of flavor that can only come from cooking the meat low and slow.
Another hallmark of Dallas’s brisket tacos is that there’s always melted Monterey Jack on the tortillas, and each taco is topped with strips of sautéed onions and poblano chiles. Some places also include a small bowl of the pan juices, turning the brisket taco into a Tex-Mex beef sandwich au jus.
Dallas-area restaurateurs love to argue over the invention of the brisket taco. I had my first one at Mia’s, but the owners of Avila’s have also laid claim to its provenance. Sure, these restaurants may have popularized the specific style of brisket tacos found in Dallas, but I think that it’s silly to assume that these places were the first to make such a simple dish.
That said, you don’t usually find brisket tacos on the menu in other Texas cities. I’m not sure why this is the case, but as Tex-Mex cuisine has many region-specific dishes—Houston's green sauce, for instance—it certainly doesn’t surprise me. The Dallas-Fort Worth area has long been associated with cattle, so it makes sense that a big, beefy taco would be an integral part of this town’s Tex-Mex scene.
As for the Super Bowl, I’ve heard some people laugh about how two of the Dallas Cowboys’ biggest rivals will be fighting each other in Cowboys Stadium. Of course, it would have been great to have the Cowboys play, but with the year they had that wasn’t an option. But that’s okay—I think that Dallas is ultimately the winner of this year’s game, as it gets to show thousands of visitors what Texas hospitality is all about, such as this plate of tender and flavorful soft brisket tacos.
Brisket tacos, Dallas style
For the brisket:
3 pounds brisket, from the flat cut
Salt and black pepper to taste
1 tablespoon vegetable oil or bacon grease
1 large yellow onion, cut into quarters
8 cloves garlic
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
2 cups beef broth
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 jalapeños, seeds and stems removed, cut in half, lengthwise
2 leafy stems cilantro
1 bay leaf
For the tacos:
2 poblano chiles
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
1 large yellow onion, cut into slivers
1 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese (4 ounces)
Corn or flour tortillas
Preheat the oven to 250 degrees.
Sprinkle the brisket with salt and black pepper. In a large ovenproof pot, such as a Dutch oven, heat up the oil on medium-low, and brown the brisket on both sides, about 5 minutes per side.
Remove the brisket from the pot and add the onions. While occasionally stirring, cook until they begin to brown. Add the garlic cloves and cook for another 2 minutes. Turn off the heat and pour into the pot the red wine vinegar, scraping along the bottom to loosen all of the pan drippings.
Return to the pot the brisket, fat-side up. Pour in the beef broth and add the cumin, jalapeños, cilantro and bay leaf. Cover the pot and place in the oven. Cook the brisket for 6 hours or until it’s fork tender. When you take the brisket out of the oven, let it rest in the pot uncovered for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, to make the taco toppings, roast the poblano chiles under the broiler until blackened, about 5 minutes per side. Place chiles in a paper sack or plastic food-storage bag, close it tight and let the chile steam for 20 minutes. Take the chiles out of the bag and rub off the skin. Remove stem and seeds and cut the chiles into strips. Heat up the vegetable oil in a skillet on medium low, and add the onion slivers. While occasionally stirring, cook until softened, about 10 minutes. Add the cut poblano strips and cook for 1 more minute.
After the brisket has rested, remove it from the pot, cut off the fat cap and shred the meat with two forks until it’s in long strands. To make the gravy, strain the cooled broth, throwing out the vegetables. Remove the fat from the broth with a gravy separator. Or alternatively, you can take a quart-sized plastic storage bag and pour some broth into it. Snip a bottom corner of the bag and drain the broth, stopping when you get to the fat layer that is on top. Add 2 tablespoons of the gravy to the shredded brisket, reserving the rest for serving. Taste the brisket and adjust seasonings.
To make the tacos, place on one side of each tortilla some Monterey Jack and slide the tortillas under the broiler for 30 seconds or until the cheese is melted. Fill the tortillas with shredded brisket and top with some of the onions and poblano strips. Serve with the pot juices and salsa.
Yield: 4-6 servings