Fill Your Bao with Leftover Birria

Chef Claudette Zepeda makes Birria Bao and three other recipes on this week’s episode of Chefs at Home.

Birria Bao
Photo: Photo by Adam Friedlander / Food Styling by Pearl Jones

If you haven't tried VAGA executive chef Claudette Zepeda's birria yet (her birria tacos were the most searched recipe on our site in 2020) this week's Chefs at Home episode will make you want to start on a batch immediately. Zepeda demonstrates two ways to repurpose the leftovers, creating a Birria Maria cocktail with the broth and serving some of the meat in bao, too.

"We were doing baos at the restaurant and the birria bao just was a natural progression," she says. "That juicy meat gets all absorbed into the bao buns and it's delicious."

In addition to the birria recipes, she prepares two other dishes—her Baja-Style Caesar Salad, which swaps chicharrones in for croutons, and crispy Cinnamon-Sugar Churros with Cajeta. Keep reading so you can find out how to make all four recipes at home, and follow along with the videos below.

Birria Maria and Birria Bao

Birria Maria

First, Zepeda puts the leftovers from her birria to use. She starts out with a version of the Bloody Maria, shaking chilled birria broth, fresh orange juice, red wine vinegar, Salsa Maggi, hot sauce, and tequila blanco with ice in a cocktail shaker. Next, she strains and pours the mixture into a pint glass first rimmed with an orange wedge and then Tajin. After stirring in the cold beer, it's ready to drink. Garnish the cocktail with a lime wedge if you'd like.

"Savory, but refreshing at the same time," she says. "It is incredibly filling and you feel the warmth of the birria."

Birria Bao

All you need to do for the Birria Bao is make the buns and then fill 'em up with fixings. Make the dough from scratch by adding flour (either pastry or all-purpose), dry active yeast, sugar, baking powder, and canola oil into a stand mixer, and gradually adding in the warm milk with the mixer running on low speed. Then add the warm water and salt, mixing until just incorporated. Crank up the speed to medium and knead for four to five minutes, until the dough is very soft and elastic but does not stick to the bowl or your fingers.

Form the dough into a smooth round ball and get it into a lightly greased bowl, covered with a damp towel. After a 30 minute rest, roll and cut out the dough into rounds, folding them into half moons. Place the bao into a bamboo steamer lined with parchment paper, place the lid on, and let them rest for an additional 30 minutes. After that, steam them for about 12 minutes.

Once the bao are cool to the touch, you can fill them. Zepeda grabs the drained birria (warmed), sliced red onions, Serrano pepper, avocado, cilantro, and cilantro blossoms. Serve the Birria Bao with lime wedges and enjoy.

Baja-Style Caesar Salad

Next, Zepeda moves on to a Baja-Style Caesar salad. "The Baja Caesar Salad—obviously being from Tijuana, the border region, this is a salad that's near and dear to my heart," she says. She prepares her version here, making some tweaks to the classic.

The process is pretty simple; you make the dressing first, then build the salad. For the former, you'll need finely chopped garlic cloves, finely chopped anchovy fillets, Dijon mustard, Worcestershire sauce, fresh lime juice (not lemon juice!), an egg yolk, kosher salt, black pepper, olive oil, and finally, grated aged Cotija cheese in lieu of Parmesan. Once that's all whisked together and emulsified, you can toss it with the whole romaine lettuce leaves and plate. Top with chicharrones and more grated Cotjia for the finishing touch.

"Wow, that's my youth in a bite," she says as she tries it.

Cinnamon-Sugar Churros with Cajeta

Last up is the Cinnamon-Sugar Churros with Cajeta. Zepeda says the churros "should smell like a hug." Make the batter first, adding water, unsalted cultured butter, kosher salt, a cinnamon stick, a vanilla bean pod and seeds, and grated orange zest to a large saucepan and cooking it all over medium heat. Bring the mixture to a simmer and let it go for a few minutes until the cinnamon and vanilla flavors have infused. Remove the vanilla bean pod and cinnamon stick and incorporate the all-purpose flour, stirring until completely incorporated, which should take about 20 seconds. Transfer the mixture to a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and beat on medium speed for about three minutes until it's slightly cooled and the steam has died down. Add the egg and beat on medium until it's fully incorporated, about another 20 seconds.

Take the finished batter and put it in a double-lined piping bag fitted with a 1/3-inch open star tip. Pipe the batter onto parchment-lined baking sheets into a shape of your choice (for instance, straight ropes or teardrops). Let them chill for at least 30 minutes or up to two hours, and then fry them up at 375°F in a large Dutch oven filled to a 2 1/2-inch depth with grapeseed oil. They should come out light golden brown after about 3 minutes, give or take 30 seconds. Toss them in the cinnamon-sugar mixture while they're still hot. Then, all that's left to do is dunk them in the cajeta and enjoy.

Stay tuned for our next episode of Chefs at Home featuring chef Michael Reed.

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