Jen Causey
Active Time
25 MIN
Total Time
55 MIN
Yield
Serves : 4

Learning to work with dried chiles in the kitchen is one of the most rewarding techniques you will ever learn. And contrary to popular belief, that doesn’t always lead to breathing out fire with every bite or spending entire days making mole. In this case, it’s as easy as toasting a few dried chiles on your cast iron, throwing it in all in a blender with some spices and garlic, and making one of the most flavorful dishes in Mexico: birria.

Birria was the first dish that my wife Paola made for me when I visited her on a frigid, rainy day in Portland, Oregon. Paola hails from Puerta Vallarta, in the coastal Mexican state of Jalisco, and her version of her home state’s famed dish isn’t as brothy as ones you’ve probably had at Mexican restaurants in the States. Instead, she treats the sauce like a thick, wet rub that resembles the old-world style of birria tatemada, a style of birria where goat is slow-roasted in a clay oven until crusty and tender. It has a lot in common with a bold Jamaican jerk marinade or even an Indian vindaloo paste. It’s a fruity, spiced flavor bomb in every sense of the word, but a controlled one that keeps you coming back for one more bite until it’s all gone.

That first night, she made it with lamb shanks, but these days, almost eight years later and married, we’ve been experimenting with seafood versions of Mexican classics. On one of our date nights at the supermarket, we bought some of those thick, rib eye–like slabs of swordfish that were on sale but didn’t know what to do with it when we got home. We had some leftover birria paste—naturally preserved by a healthy dose of vinegar—in the darkest corner of our fridge, and in a moment of sheer hunger and desperation, this amazing seafood variation of the meaty dish was born. The adobo is both in the paste and the salsa, so there is no escaping it.

Part of the pleasure of this dish is piling all of the elements onto corn tortillas: The onions, radish, and lime go a long way, so make sure to have plenty of them. Buttery slices of avocado add that satisfying richness. For your fish, look for the thickest slabs of swordfish at the counter, and use a thermometer to get the swordfish just right. And when buying chiles, look for chiles that feel chewy—that’s the sign of a freshly dried chile that will add the richest flavor to the warm and spicy sauce. —Javier Cabral

How to Make It

Step 1    Make the adobo

Using a paring knife, cut a slit down the side of each chile. Open each chile, and remove and discard veins and seeds. Heat a large comal or cast-iron skillet over medium. Add chiles, and cook until fragrant and chiles begin to darken, about 30 seconds per side. Remove chiles from pan; set aside.

Step 2    

Combine toasted chiles, onion, vinegar, cumin seeds, salt, peppercorns, garlic, and cloves in a blender, and puree until a smooth paste forms. If paste is too thick, add water to thin to desired consistency (I use about 6 tablespoons water to 1 cup adobo).

Step 3    Make the fish

Preheat oven to 300°F. Season fish with salt. Spread 3/4 cup adobo over fish to completely coat fillets. Line a medium baking dish with parchment paper. Add fish, and drizzle with oil. Roast in preheated oven on middle rack until flesh is opaque throughout and flakes easily with a fork and a thermometer inserted in center of fillet registers 135°F, about 30 minutes. Let fish rest 10 minutes.

Step 4    Make the salsa

In the same blender, add tomatoes, salt, and 1/4 cup adobo. Process until smooth.

Step
Step 5    Make the toppings

Toss together onion, radishes, lime juice, and oregano in a small bowl until combined. Season with salt to taste. Serve fish with onion mixture, avocado, salsa, and hot, fresh tortillas.

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