These ancho short rib tacos may not be authentic Mexican food, but after one bite into a tortilla laden with red wine-braised short ribs and pickled red onions, you won’t care at all.
We’ve been seeing an awful lot of ancho short rib tacos on menus lately. And we suspect you’ve experienced this, too. At first glance, the concept may seem an unlikely melding of short ribs and ancho chiles and aromatics and (a waste of) good red wine. But wait until you taste the results when shredded and harnessed as a taco filling. And if we may make a suggestion, have lots of napkins on standby.–Renee Schettler
LC Authenticity Is Overrated Note
Are these ancho short rib tacos authentic Mexican? Nah. Are they worth making? Heck yeah. [Editor’s Note: This is one of those rare instances when we’ll concede that authenticity is, at times, somewhat overrated.]
☞ Table of Contents
Ancho Short Rib Tacos
For the pickled red onions
- 1/2 cup red wine vinegar
- 3 tablespoons thawed frozen orange juice concentrate
- 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 3/4 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano
- 1 bay leaf (optional)
- Kosher salt to taste
- 1 large red onion thinly sliced
For the tacos
- 3 cups beef broth plus more as needed
- 4 dried ancho chiles stemmed and seeded
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 5 pounds bone-in beef short ribs
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 yellow onion finely chopped (2 to 3 cups)
- 4 cloves garlic minced
- 1 cup dry red wine such as Cabernet or Chianti or Zinfandel
- 16 to 20 flour or corn tortillas warmed
- 1 cup Mexican crema, sour cream, or crème fraîche
- Cilantro leaves for serving
Make the pickled red onions
- In a bowl, combine the vinegar, orange juice concentrate, sugar, oregano, bay leaf, and salt. Stir until the sugar is dissolved. Add the red onion and stir to coat evenly. Cover and let stand at room temperature, stirring occasionally, for 6 to 8 hours. Remove and discard the bay leaf. Refrigerate, covered, until ready to use and for up to 1 month.
Make the tacos
- Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C).
- In a saucepan over high heat, bring the broth to a boil, then remove from the heat and add the ancho chiles. Set aside to steep.
- Warm the olive oil in an ovenproof pot over medium-high heat. Pat the short ribs dry and season all over with salt and pepper. Working in batches, add the ribs to the pot and sear until browned on all sides, about 4 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate and set aside.
- Add the yellow onion to the pot and cook, stirring often, until golden, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic, season with salt and pepper, and cook just until the garlic is soft, about 1 minute. Add the broth, chiles, and wine, stirring to scrape up any browned bits on the bottom of the pot. Nestle the ribs in the liquid, cover the pot, and transfer to the oven until the meat falls off the bones, 2 1/2 to 3 hours. Check the pot every 45 minutes or so to make sure there is enough liquid, adding more broth as needed; it should reach about 3/4 of the way up the sides of the ribs.
- Using tongs, transfer the ribs and the chiles to a plate to cool. Set the pot with the cooking liquid aside to cool.
- When the ribs are cool enough to handle, use your hands or 2 forks to shred the meat. Discard the bones. Using a large spoon, skim the fat off the top of the cooled liquid in the pot. Transfer the contents of the pot and 1 of the reserved chiles to a blender and process to a smooth purée. Taste and, if desired, add more chile and purée again. Otherwise discard the remaining chiles. Return the puréed sauce to the pot and bring to a boil over high heat to warm it through. If a thicker sauce is desired, cook until the sauce reduces by half, about 5 minutes. Add the shredded meat and cook just until warmed through, about 4 minutes.
- To assemble the tacos, fill the tortillas with the meat (using about 3 to 4 tablespoons shredded meat per taco) and top with some drained pickled onions, a dollop of crema, and some cilantro. Serve right away.
Ancho Short Rib Tacos VariationQuick Pickled Red Onions When you’re short on ingredients but desperately need to satisfy a craving for these ancho short rib tacos, just squeeze some lime over thinly sliced red onions and wait a few minutes or hours as in this quick pickled red onions recipe. Tada!
Recipe Testers’ Reviews
I have to admit, I really needed these ancho short rib tacos to be worth it. After dropping $40 on 5 pounds of bone-in short ribs, I was seriously questioning my sanity and whether I really needed 5 pounds of meat for my household of two. The ribs cooked down slowly in the deeply flavored sauce and resulted in a luxurious taco filling. It was worth it, and I did need (yes, NEED) all 5 pounds. Dinner #4 rolled around before we sadly ran out of the filling and were left yearning for more. I seared the meat in 2 batches, taking about 30 minutes total to get all the sides darkly seared. Once I combined all the ingredients (Cabernet was my choice for wine, as I was trying to get as much flavor and body as possible in the sauce) in the pot and nestled the ribs in nice and snug, I topped off with another 1 cup stock and put everything in the oven. I wrapped my Dutch oven with a layer of foil before placing the lid on it in order to keep some moisture in the braise. The meat was falling off the bone after 3 1/2 hours. The pickled onions are a little unorthodox; however, I was pleasantly surprised. There is a lot of flavor due to the OJ concentrate and the relatively large amount of oregano. I too was originally skeptical, but the sweet tang of the OJ stood up nicely to the rich, dark flavor of the ribs. This dish requires a day of devotion. I’m happy to say that the time and effort is worth it with this dish and ultimately results in a very special taco dinner.
This recipe makes a nice, hearty taco filling. It’s a great choice for a party, as most of the cooking is unattended in the oven, leaving you free to do other things. The pickled onions are delicious and could be made the day before or even several days in advance. This recipe works very nicely as written. The only suggestion I have is to remove the stems from the chiles before putting them in the broth as the stems will come off during cooking and can be hard to find and fish out later. The other thing is that, depending upon your beef broth and whether it has salt in it, you need to be careful with the amount of salt you add to the cooking liquid. My broth had no salt at all, so it wasn’t a problem, but because you’re going to reduce the cooking liquid later, if there’s salt in your broth, your final sauce could end up being very salty. So know your broth and go easy on the salt early on, adjusting to taste after the sauce is reduced. I haven’t tried it, but I think this recipe would be a cinch to adapt to a slow cooker. I’d just reduce the quantity of beef broth, maybe by half. I used Chianti—an inexpensive one. The time in the oven was 3 hours, and I didn’t have to add more liquid.
With relatively few ingredients, this recipe yielded ancho short rib tacos that were full-flavored and enjoyed by all who ate them. The pickled red onions are absolutely delicious. I decided to use boneless beef short ribs for this recipe. I estimated that about 20-25% of a short rib was bone, so I used 4 pounds boneless short ribs. (Closest package I could find.) I cut the meat into 3-inch pieces and used Zinfandel for my wine. After 2 3/4 hours in the oven, the short ribs were very tender. I used 2 forks to shred them. (I found that this is easiest to do while they are still warm.) I put the chiles on a small plate, and poured the sauce into a jar. After about 40 minutes, the fat had floated to the top of the jar, and was very easy to spoon off. I put the sauce into my food processor. The chiles had not stayed intact after all of that time in the oven. I estimated what one chile would be and processed until everything was smooth. I tasted for flavor and ended up adding more chile. I did this until I was pleased with the flavor of the sauce. I ended up with 8 cups shredded meat and a little over 2 cups sauce. I found my sauce to be very thick. There was no need to reduce it. I refrigerated the meat and the sauce separately. I did not think that there was enough sauce to flavor all of the meat. It would have been lost if I had tried to mix them together.
The next day we had wonderful tacos. We either spread the sauce on the tortilla and then added the meat, onions, sour cream, and cilantro, or put “the fixins” on the tortilla and drizzled the sauce to the top. Either way, you could taste each component. I do not think that you would have if the sauce had been mixed into the meat. We found that 3 to 4 tablespoons meat made for a very nice taco. I served the tacos with pinto beans that I had cooked down with some water and garlic cloves till they got thick and soupy. We easily could have fed at least 12 people with this recipe. If you have more meats for a variety of tacos, you could feed even more. We froze the leftover meat in 1-cup portions and the sauce in 1/4-cup portions. Each package will make 2 tacos each for both my husband and me—a great, no-fuss meal. I can see making this dish again in such a large portion, so that there will be plenty of leftovers, which means plenty of easy meals at a later date.
Zoom in for that close-up—these are some classy-looking tacos. Rich, dark short ribs in a chile-infused wine sauce that yields supple, unctuous meat with plenty of deep flavor. Short ribs are the perfect cut to wrap up into tacos, as just a little meat delivers a huge punch. Pop some sweet-and-sour, neon-purple onions on there, fling on a bit of crema and some bright green cilantro, and not just for looks, either. You’re in for the perfect bite. If you haven’t worked with short ribs before, be prepared for them to throw off a lot of fat, both during searing and then again during braising. Pour off the fat to avoid a greasy-tasting result. I paused and refrigerated the braised meat overnight, and it was easy to toss out the solidified fat on the surface of the meat before shredding and blending. These could be a photogenic part of a colorful Mexican feast, but they also feel pretty special when accompanied just by white rice. I live my life with pickled onions on hand at all times, and they were pretty great on these tacos. I used a table Cabernet for the wine. I boiled my broth in the microwave to save a saucepan. The ribs threw off so much fat. I poured almost all of it off, and still thought the sauce was a bit greasy, even with removing the solidified fat after refrigerating. I didn’t need to add liquid to the braise.
Originally published July 7, 2015