Here's what the canner looks like:
In this part of the country barbacoa de cabeza is traditionally made from a cow's head. However, the vast majority of the stuff actually comes from the cheek muscles which are quite large, because as you know, cows are chewing almost all day long. That being said, beef cheeks are not that hard to find around here unless you are looking only at the national chains. Hit up an ethnic or an independent grocer, or maybe a butcher, and you might find them pretty reasonably priced. This next shot shows about 10 lbs of the 18 lbs of meat I picked up for the barbacoa:
Traditionally, barbacoa is cooked in a hole dug in the ground and sandwiched between banked layers of coals. If you have been to my place, you know that it's solid limestone, so that just isn't happening. Instead, I lightly salt the meat, then wrap it in a double wrap of heavy duty foil, taking care to make sure that all seams are sealed tight and that nothing can escape. Here's the start:
... and the next shot shows the finished capsule. Just for scale, that roasting pan is about 18" wide!
This goes into a preheated 300° oven for six hours. Yes, six hours! there's no need to check anything, turn anything or take it's temperature, it will always come out fine if you have sealed the foil well. Next, you'll want to open the package carefully so as not to burn yourself, and as Pablo Menudo would say, "let it BREATHE!" What we need to do is to let it cool down enough to handle, without getting too cool to separate. Notice that the texture and appearance have changed quite a bit, and that there is a lot of liquid in the foil pouch as well:
Now comes the work. There is a lot of connective tissue in beef cheek meat, and quite a number of other goodies as well. You will find that much of the fat has rendered, and it is this special type of fat that gives barbacoa it's unique flavor, consistency and umami (LOL). You will need to carefully go through all of the meat, removing the un-rendered fat, connective tissue, and depending upon your desires, perhaps the nerves, blood vessels, and random glands and lymph nodes. If you take all of that stuff out, it's referred to as 'all-meat' barbacoa and commands a premium price. Up to you. I also drained out all the liquid juice and grease, and stuck it in the freezer to separate. I saved both of these things; a bit more on this later. Here's what 18 lbs of raw product was reduced to - about 9.5 lbs of finished goodness. That's about right, like a good brisket, you'll lose about half the weight during cooking.
Following good canning practices regarding cleanliness et. al., I loaded up nine one-pint jars with my freshly made barbacoa and got the air bubbles out, I then added back some of the reserved and separated cooking liquor up to 1" of head space in the jars. Into the canner for 75 minutes at 11 psi per specs:
Well, the time finally passed, and God smiled upon me, as all of the jars sealed well. They are now out and cooling, so we will not know the longing of being without next time we are struck by the need for some barbacoa breakfast tacos!*
*Barbacoa served on corn tortillas, topped with chopped onions and cilantro, and a squirt of lime. Salt & pepper and a little hot sauce to taste are optional, but never flour tortillas, guacamole, cheese or God forbid - SOUR CREAM!
¡La comida mas fina!