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por que tu eres un taco grande?

Recipe: shredded beef tacos

That phrase is the first sentence I learned in Spanish way back in high school, from a bunch of friends who took Spanish. I took French, see. So when I headed down to South America to do field work for graduate school I was all, “Guys, I don’t speak a lick of Spanish.” Well, except for por que tu eres un taco grande? Everyone assured me I’d pick it up.

I did pick up some Spanish, all with an Argentine accent. That got me a lot of funny stares when I flew across the Andes to Chile for work on a field project with Jeremy and a team of astronomers. When Jeremy met me at the airport in Santiago and we caught a cab, he was amazed while I chattered away with our driver in my Argentine Spanish explaining the geophysical research project I had been working on for the past month. Jeremy speaks Spanish. When he saw me off at the airport in the US, the only new Spanish I had learned was No me molestes! and Chupacabra (from an X-files episode).

When I say Jeremy speaks Spanish, I really mean that he knows a lot of Spanish, but the guy hardly speaks much in English and even less in Spanish. He actually *thinks* before he speaks. That’s why when he finally says something, everyone listens. It’s usually something quite good. But me, I run my mouth all the time and let my jabbering find its way around until I say what I wanted to say. I don’t hesitate to speak. Same goes for my Spanish.

Despite my crappy command of the Spanish language I did surprisingly well communicating with the locals. I attribute that to my crappy Chinese. I’m well practiced in the art of getting semi-complex ideas across using a 3rd grade vocabulary. You should have seen me asking where I could find birthday candles at the grocery store in Pisagua, Chile [where can I find a small light that you place on a cake which is served on the day someone is born?]

So the other day I was thinking about how bad my Spanish has become (rather, how much worse) and I said aloud to myself, “Por que tu eres un taco grande?” Mmmm, tacos. It had been an age since I last made shredded beef tacos (and I had this giant sack of limes to finish off). I got on the shredded beef taco kick after going to an awesome Taqueria on Mission and 24th in San Francisco with a friend of mine who had grown up there. He told me if I ate Taco Bell, he’d beat the crap out of me. Ha! I could *so* kick his ass. But the memory of their amazing shredded beef tacos still lingers in my mind.

beef eye of chuck, limes, garlic

the marinade

I tried to reproduce these in graduate school, but I think when you work on a PhD, you become incompetent at everything you do (including the PhD). It’s worse than chemo brain, I tell you. I always used beef chuck and shredded the beef in the food processor using the dough blade. Somehow, a light bulb went off in my head this time… Why not READ the recipe carefully?

the beef cut into strips

into the ziploc

Beef eye of chuck is not quite beef chuck as I knew it. Dude in the meat department was all “That is not the right cut of meat in your hands, you want this instead.” I did look it up for shits and giggles because I like diagrams of animals and the names of the cuts of meat (and how the Brits have different names than Yankees do.) Being a Coloradoan, it’s my sworn duty to loathe Texas, but when it comes to Beef, Texas knows what she’s talkin’ about.

pour the beef and marinade into baking dish

add beef broth

Right, so the recipe said I could grill the beef or bake it. Grilling it won’t result in shredded beef, just fajita-like strips. I opted for the baked version because I am all about the slow-cooking and the falling apart of cheap cuts of meat. The original oven time was just over an hour. When I tried to shred the beef, it felt tough, so I let it go another hour in the oven. Much better.

shred it

ready to serve

After shredding the beef, I mix it in with the juices and serve it on lightly fried fresh corn tortillas with lettuce, guacamole, salsa, whatever you want, really. I highly recommend queso fresco instead of cheddar. Since all of the grocery stores in Boulder conspired to NOT HAVE queso fresco, I grated some feta which actually worked out nicely (not as creamy, but nice, smooth and salty). Of course, the first store I set foot in when I was visiting Grandma in California had GIANT slabs of queso fresco on display. *sigh*

Jeremy loves these shredded beef tacos. I, myself, feel like dancing while I eat them. They are THAT happy-making.

pile it on

can’t talk… eating

Shredded Beef Tacos
[print recipe]
slightly modified from Tejas Tacos in The Border Cookbook

1 1/2 lbs eye of chuck (which is NOT beef chuck roast)
4 tbsps vegetable oil
2 tbsps vinegar
2 tbsps fresh lime juice
1 1/2 tsps ground cumin
1 1/2 tsps chili powder
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup beef stock
salt to taste
~ 24 corn tortillas
lettuce, queso fresco, salsa, guacamole, etc. (for toppings)

Trim the fat and cut the beef into 1 inch thick slices. In a ziploc bag, combine the oil, vinegar, lime juice, cumin, chili powder, and garlic. Place the meat slices in the bag, seal, mix it around and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight. Bring the meat to room temperature. Place all contents from the bag in a baking dish with the beef stock. Cover the dish and bake for 1 1/4 hours (I baked it for 2 1/2 hours) at 350°F. Let the meat rest for 10 minutes and then shred it with forks or process it quickly in a food processor with the plastic dough blade (I prefer the forks method). Salt the meat to your liking. Fry the tortillas lightly in a little hot oil. I like to double the tortillas and stuff them with shredded beef, lettuce, cheese, guacamole, and salsa.

50 nibbles at “por que tu eres un taco grande?”

  1. Bridget says:

    That’s awesome. I’ve been keeping my eye out for a good method for shredded beef tacos.

  2. Cate says:

    That taco looks absolutely breathtaking!

  3. Tartelette says:

    I knew when I started reading your lines that my stomach would start making noises even at 1am….I am officially starving! Best looking tacos I have seen!
    Would you come over and feed me a real meal?!! Tippy had teet surgery today and I have been keeping watch and I forgot to eat a nutritious meal (I had cake..oops!) He’s been a real trooper for an old pupp and Bailey has been relatively calm around him. Let’s hope the biopsy they did turns out good. He’s been in and out of it all day…but they both perked up when I pulled up a picture of Kaweah…sibbling rivalry!!

  4. Rosa says:

    Oh, I love that kind of conforting dish! Those Tacos look incredibly good! Scrumptious! Now, I’m craving Tex-Mex/Mexican food ;-P…



  5. Mrs Ergül says:

    I will love to have one like this anytime of the day! You’re so good at making good food that looks just as good. Yum!

    take care!

  6. Astrid says:

    I enjoyed your anecdotes about linguistic explorations. Now for the big question: how do you say “eye of chuck” in Swiss-German? Really? You don’t know? Sigh, I would so like to taste these tacos, but I fear Switzerland is just too un-Mexican, the project is doomed before I try.

  7. peabody says:

    Well my husband is all over that taco! He is one of those annoying think before he speaks kind of people as well. ;) I on the other hand like you, blabber away. I like the blabbering though.

  8. Kitt says:

    How can store in Boulder not have queso fresco? Even all the Safeways in the whitest parts of Denver carry it.

    Your tacos look stellar without it, anyway.

  9. Lisa@The Cutting Edge of Ordinary says:

    Is it bad that it’s 6:15am here and I am wanting tacos for breakfast???

  10. ThistleDew Farm says:

    Great – I need a taco fix like right now! I miss the food from California – just like no good Chinese, east Tennessee has no good taco’s. Actually the best taco’s I ever had were fish taco’s in Hawaii….I’ll have to recreate it and blog about it….yummy….thanks for getting my taste buds going first thing in the morning.

  11. marion says:

    I’m hungry
    Damm’ !!!!!

  12. Lezel Safi says:

    Off to buy some “eye of chuck” today….sounds so good and those corn tortillas I’m wanting NOW!

  13. Mollie says:

    I have lusted in my heart. Over those tacos. I’ve been having a taco and fajita fit lately. These look a lot better than mine tho.

    We say chupacabra all the time at my house – its what we say when the other person mumbles and we have no idea what they said. “Did you just ask me for a chupacabra?” Made me laugh when I read that.

  14. Susy says:

    Looks splendid. I’ll have to git it a try.

  15. Liz says:

    Oh my that looks great! Will be adding it to my weekly menu. Thanks!!


  16. Lori says:

    Oh man, I want that! I have salsa in the frig….

    I lost my sense of spelling when I was in graduate school. When writing so many words, one forgets how to spell I guess. My friend explains it like this: Your brain is like a tile table. When your brain is full, the table is full. So if you place a new tile on the table, one has to fall off at the other end.

  17. Margie says:

    This time I shorted out a keyboard. ARE YOU HAPPY?!!!! :O

    I digress….these are just finger-lickin good. I will be unveiling them at my table very soon.


  18. Lan says:

    your story is great. i have the same issue with vietnamese. so when i say i’m fluent in vietnamese, what i really mean is that i can speak it well with my pham-ily who *understands* my round about way of speaking but anyone not related to me would not get it, in fact, they would deem me as not fluent AT.ALL.

    thank you for this dish. it has inspired me to perhaps make it, or something like it, for the boyfriend’s lunch next week.

    i am so loving that you’re blogging everyday this month, it’s a wonderful 15 minute respite from work. :)

  19. Candace says:

    That looks simply outrageous!

  20. Gretchen Noelle says:

    Seguramente voy a preparar este receta – se ve delicioso!!! :)
    (Surely I am going to make this recipe, it looks delicious!)

  21. kathryn says:

    Oh. My. God.
    I really want to come stay with you and eat your food.
    Thanks for kicking up my tex mex craving right when I had that bitch subdued.

    Speaking of 3rd grade Spanish…yea, that’s me with Norwegian.


  22. tokyoastrogirl says:

    I recently found your blog via your buddy Smitten Kitchen, and damn it to hell that I spent four years without having had the pleasure of reading your rants, seeing your photos and drooling over your food. I’m kicking myself as I type this (I’m good at multitasking). I think I need to cancel my weekend plans and make this recipe and spend the entire weekend eating it.

    You’re an inspiration. I spent a couple of hours reading all of your posts. I only hope that I can face life- the good and the bad- with the humor, sarcasm, honesty, intelligence and courage that you do. You’re awesome. Seriously. And coming from me that probably doesn’t mean much but I just wanted to say it.

    And guess what? I’m gonna give your old haunt Ai a chance. I live on the border of Highland Park and Pasadena, and went there once a loooooooooong time ago and turned up my snooty nose when they served me ocha in a coffee mug. I pass it all the time and have never gone back, but you’ve convinced me. And I love my sush and I trust you (and the photos!) so I’ll try it once more.

    Anyway, thanks.

  23. tokyoastrogirl says:

    PS- what kind of vinegar? Just plain old white vinegar?

  24. Laura @ Hungry and Frozen says:

    Those tacos look seriously delicious. YAY for cheap cuts of meat and slow cooking :)

    I loved learning Spanish in high school, it’s such a fun language. For some reason the phrase “Me gustaria un bocadillo de jamon” (I would like a ham sandwich) is the only one that has really stuck with me though…

  25. Memoria says:

    Those tacos look soooooo delicious! I want them now!

    I know what you mean about graduate school…truer words were never spoken.

    In regards to your Spanish sentence, the correct way to write and say it is, “¿Por qué eres tú un taco grande?” Without the accent marks and inverted question mark, it no longer is a well-formed question. Also, “tu” means “your” while “tú” means “you”. Lastly, the subject almost always goes after the verb in questions, not before. Anyway, I can’t believe you remembered such a funny question!

  26. Sonya says:

    Your tacos look just WOW!!

    I’m not a good spanish teacher, but I can help you in franch lllollll

    Bye have nice week-end

  27. Sonya says:


  28. Patricia Scarpin says:

    We have something similar here, Jen – we call it “carne louca” (crazy beef). It’s also shredded and then chopped tomatoes, onions, bell peppers and green olives are added. It’s served in baguettes, as a sandwich.
    I don’t eat meat (can’t stand it), but I’ll eat carne louca any time!

    These tacos would make my hubby happy. And that is such a plus, because he can be a pain in the neck when it comes to food…

  29. judy says:

    We have something in common. We dance foods. I have a happy dance whenever I suck down brie and bread. I didn’t know anyone else did that :)

  30. Sarah says:

    Ha. What a great segway. I loved the story. I’m always impressed when people just speak in another language without worrying about the words being perfect. I rarely (read: never) use my Spanish, even when the situation presents itself because I get all caught up in saying everything perfectly…silly, since I’d learn a lot more if I just opened my mouth!

    Ps. Sorry, no comments on the recipe…beef is not exactly my thing, but I’m sure they were delicious!

  31. jenyu says:

    Bridget – These aren’t bad for texmex (but I think I want to try a New Mexican style too).

    Cate – thanks!

    Tartelette – ha ha! You are too funny. Come on out here and I’ll feed you tex mex, Chinese, whatever you want! :) Pet the pups for me xxoo

    Rosa – I get cravings for it too :)

    Mrs. E – oh my dear, if I made the food look bad, I wouldn’t post it ;)

    Astrid – It is also called chuck filet. But basically ask for the tender part of the shoulder, I think. Check the link to the beef chart for reference. Best of luck!

    Peabody – I like your blabbering, babe :)

    Kitt – for some reason the supplier dissed everyone that week. Whatevs! ;)

    Lisa – oh hon, I like dinner for brekkie all the time, so you are not alone!

    ThistleDew Farm – I love fish tacos too. If you make the stuff at home, you can probably get your fix. I know the south is woefully short on good texmex.

    Marion – :)

    Lezel – mmm, I hope you like the recipe!

    Mollie – I’ll have to tell you about the little puppet bear that yells chupacabra in our house ;)

    Susy – yay!

    Liz – you’re very welcome.

    Lori – i like you’re friend’s expanation :)

    Margie – great!

    Lan – ha ha ha, oh, we’re a sorry lot, aren’t we? but i can most certainly order food in a restaurant! thanks!

    Candace – thank you.

    Gretchen – heeeeeeeee!

    Kathryn – oh, sorry, my dear! I forgot… but surely you can make tex mex in Norway, no?!? :)

    Tokyoastrogirl – awww, you’re really sweet. Thanks. Just be sure when you go to Ai that you sit at the bar and tell Fumito (the head chef) that Jennifer Yu sent you. Hopefully he’ll treat you right. But yes, the service is sloooow and sometimes things might be strange there, however the fish is always fresh and the portions good. Oh yes, just plain white vinegar or apple cider vinegar, anything sour will do.

    Laura – at least it’s about the food, right? :)

    Memoria – Well, seeing as I never wrote a lick of Spanish and only heard it spoken, it’s a miracle I could even write anything out that made sense ;)

    Sonya – I like french OR franch!

    Patricia – wow, that sounds lovely. Yum. I could go for that too!

    Judy – I have some friends who also do happy dances :) We are not alone!!

    Sarah – no worries, I get comments about all sorts of stuff. And yes, just start speaking spanish! Even with pals :)

  32. Manggy says:

    OMG! I am totally falling all over myself with laughter over your linguistic adventures. That birthday candle question is so freakin’ inspired. I got my lifetime’s supply of beef during this past week in the States– but I think I’ll want a little more after seeing the tender, juicy beef in your pics!

  33. jenyu says:

    Mark – yes, I am a master of butchering languages! I’m sad I couldn’t visit with you on your trip to the US this time. Would you please interview or test in Colorado!

  34. g says:

    Made these over the weekend and they were glorious– thanks for the new recipe!

  35. jenyu says:

    G – very welcome!!

  36. Kevin says:

    Those tacos look really tasty.

  37. jenyu says:

    Kevin – thanks!

  38. Donald Orphanidys says:

    Wow. I’ve never had tacos with shredded beef – always ground. Now, I love a good braise, so I think these are on the menu for football this weekend.

  39. jenyu says:

    Donald – these are lovely. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do!

  40. Bridget says:

    I’ve made these twice – once in the crockpot and once in the oven. I liked them from the oven quite a bit more. I was at about 10000 feet when I made them in the oven, so I let them cook for even longer than 2.5 hours, and then they were nice and tender. The beef is really great, but I also love the toppings you use with it – the salsa, guacamole, and queso fresco are a nice fresh-tasting contrast to the spicy beef.

  41. jenyu says:

    Bridget – yeah, something about the oven gives it a texture that the crock pot doesn’t :) So glad you liked it!

  42. shea says:

    I just made these tonight and they were so good. The texture of the beef was perfect, and I made my own fresh salsa, which was a nice compliment along with shredded colby-jack cheese and sour cream. Thanks!! I would have never tried making these if I hadn’t seen your recipe.

  43. jenyu says:

    Shea – awesome! I love this recipe too. Glad that you enjoyed it. Shredded beef tacos beat ground beef tacos any day :)

  44. Jackie says:

    Was searching foodgawker for some taco recipe’s and ran into yours. Out of all, yours looks the best. Was wondering how many servings your tacos make.

    Want to make it for a gathering and wanted to know if I needed to double the recipe.


  45. jenyu says:

    Jackie – this should easily fill 2 dozen tacos (I guess it depends on how much you load them up).

  46. jenny says:

    if you are in Vail, there is a huge variety of queso in almost every store here! It def. makes the difference!

  47. Lisa says:

    Made these tonight and they were great!

  48. Fatima says:

    I’ve made these like 10 times in the past year…I thought it was about time to tell you thank you! Delicious. I like mine with refried black beans, guac, shredded cheese and sour cream…A bit more unhealthy than your version haha.

  49. Spicy Refried Bean Soup | ~Dixie Chik Cooks~ Spicy Refried Bean Soup | A Southern Belle who thinks about what's for dinner while eating lunch. says:

    […] two nights ago I opened a can of them to accompany Use Real Butter’s shredded beef tacos (again; can’t help it I’m hooked on this […]

  50. Marian says:

    Awesome taco recipe!
    Due to the fact that I could not get the beef I did it with neck of pork and also put a sliced onion and some tomatoes with it into the ofen. Came out beautiful!
    Thx for the recipe! :)

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