Barbacoa in a pit oven
In Mexico barbacoa usually means meat - usually beef, goat, or mutton - that is cooked in an earth oven. Sometimes it is cooked in a large pot over a pan of water so that the drippings mix with the water to make a broth. The version below is similar to the way goat is prepared by Mexicanos (and a few of their gringo friends) in Southern California. I have successfully cooked several goats, 25 lbs of chuck roast, and a whole pig this way. (And unsuccessfully undercooked one goat when there wasn't enough wood; we finished it in the oven.)
The afternoon of the day before you plan to serve the barbacoa, dig a pit 3 to 5 feet deep and fill with hard wood or a combination of hard wood and charcoal. Burn the hard wood for several hours, replenishing the fire regularly. You are trying to heat the earth on the sides of the pit hot enough to cook the meat after the fire has gone out. Southern California adobe soil or other compact heavy clay soils work great. If you are unsure about the heat-holding qualities of your soil, line the pit with bricks, limestone slabs, or other stones. (River stones are said to sometimes explode, so be careful.)
While the fire is burning, make the sauce. This quantity will serve for 4 - 6 lb beef chuck roast (or lamb, pork or a turkey) to feed 10 people or so.
3 dry chile ancho
3 dry chile pasilla (or other dry chiles)
1 chile chipotle (dry or canned)
3 cloves garlic
(optional - « teaspoon cinnamon )
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 8 oz. can tomato sauce
salt to taste
1/2 cup vinegar
1/2 cup beef both or beer
Wash the chiles, remove stems and seeds and tear into pieces, and soak in hot water until rehydrated - 30 minutes or so (or microwave chiles and soaking water for a minute, then soak). Place the chiles, garlic, onion, and cinnamon in a blender and add a little of the chile soaking water. Blend to a paste, adding more liquid from the chiles as necessary. Heat the oil in a deep heavy pan (a Dutch oven is ideal) and add the chile paste. Fry the paste in the oil, stirring constantly, until the color darkens and the onion is cooked. Add the tomato sauce, vinegar, broth or beer, salt and pepper and simmer for 15 minutes. Taste the sauce for seasoning, and add a teaspoon of sugar if it tastes harsh.
Massage the adobo on and into the meat and wrap the sauced meat in several layers of wet sheet or other clean white cloth, and then in burlap. Wire the package securely closed, and attach a long wire which will reach out of the pit so you can remove the meat when done. When the fire has burned down to coals, quickly cover with wet burlap bags, wet corn stalks and leaves, or agave leaves, and place the wrapped meat on top. Cover the top of the pit with a sheet of metal and pile dirt over the top and the edges. The idea is to completely seal the earth oven so that no oxygen enters, the fire goes out, and the meat cooks in the steamy oven from the heat of the earth. (If the fire doesn't go out, the meat will burn, but I’ve never seen this.)
The next day, assemble the side dishes (tortillas, beans, rice, and salsas) and the guests, and remove the meat from the pit using the wire you attached to the meat. Put the wrapped package on a large patter or tray and unwrap or cut open. The meat will be fragrant, warm, steamy and falling off the bones. The guests will cheer.
Most likely, this is what will happen; however, if the meat is charred, you didn't seal the pit fully and the fire didn't go out. If it is under cooked, you didn't get the pit hot enough before putting the meat in, or the soil didn't hold the heat well. Southern California adobe (and central Chilean) soil or other compact heavy clay soils work great. If you are unsure about the heat-holding qualities of your soil, line the pit with bricks, limestone slabs, or other stones. (River stones are said to sometimes explode, so be careful.)
Courage! It will work.
(Comments? put them on the Eating Chilean post)
Barbacoa in a pit oven