A recent favorite dish of mine has been Mixiote. It is a dish that is common in the areas around Mexico City but hasn't made much of an impact up here. It is similar to barbacoa, often made with borrego (young lamb) or beef cooked in a mixiote, the outter layer of a maguey leaf (penca).
I never thought I'd be able to re-create the great mixiotes I've tasted, but then I started doing some research. I spoke with my tamaleros* who are from el Estado de Mexico and he gave me the run-down on how they make them. "Es MUY facil" he kept telling me. They usually make them for special occasions but he encouraged me to try. Found some recipes and played around a bit with the salsa and got this:
Mixiote de Carne (serves 8)
3 oz (about a dozen) dried guajillo or New Mexico chiles, cleaned and seeded;
14 oz can of chicken broth;
2 oz Achiote Rojo;
5 large garlic cloves, chopped;
1/2 cup of white vinegar;
6 lbs. beef short ribs, (3 inch pieces);
1 lb. package of banana leaves (thawed if frozen);
8 bay leaves.
Bring broth and 2 cups of water to a boil; add dried chile and remove from heat. Let soak for about 10 minutes, uncovered. Put chiles and 1-1/2 cups of soaking liquid in blender, add achiote, garlic, vinegar, and 1 tablespoon of salt. Blend until smooth, about 2 minutes. Let sauce cool to room temp.
Sprinkle meat with 2 teaspoons of salt, then add to sauce in a large bowl and combine. Marinate, chilled at least 8 hours.
(Next day, or later on)
Cut banana leaves into 11 inch squares (you need 8 squares). Heat them on the "comal" (griddle) lightly on both sides (they'll get a little shiny). Also cut 8 pieces of foil into 12 inch squares. Put a leaf on each piece of foil and evenly divide the marinated meat and sauce amongst the leaves. Add a bay leaf to each packet. Fold the leaf around the meat and sauce, (two sides in, then top and bottom) then fold the foil tightly around the packet. Arrange the packets, seam side up, in a roasting pan. Add about 1/8 of an inch of water to pan and put in the middle of a pre-heated 350 degree oven.
Bake for 3 to 3 1/2 hours until meat is VERY tender. *Important* You will need to add water every 15-20 minutes as it evaporates, don't let pan get dry.
Serve with white rice. You can serve in leaf (don't eat it, duh!)
I've made this recipe twice for my family. The first time for my tia when she came to visit us here in Denver and the second time for my family in Oregon. They are from Chihuahua and had not tasted a Mixiote before. However, they loved it! If you would like to try a this before you make it, I'd encourage you to go to Los Carboncitos (3757 Pecos Street; 303-458-0880)on Sundays. They make them in foil packets, but the sauce and meat is really good. This will give you a good idea of what you are shooting for and give you a boost of confidence when your results are SO much better. Post a comment if you have success or questions.
*If you're looking for some good tamales for lunch while you are downtown, go to the corner of 17th and Blake. You can't miss the rainbow umbrella under which you will find some great Mexican street food. If I ever remember to bring my camera, I'll post some pix and a real review.