Slow Cooker Soft Tacos

IMG_5216Slow cookers have an inimitable charm in the warm summer months. Sure, no-cook meals are even better, but every once in a while, you have to give in to the siren song of a hot meal! On those long, steamy hot days when turning on the stove or firing up the oven seems beyond insane, a slow cooker can be a real life saver. With the right recipe and a little planning, you can have a summery dinner on the table with very little personal involvement. Less heat? More free time? More summer? Yay!

Slow cooker skeptics usually point out the fact that most slow cooker recipes are more geared toward the heartier winter fare. While it is true that most slow cooker recipes result in some kind of steamy, root vegetable-laden, stew-like dish best relegated to the dark days of winter, a slow cooker can be right at home in summertime if you simply add a few fresh summery ingredients to the mix.

Enter a tried-and-true recipe I’ve developed over the past two years: slow cooker soft tacos. I used savory pot roasts of yore and enchiladas from great Mexican restaurants as inspiration. Basically, this is a chuck roast that is blackened with a spicy homemade rub then simmered in the slow cooker until it’s fall-apart tender, then shredded and added to warmed tortillas with some “Deconstructed Guacamole”.

Method to the Madness


As I mentioned in a previous entry, the secret to a flavorful and tender roast in a slow cooker is browning the roast ahead of time and resisting the temptation to add too much liquid to the slow cooker. Your goal is to lightly braise the meat rather than boil it. Braising creates a savory, beefy sauce. Boiling creates a thin, watery broth (and tough, sinewy meat).

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For this recipe, I wanted a cut of beef that would benefit from the longer cooking time a slow cooker provides, so I chose a chuck roast. Trimming off excess fat (the operative word here: excess) insures you won’t have a greasy mess, IMG_5211but the marbling of the chuck roast means you’ll have lots of beefy flavor.

To add more complexity to the beefiness and add that special “South of the Border” flare, I created a Southwestern Seasoning Blend (recipe HERE) and used it to give the roast a thorough massage treatment before browning it for about four minutes per side in a little bit of oil. Rubbing the spices into the roast rather than simply sprinkling it on serves to tenderize the meat and also causes the spices to adhere. Browning adds the rich and complex flavors of caramelization to the mix, further insuring that the long cooking time won’t wash out all those flavors you’ve added.

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Finally, after rubbing lots of flavor onto the surface of the roast, then searing and caramelizing them into place, you’ll want to surround the roast with sliced onions and lots of crushed garlic in the slow cooker (notice how I’ve intentionally placed some sliced onions and garlic atop the roast). To insure you don’t water down all these intense flavors, you’ll only need to add a mere three-fourths cup of beef broth to the slow cooker. With a lid that locks all the steam inside, the roast will provide the rest of the juices needed for cooking and making sauce.

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Slow Cooker Beef Soft Tacos
Serves 6-8
A Tales of Thyme & Place Original

    Southwestern Roast:
    1 1/2 tablespoons Southwestern Seasoning Blend (app. 4X the recipe amount)
    1/2 teaspoon granulated sugar
    2 pounds beef chuck roast
    1 tablespoon oil (canola or olive)
    1 large onion, sliced into 1/4-inch slices
    5-6 large garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
    3/4 cup low sodium beef broth
    1/4 cup water
    2 tablespoons cornstarch (approximately)

    Deconstructed Guacamole:
    2 medium avocados, chopped
    2 medium tomatoes, seeded and chopped
    1/4 cup finely chopped onion
    1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
    1 tablespoon fresh lime juice (or to taste)
    1 pinch kosher salt

    Additional Taco Ingredients:
    12-16 corn or flour tortillas, warmed
    2 cups shredded Mexican Cheese Blend
    Shredded Romaine Lettuce (optional)
    Sour Cream (optional)
    Hot Sauce (optional)

    In a small bowl, combine the Southwestern Seasoning Blend and granulated sugar. Pat the chuck roast dry with paper towels. Apply the seasoning mixture on all sides of the roast, massaging it into the surface well. Heat the oil in a large cast iron or non-stick skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering and nearly smoking. Add the seasoned roast; cook 4 minutes per side until thoroughly browned.

    Place the browned roast in the slow cooker. Add the sliced onion and crushed garlic allowing some to remain on top of the roast; pour the beef broth on top. Cover and cook on HIGH for 4 hours or on LOW for 6 hours (or until roast is fall-apart tender).

    When roast has thoroughly cooked, carefully remove from the slow cooker with sturdy tongs (do not turn off the slow cooker); place on a plate to cool. In a small bowl, combine the water and cornstarch to make a paste. Stir the cornstarch mixture into the juices in the slow cooker until thoroughly combined; cover and allow to thicken into a sauce, stirring occasionally. If after a few minutes of cooking the sauce still looks too watery for your taste, you can mix up a little more cornstarch paste and add as much as you’d like to adjust the consistency. The thickness or thinness of the sauce is up to you. Once the roast has cooled enough to handle, shred it into bite-sized shreds using two forks or your fingers; gently stir shredded roast into the thickened sauce (adjust slow cooker to lowest setting).

    About 30 minutes before serving, combine the ingredients for Deconstructed Guacamole in a medium bowl, tossing gently; cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

    Serve the shredded roast and sauce on warmed tortillas topped with Deconstructed Guacamole, and other desired toppings. My favorite hot sauce for these tacos is Tabasco’s Chipotle Sauce — spicy and smoky!

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IMG_5221A very simple dish to throw together, this recipe is one of the definitive tastes of summer in our house — usually reminiscent of long, sunny days, road trips to the nearest beach, and steamy jam making or other canning activities in the busy summer kitchen. It also makes an excellent “build your own taco” dinner party for hungry guests. Surround your taco fixins with some tortilla chips, zesty salsa, refried beans, and perhaps a chilly beverage or two and enjoy an instant party!

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~ by Jason on July 23, 2012.

5 Responses to “Slow Cooker Soft Tacos”

  1. Looks yummy.

    *editing police…you want to MASSAGE the spices into the meat rather than to MESSAGE the spices…unless, of course, your chuck roast happens to have its cell phone on it 🙂

    • 😛 Thanks for catching that! I knew if I typed that word more than once in an entry I’d eventually screw it up.

      Though wouldn’t the world be a different place if you could message someone a massage… or massage a message into someone? 😀

  2. Please come to my new house and make these for us! 🙂 We’re starving!

  3. You’ll have to let me know when your first cookbook comes out… I have never been disappointed by your recipes yet, and I love that you explain the WHY behind the technique first! 🙂

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