Tag Archives: Mexican food

Faux Barbacoa (Nilgai or Venison)

faux bbq, fawns, mary's bday, alamo, tower 054Living in South Texas is unlike anything else in the world!  There are daily experiences that one would expect  to find only in more remote regions of Mexico.  For example, dodging crates of cactus pads that have covered the street after falling from an overpacked pickup, swerving to avoid onions and pineapples littering the road, hearing the screeching of flocks of parrots long before they fly over.  More recently, the sounds of Homeland Security and Border Patrol helicopters have become commonplace. In our  part of the world, everyone samples the produce in the grocery store before they buy it (or don’t).  Cars frequently are seen heading the wrong way into oncoming traffic to avoid the necessity of making the block.

While I’d be perfectly happy to live without any of those experiences (and plenty of others), one thing that I absolutely love about South Texas is barbacoa.  Barbacoa is traditionally made from the head meat of a cow or goat, sometimes just the cheek, either buried in the ground or cooked in a pit until the meat falls away from the bone. This lengthy process is the reason that barbacoa is usually only available on weekends in many restaurants and the focal point of many family gatherings.

I have to admit, it was years before I was willing to try this dish just knowing that it was made from the head of a cow.  After being a wife and mother, I’ve experienced many disgusting things.  Beef head is no longer on the list.  Once I finally tasted it, I was in heaven.  I never realized that the most succulent, tender meat comes from the head.  The members of the Deerslayer household eat barbacoa as often as possible. (Don’t forget that my junior deerslayers are hunters and not put off by the origin of meat the way I used to be.)

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I stumbled upon this recipe quite by accident.  I needed a quick dinner and had some “cook-all-day” nilgai packaged into one-pound portions in the freezer.  It really saved the day.  I’d say it was a 30 minute meal, start to finish since I added Mexican rice, which took 20 minutes to cook, and some bean soup that I simply had to thaw and reheat, as well.

Faux Barbacoa

1 lb. “Cook-All-Day” Nilgai or Venison

Beef Stock

Comino (Cumin)

Tommy’s Salt and Pepper Mix


Chop and shred meat into a cast iron skillet.  Add enough beef stock to cover meat and simmer on low.  Add ½ to 1 teaspoon of comino and stir.  Season with salt and pepper mix.  Allow stock to reduce by about a third.  This is a perfect time to prepare Mexican rice. Serve with fresh corn tortillas and pico de gallo.

Sometimes the easiest recipes surprise us.  The Deerslayer clan really enjoyed the meal and it was pretty effortless thanks to a little advanced preparation at the start of the season.  Beans with wild pork shank are as easy to prepare in large quantities as it is small.  Frozen in bags and stacked in the freezer make it a great go-to.  I usually add extra beef or chicken stock since the deerslayer clan likes their been soupy.  A little garnish of fresh cilantro adds flavor and flair.

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I added some beef stock, some kosher salt, pepper, garlic powder (Tommy’s Secret Mix) and a little comino (cumin).

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I simmered the meat for about 20 minutes until some of the juices thickened.

Everyone in the family agreed that the texture and flavor of the meat was very much like barbacoa.  The rib meat has a great deal of connective tissue that, when cooked all day, breaks down into sticky, deliciousness.  While most of my readers may not have access to nilgai, venison would certainly suffice for this recipe.  Any sinewy parts like shank or rib meat would cook up the same way.

Just one more recipe for meat that most hunters throw away or grind.  Yay!


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Venison and Wild Pork Tamales

smoked pork shank, rum cake, tamales, dance, christmas 134Living in South Texas, tamales have always been a staple and still a delicacy.  The making of tamales has always inspired awe among those  of us who were not lucky enough to have a heritage steeped in chilies, manteca (lard), beautifully seasoned meat, and masa.  The experts, specialists, nay, artists are the lovely little ladies who learned from their mothers, who learned from THEIR mothers, down through the generations.

I was lucky enough to finagle an invitation to a “tamalada” which is a gathering of families and friends who come together to make (and eat) tamales.  From the cooking and seasoning of the meat, the preparation of the flavorful masa, the soaking and cleaning of the dried corn husks, the assembly of the actual tamales, and finally the steaming of the lovingly prepared treats, everyone helps… and tells stories, and sings songs, and enjoys being part of the age-old process.

File:Mexican oil paint on tin retablo of 'Our Lady of Guadalupe', 19th century, El Paso Museum of Art.JPGThe tamalada that I attended was hosted by the Guadalupanas, a group of faithful men and women who honor Our Lady of Guadalupe, the patroness of Mexico and many parts of North America.  These men and women came together to make 300 dozen tamales for the festivities surrounding the feast day of Our Lady, on December 12th.  What a wonderful, joyful, and educational experience it was.  These people had so much to share with me.  I wrote feverishly.  I let them know that I had looked up directions on the internet.  While I don’t speak much Spanish, I did hear the word “internet” come up in some of their conversations and some good-natured chuckles.  I smiled apologetically and continued working and taking notes.

The great thing about tamales, other than their out-of-this-world flavor, is that the ingredients are very inexpensive and are available at every grocer in South Texas around the holidays.  Also, depending on how much time you have, this can be broken down into several days of work.  Day one:  cook the meat. pour off juices and save, refrigerate meat and juices.  Day two:reheat, shred and season cooked meat. re-refrigerate.   Day three:  prepare masa, reheat meat, assemble tamales, steam tamales, eat fresh tamales.

Venison and Wild Pork Tamales

(Preparing the Meat)

*Approx. 3 lbs. “cook-all-day” venison

About 1/2 pound or 1 cup fat (manteca, salt pork, Crisco, wild pork belly)

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Fat is an important part of the tamale-making process. Anyone who tells you otherwise….. don’t eat their tamales. Lard (manteca) is the traditional ingredient of choice. I had the wild pork belly, which I chopped into one-inch cubes and placed around the pan to distribute the flavor and fat.

Approx. 1/4 cup salt/pepper/garlic powder mix

Approx. 1/4 cup any seasoning that includes chili powder and comino (I had the mix you see in the photo so I used it.)

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While traditional tamales are made from a variety of meats, mine are made from venison, with wild pork belly added for fat and flavor.

1.  Prepare “cook-all-day” venison. Throw in some salt pork, wild pork belly, or some lard for extra fat.  Tamales really need the fat to turn out the way they should.   Season heavily with salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Not only will you be seasoning the meat, but also the juices that will be used later.

2. Add cooked meat to a deep-sided cast iron pan. Add enough reserved meat juices (with melted fat) to cover meat.  (Set aside about a cup and a half of meat in case you feel that you’ve overseasoned it according to your taste.)

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3.  Simmer about 20-30 minutes until meat can easily be shredded with two forks.  Season with additional 2 tbsp. comino, 2 heaping tbsp. chili powder, and 2 tsp. salt. Meat should be a beautiful mahogany color and the flavor should be strong.  Don’t forget that some of the seasoning will help flavor the masa as well.  Pour off most but not all of the meat juices.  Reserve for use in the masa.

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Preparation of the husks

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Corn husks are purchased packaged like this and are usually found in the produce department, specialty/ethnic food department, or spice department of the grocer.

Corn husks are the vessels in which the tamales will be shaped and steamed.  They must be rinsed thoroughly to remove any foreign matter from them.

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 The husks will need to be soaked for 30 minutes or so to make them pliable enough to roll.  A secret that I learned from the Guadalupanas is that there is a subtle difference in the two surfaces of the husks.  The smooth side of the husk is preferable for smearing the masa mixture.smoked pork shank, rum cake, tamales, dance, christmas 110

 The other side of the husk contains ridges that will cause the masa to adhere, thus making it difficult to unroll the tamale with any success.

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Preparation of the Masa

Masa can be prepared from corn meal or purchased as a dough, which is available from most grocers who cater to a strong hispanic population. I’ve used both.  While starting from dry corn meal certainly works, achieving the correct consistency is much easier when starting with dough.  There are many good recipes out there for using dried corn meal.  There is also a recipe on the bag,

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Do not think that prepared masa is ready to use. The consistency is similar to clay and still needs quite a bit of doctoring up.  This is 3 lbs. of masa.

3 lbs of prepared masa (set aside about a cup that can be added at the end if  the texture you’ve achieved is too soft)

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1/3 cup of Knorr’s Pollo y Tomate Caldo (chicken and tomato bouillon)

2 tbsp. comino (cumin)

1/3 cup chili powder

 About 1/2 cup reserved meat juices (If meat juices were reserved from cooking, there will be a good amount of fat in the mixture.  It can be separated, and added to masa.)

1 to 2 cups melted fat, either separated from meat juices, lard, or shortening

Slowly combine ingredients using a potato masher, dough hook on a mixer, or by hand until masa is the consistency of very creamy peanut butter.

Assembling the tamales

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Set up your station with meat & tongs, masa & wide spoon, soaked husks, and cookie sheet for assembling.

1.  Select a corn husk and allow some water to drip off.  Choose the smooth side.  Spoon about 3 tbsp. of masa near the smooth, wide end of the husk.

smoked pork shank, rum cake, tamales, dance, christmas 124

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Notice the texture and location of the masa on the husk.

Add a line of meat to the masa.

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…and roll it from left over toward the right, pulling the husk over the meat and enveloping it in the masa. Continue to roll the husk until completely wrapped.  Fold the narrow end of the husk away from the seam and lay it on a cookie sheet.

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While you may be getting pretty excited about your progress at this point, it’s time for one of the secrets that I learned from the Guadalupanas. Before you make dozens of tamales, only to discover that you don’t care for the seasoning, it’s possible to make a sample and fix what needs fixing. Sample your first tamale by wrapping it in a wet paper towel and popping it in the microwave for about 2 minutes.  This will steam the tamale to the point that you can get an idea of the results. The texture will not be right but you can check the seasoning of the masa and meat.  I mentioned earlier that a small amount of meat and masa should be set aside.  This provides you the ability to add reserved meat in case it tastes too strong, or add more fat or reserved masa if necessary to adjust texture, Don’t get the idea that the microwave will produce results as good as long-term steaming!  It truly doesn’t stack up.

Now that you’ve gotten your ingredients seasoned up just right, start an assembly line.

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Once your tamales are made, it’s time to steam them.  Find a pot deep enough to hold tamales while standing vertically, a steamer basket and a lid.  Fill pot with about an inch or so of water so that it comes just lower than the level of the steamer basket.  Another secret…. drop a penny into the water.  As the water boils, you can hear the penny “tinkling” in the pot.  When the “tinkling” stops, water needs to be added.

Another secret I learned from the experts is to form a pyramid shaped from foil that the tamales can rest against.  The folded ends of the tamales should be placed toward the bottom.

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smoked pork shank, rum cake, tamales, dance, christmas 127

Place the lid on the pot and bring water to a boil.  Reduce heat to medium low and steam for one to two hours.  Tamales are best when freshly steamed.

Whew!  You’ve just done something amazing.  Bring out the beer, grab the tongs, and invite your nearest and dearest to sidle up to the pot and eat fresh wild game tamales!  smoked pork shank, rum cake, tamales, dance, christmas 132


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Mexican Rice

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There are recipes that just call for a great side dish like never-fail Mexican rice.  As a matter of fact, the next couple of recipes that I’m planning to post will most definitely be served with this rice.  I’ve used this recipe all of my married life.  I got it from a good friend of the Deerslayer who is originally from Mexico.  I’ve continued to use the recipe because it tastes great and it’s easy enough to prepare with just a few simple ingredients.  Recently, I’ve been using parboiled rice.  I’ve been pleased with how it doesn’t clump up, ever!  The Junior Deerslayers still prefer the original long grain, however.  It’s just a matter of preference. The recipe will not be altered either way.


The only “specialty” item that is required that may not be readily available worldwide is Knorr’s Caldo de Tomate Con Sabor de Pollo (Tomato Soup with flavor of Chicken).  It’s basically chicken bouillon granules with tomato flavoring.  It really adds a depth of flavor to the dish.  I should try to substitute plain chicken bouillon with a bit of instant tomato soup to see if it works.  But the Knorr’s is really good and I’d recommend getting some if you can get ahold of some. I think it would be available in the soup aisle, or the ethnic section of most grocers.


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a splash of corn or canola oil

1/2 onion, chopped

1/2 poblano pepper, chopped (red bell pepper can be substituted)

1 cup rice (I used parboiled)

2 cups stock or water

2 tsp. Knorr’s Caldo de Tomate y Pollo

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In a cast iron skillet (with a lid) pour a splash of oil.  In hot skillet, saute chopped onion and pepper until soft.  Add rice and stir until rice is lightly browned.  Add water or stock and Knorr’s.  Stir one more time.  When liquid comes to a boil, reduce heat to medium low, Cover skillet and simmer for 20-25 minutes.

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Posted by on August 13, 2013 in Recipes, Side Dishes, Uncategorized


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Venison Carne Guisada

When I decided that I was willing to consider embracing the lifestyle of “Deerslayer’s Wife”, I received a recipe for Venison Carne Guisada from my dearest friend in the world, Lisa. I truly believe that her input at this juncture in my life was an integral part of my destiny. If I had not received her recipe and if it had not been so popular among my many family members, I may not have chosen this path. Thank you, Lisa.  For years, I have taken batches of this recipe on our yearly camping trip.  It freezes and reheats beautifully.  Do everyone a favor and purchase the flour tortillas that you cook yourself. These, too, can be frozen and thawed for later use. They are available in the dairy section of many grocers, near the English muffins and biscuits.  Once you’ve had fresh, hot flour tortillas, there’s no going back!

Venison Carne Guisada

2 lbs. venison stew meat, cut up (sinewy cuts are okay for this recipe)
2-3 Tbsp. bacon grease (Most venison recipes require the addition of some extra grease or fat since the meat is       so lean.)
3 Tbsp. flour
1 green or red bell pepper, diced
1 onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsp. cumin
1 tsp. black pepper
1 8 oz. can tomato sauce
1 10 oz. can tomatoes (with or w/o chilies to taste)
2 tsp. garlic salt
½ cup water

Brown meat in bacon grease in heavy cast iron skillet w/ deep sides. Add flour and brown. Add remaining ingredients and simmer 1 to 2 hours until tender and cooked down to thick gravy. Stir periodically to prevent sticking to pan. Serve with flour tortillas, salsa, grated cheddar, sliced tomatoes and avocado. Enjoy


Posted by on October 1, 2012 in Hunting, Recipes, Venison


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