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Food can evoke memories of family and provide clues about your ancestors. This post is part of my Discovering Family History through Food series.

My parents came for a visit late this summer. As a special birthday request my dad had asked that I make Accra for him, using his mom’s recipe. I was glad to do that and actually it inspired me to think more about the foods my grandmother had enjoyed and prepared. And that is how I thought of making Carne Seca again.

Food can put us in touch with our roots by giving clues to our ancestors’ religion, geographic origin or location, economic status and even health. This post is more about the food evoking memories. When I served my homemade carne seca to my parents this summer I got to hear some of their stories that I had never heard before.

My first memories of carne seca come from our family visits to see my Grandma ‘Tona. On the way we would almost always pick up a carne seca burrito for her as a special treat. My dad has mentioned before how she used to make it when he was younger and growing up in Tucson. She would actually hang the meat on the clothesline to dry in the hot Arizona sun. My dad said when his friends would come over and see that they would wonder what the *$%@ was going on.

Carne Seca drying outdoors ~ Image courtesy of Otavio Nogueira (from Wikipedia Commons)

Carne Seca drying outdoors ~ Image courtesy of Otavio Nogueira (from Wikipedia Commons)

Some restaurants in Tucson still make carne seca in the traditional way by drying the meat prior to cooking.

That will never work in Seattle but this recipe* will work wherever you are. You can serve it in burritos, with fresh corn tortillas or enjoy it with eggs for breakfast. My husband thinks it would be great in a torta too.

Each time I make it I think about how the recipe must have developed as a result of people living in the desert and looking for ways to preserve meat, then somehow make it not only palatable but delicious. The meat is so broken down by the preparation process that it is accessible to everyone in the family, from toddler to grandparents.

I’ve experimented with seasonings and preparations and I’ve made carne seca enough times now to know this is the method I like the best. I hope you like it too.

Sonoran Style Carne Seca


~For Meat~
3-4 lb. boneless shoulder chuck roast
3 tbsp white vinegar
1 tbsp salt
2 tsp ground black pepper
10 thinly sliced garlic cloves
1 1/2 tbsp ground dried ancho chile
8-9 cups of water
Juice of 2 limes (for use after meat has simmered)

~Seasonings for oven drying~
2 tbsp ground dried ancho chile
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp ground black pepper

~For the final step~
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 large onion finely chopped
2 large roma tomatoes, chopped
6 cloves of garlic, minced
1 1/2 tsp dried Mexican oregano

Lime Wedges

The Process

  1. Using a Dutch oven or similar heavy pan combine all of the “meat” ingredients except the lime. Bring the pot to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer. Cover and cook for about 2 1/2 hours. When it is done it will be very tender, so tender that it may fall apart when you try to lift it. Let the meat cool in the liquid for 1/2 hour.
  2. Reserve 1 cup of the cooking liquid to be used in the next step. Save the rest of the liquid for stock for your next batch of albóndigas soup. Set it aside to cool and skim off the fat before refrigerating or freezing.
  3. Leftover carne seca broth

    Don’t throw away that cooking liquid. Use it as a base for your next batch of albondigas soup.

  4. Preheat oven to 275
  5. Tear the meat into shreds and put it back in the Dutch oven. Add the cup of cooking liquid and simmer over medium heat, uncovered, until the juice is absorbed.
  6. Cooked and shredded and cooked again

    Cooked and shredded and cooked again

  7. Pour the juice from the 2 limes over the meat and stir.
  8. Spread the meat on one or two baking sheets. It should be spread thin so it can dry.
  9. Sprinkle spices on before baking

    Sprinkle spices on before baking

  10. Combine the seasonings for oven drying and sprinkle half the mixture on the meat. Bake for 20 minutes then stir it and sprinkle the rest of the spices over the meat. Bake for another 40 minutes (or more if meat is not brown and dry).
  11. Ready to be stirred, seasoned and baked again

    Ready to be stirred, seasoned and baked again

    Dried and ready for the blender

    Dried and ready for the blender

  12. Place a couple of handfuls at a time of the meat in the blender and pulse briefly so that the meat is in very fine threads. Don’t overdo it. Remove the meat and put in a couple more handfuls and repeat until all the meat is shredded.
  13. After the blender

    After the blender

  14. In a cast iron or other heavy skillet, warm the oil from the “final step” ingredients and sautee the onion until it’s softened.
  15. Add the chiles, tomatoes, garlic and oregano and cook for a few minutes covered.
  16. Ready to serve

    Ready to serve

  17. Add the browned meat and cook uncovered until all of the liquid is evaporated.

Warning: If you make this recipe and do it well you will have to put up with people asking you to make it all the time.

*Adapted from “Tucson Carne Seca” recipe found in The Border Cookbook : Authentic Home Cooking of the American Southwest and Northern Mexico

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