Carne guisada photo from flickr kfmbka

As any Houston foodie already knows, carne guisada is a delicious Tex-Mex stew which is also popular in Puerto Rico and across Central America. The name literally translates to mean "stewed meat" but there is more to it than that; the careful balance of flavors and spices is what gives this beef stew its special edge. This Latin stew was originally brought to the Americas by the Spanish and there are similar dishes all over South America and in the Caribbean, although the spices vary from place to place depending on the local palate and what ingredients are available.

Although carne guisada is traditionally made with beef (hence the word 'carne') there are also pork and chicken versions. This rich-tasting stew can be served in flour tortillas or over potatoes, Mexican rice or even fried green plantains. I like mine with tortillas and avocado slices, along with some sour cream to contrast with the spice. Got leftovers? Make nachos or use the stew to top cheese enchiladas for an extra fancy take on chili gravy. If you like beef stew and Latin flavors, you're going to love carne guisada.

Try it at a restaurant or, better still, make your own with good quality fresh ingredients. Head to Chilosos Taco House at 701 East 20th Street or any Tacos A Go-Go location, where you can afford to sample beef, chicken and pork guisada tacos for less than $3 apiece.

What You'll Need to Make Your Own

The following recipe calls for your choice of beef shoulder or chuck roast, along with bell peppers and onion, tomatoes and a selection of spices. Feel free to adjust the amount of heat depending on your palate. Some people love to make this really fiery while others prefer a milder finish. The long, slow cooking is what tenderizes the meat and gets the consistency of the dish nice and thick. You will need a Dutch oven or a heavy pot to prepare this recipe. Alternatively you could brown the beef, then dump everything in a big slow cooker and give it 8 to 10 hours in there.

Ingredients:

3 pounds beef shoulder or chuck roast
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 chopped yellow onion
2 chopped bell peppers
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon ground cumin
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 teaspoons black pepper
1/2 minced Serrano chile pepper (optional)
12 ounces chopped canned or fresh tomatoes
4 ounces tomato sauce

Instructions:

Cut the beef into chunks, discarding any lumps of fat, then cook it in the oil in a heavy pot until browned all over. Now add the onion and cook for 6 minutes or until tender. Add the peppers, garlic, cumin, flour, salt and pepper next, along with the Serrano chili if using. Cook for 2 minutes, stirring all the time. Put the tomatoes in a measuring cup and add enough water to make 2 cups of liquid in total. Add this to the carne guisada and bring the mixture to a boil. Cover the pot and simmer for 2 hours, stirring occasionally. Now add the tomato sauce and cook for an additional 15 minutes without the lid, or until the beef is falling-apart tender and the sauce is nice and thick.

Remember this dish varies from place to place and what one cook might consider a vital ingredient, another might not even use. Since carne guisada began life as a simple beef stew, there is no set recipe and everyone has their own ideas about how to make it taste good. So go ahead and throw in anything else you want to use, like carrots or—sorry purists—beans. Served with warm tortillas, avocado slices or guacamole, sour cream and maybe even some shredded cheese, this makes a hearty, delicious meal. Oh, and it freezes pretty well too, so go ahead and make a big batch!

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