My routine was always the same: jump into the car and head to Chicago’s south or west side neighborhoods (Pilsen, Little Village, Back of the Yards) or sometimes an area of the city that I never even knew existed. A warm greeting or at least a smile was usually served up by someone as we entered. After about a ten minute wait, I’d be presented with an enticing bowl of carne en su jugo. This would be my routine for several months in my pursuit of finding great examples of this delicious soup throughout our fair city.
I was made aware of carne en su jugo by my friend, Antonius, during one of the beefathon outings last year. From my very first bowl, I was immediately taken by its base allure. Carne en su jugo consists of beautiful beef consommé peppered with chopped steak, and normally accompanied by bacon and beans, and garnished with the condiments of radish, avocado, raw onion, and chile de arbol. Being a soup man from way back, this is definitely was my idea of a great dish. I decided that carne en su jugo was worth a bit of research since, strangely enough, I had never noticed it on any menu before in my numerous Northside Mexican dining experiences over the years. Even after my extensive search throughout Chicago for this dish, I was only able to find relatively few examples of this treasure.
As Antonius points out (on 4/21/05 - Tayahua)
“though this dish is primarily associated with the state of Jalisco, one surmises that it is no less popular in the southwestern part of the state of Zacatecas…” Furthermore, it is most likely made in different variations in the neighboring states to Jalisco (i.e. Michoacan, Guanajuato, Nayarit, Aguascalientes, etc.). Some Mexicans I talked to suggested that CESJ could be found throughout Mexico. However, the majority of restaurants serving CESJ in Chicago appear to be coming from the people whose origins are from the city of Guadalajara, Jalisco.
When one looks at traditional recipes from Mexico itself, the ingredients that go into CESJ are fairly minimal: beef consommé, chopped meat, usually bacon, beans, tomato or tomatillo, chiles, aromatic vegetables (such as onions, celery, scallions, etc), spices. The notable and critical element for many who make the dish is the use of cattle or cow head to make the broth. Although I’m not sure how often head is used in Mexican restaurants today, I was told by Mexicans from the area that it is a common practice, even today, to make the consommé with the head in one’s home in Mexico and even here in the U.S. According to some chefs I talked with, the broth comes out much richer this way as opposed to preparing a bone-based stock. Unfortunately, of the several restaurants I tried this dish at in Chicago, not one used this technique. I believe the primary reason for this has more to do with the time constraints for preparation (about 3-5 hours) than any economic or aesthetic considerations.
As an alternative to the head, the soup’s base ingredients used in most places here in Chicago would be made either with meat or bones or sometimes even organs, and then further reinforced with bouillon, aromatic vegetables, steak, bacon, and beans.
As I found out, the biggest variable to a good version of CESJ had more to do with whether a place made a homemade consommé or just some sort of flash stock using mostly bouillon, thus leaving the addition of chopped steak at the end to add a jolt of beef flavor. Luckily, most places made an attempt to make some sort of homemade broth. The biggest question being to what degree did they reinforce that stock with (granulated) bouillon, if at all? One restaurant claimed to make a vegetarian stock from guayillo peppers and got its rather weak beefy element strictly from adding chopped steak later (Taqueria Trespasada).
After the trying several bowls, it became apparent that overly salty soups were the victim of an overdose of bouillon. Obviously, these were the least desirable versions.Techniques
There are 4 general cooking techniques that appear to be used as far as the meat is concerned:
1) Cattle head is used to make the broth. The cooked head meat is then shredded and added to the finished product. I never got a chance to try carne en su jugo made from the head of a cow but I’m anxious when that day comes.
2) Another method is the way my Mexican friend makes their family’s version in Aguascalientes, which is to create a beef stock from aguayon (rump or sirloin steak). The cooked meat is then chopped and browned and used in the finished soup. (I’ll refer to this method as “stewed” later on). The trouble with this method, in my opinion, is that much of the meat’s natural juices have been extracted, rendering the meat usually fairly flavorless since most of its natural flavors were used to season the broth. If you’ve tried your share of various other Mexican dishes, such as barbacoa or birria tacos, you know that often times the meat being used is nothing more than spent stew meat that has been chopped up and served to you for a flavorless dining experience. However, I’m pretty sure that there are some nice bowls of carne en su jugo being made in this fashion around town (possibly Amenecer Tapatio?). I was told by the owner at Taco Mex (10675 S. Torrence) that this second method of creating a broth from meat and then using that same meat in the finished product was the most traditional method in Jalisco. Whether this is accurate or not, I cannot say for certain.
3) A homemade stock is made, and the meat/bone used to create the stock, is discarded. Later, a fresh piece of steak is grilled, or sometimes poached to order and added to the stock. This often times turned out to be how my favorite versions of carne en su jugo are made. Since not only was a homemade stock being made, but that it was being further reinforced with a steak that is carmelized, adding either more wonderful beefiness to the soup without the loss of its meaty essence. (Mandrake…)
4) A “stock” can be made strictly from bouillon and/or aromatic vegetables and then reinforced with the added chopped steak. Hopefully, you’ll not experience too many of these since they were attempts that made this endeavor, at times, a burden.
I believe that prevalent methods used in Mexico today are the first two methods. The addition of steak after creating the beef broth using either method, as in the third approach, would appear to me to be too expensive for people of modest means since they would need to use two different cuts of meat instead of just one. The thought that a thrifty home cook would discard the used stew meat seems highly unlikely or downright implausible. However, I believe that this third method is the most common here in Chicago.
Places that use this approach will sometimes marinate or baste their meat before directly adding it to the soup. More commonly than not, though, places usually just add the chopped steak without any enhancing whatsoever.
Both methods of grilling or stewing are common around town. Sometimes, however, it is difficult to ascertain whether a place poached or grilled their steak. Either a place didn’t grill the steak long enough to create carmelization due to expediency, or it was the same stock meat.
Other places failed to grill a piece of frozen (?) steak long enough to make a difference. All but one of my favorite places grilled their steak versus poached it or used stewed meat (Amanecer Tapatio).
The bacon, too, could either be grilled or poached in the soup. I preferred the grilled, crispy versions. Many of the recipes from Mexico do not contain bacon at all. My guess is that, like adding a grilled steak after creating a stock as is common here in Chicago, bacon is a relatively expensive item. Most likely, aguayon is initially browned with inexpensive suet or pork fat when starting a consommé, ultimately giving the CESJ the pork element that bacon usually creates. Recipes using cow head sometimes bypass any use of bacon.
A number of varieties of pinto beans are most commonly used in carne en su jugo. Although, as ReneG pointed out, Amanecer Tapatio appeared to use a yellow bean called peruano mayacoba which they served on the side.
However, it’s not so much what kind of bean, but rather, how the beans are integrated into the final product that’s of interest. Some places clearly thickened their consommés with beans early in its construction by either processing it directly or simply cooking them in the soup for an extended period of time, thus thickening the soup (Taqueria Sanchez Bros & La Cecina). After the soup is contructed with steak, bacon, and beans, it is usually garnished with radish, avocado, raw onion, cilantro, and chile de arbol, either already in the soup or served on the side.
Not unlike its more recognizable cousin, Pozole, there are three variations of CESJ: green, red, and clear. The green variety is the base beef consommé with a green vegetable, usually tomatillo and/or jalapenos pureed into it. The green style is a signature of Guadalajara and is less often seen outside that city.
The red style gets its color from processed guajillo peppers or some other red chile. I’m not quite sure where the red version is most commonly found but my suspicions are that it is more often found in the rural outlying areas in Jalisco and possibly its adjacent states. This is strictly a guess. (I only found this red version at Taqueria Trespasada.)
The most common style found in Chicago is known as “clear” CESJ. This is basically just brown-based beef consommé without any significant coloration caused by such vegetables as chiles (green or red), heavy use of red tomatoes, tomatillos, or processed herbs such as cilantro or sometimes even parsley. This isn’t meant to suggest that none of these ingredients are used but are certainly not a main feature of the broth.
Since a language barrier existed from my very first taqueria, and would basically continue through many of the places that I would try, I knew that gathering detailed information about this regional Mexican dish would be a challenge to say the least. Only about half of the folks I met spoke anything resembling English. Often times I couldn’t tell whether the conflicting accounts were due to poor translation or just regional differences in the dish. However, after trying several versions of carne en su jugo, certain facts naturally came to light.
I have spent approximately three months now combing through Chicago’s predominately Latino neighborhoods looking for every lead that could result in finding a bowl of carne en su jugo. Although I have tested several places that serve this wonderful dish (mostly on the South and west sides), I’m sure that there are a number of other taquerias throughout the city that quietly create their own unique versions for the enjoyment of their local citizenry.
The following chart describes what I think are some of the more significant characteristics about each particular version of carne en su jugo as well as my personal opinion of its quality.
(Graphics by trixie-pea)
I have selected a few of these places that I found either outstanding examples or had a particular factor that made it worthy of further discussion.
For whatever it is worth, I believe either Los Gallos locations on Archer would be considered my most desirable CESJ, very closely followed by Los Tres Gallos in Melrose Park.
Many of these places I have tried at least twice, especially if they produced a CESJ that I thought were good enough to recommend to my fellow LTHers. I think the only place mentioned above that was a decent version without a retry was Amanecer Tapatio in Joliet.
Unfortunately, I had a few questions that went unanswered even though I asked many people about them; such things as what variety of carne en su jugo (red, green, or clear) is prevalent in which regions of Mexico, whether bacon is normally used in traditional Mexican recipes or which cooking techniques are most commonly used in Mexican homes today. For these questions, I often got conflicting answers from different sources and found that to be both interesting and a bit distressing. One thing I found quite common, though, was that virtually everybody that I talked to in these taquerias seemed quite fascinated that a non-Mexican would find learning about carne en su jugo an interesting enough pursuit. Though many of the younger Mexicans that were most likely born here in the United States seemed truly curious about some of these questions themselves but just didn’t have the answers. Some actually had enough interest about my questions to ask elders who might have some answers and even offered to get back to me. My initial goal of finding the best bowl of carne en su jugo became secondary to familiarizing myself with these wonderful people who run these taquerias and their neighborhoods.
As I am nothing more than an enthusiast and certainly no authority, all feedback about any particulars on carne en su jugo would be greatly appreciated from those who have any knowledge or insights about this wonderful dish.
Thank you, Antonius and Vital information for providing me with information about carne en su jugo from your past posts, both here and on other food sites as well as in person.
Most of all, thanks to ReneG for making this pursuit more than just a “research” project but a sensationally great time. By having him accompany me on several CESJ outings throughout the last few months, I was able to have many wonderful and very informative conversations about his many discoveries of Chicago’s culinary world as well as its history. It is always a pleasure for those who are fortunate enough to be around him to learn a tremendous amount about some of the lesser talked-about neighborhoods of our city’s south and west sides. He is truly a wealth of knowledge, both in a culinary sense, and otherwise. NOTESTaqueria Tayahua
2411 S. Western Ave
After trying this CESJ on several occasions, I have to say that it continues to grow on me. I liked it from the start, but as time goes on, it keeps gathering momentum. Its overall quality and proportions of ingredients I find quite pleasing.
Tayahua's has a wonderful homemade broth with excellent balance to it. The bacon element is pronounced in the soup but since its consommé is good on its own, it doesn't conquer your palate which so often happens with lesser versions elsewhere. The soup is slightly salty and, on this occasion, I believe it’s from the bacon and not added bouillon.
The bacon isn't overly crisped but still quite nice.
Steak is grilled.
Visually, it has an orange appearance from mostly if not all red tomato as well as onion (clear).
There is no hint of tomatillo in this soup.
Slightly sauteed onions adds a nice feature to the soup. Lots of pintos.
Heavy on the usual condiments (radish, cilantro,chile de arbol, avocado). Already in the soup as well as on the side.
Overall, a very pleasant CESJ.
(CESJ Served daily)Amanecer Tapatio
573 Collins St. (Joliet)
A minimalist version of CESJ (green).
The only things in this carne en su jugo were the basic broth (with tomatillo), beans, meat, and bacon. NO condiments whatsoever served (cilantro, radish, raw onion, avocado, or chile de arbol). A white bean variety served on the side (mayacoba). A beautiful homemade broth lacking any oiliness. Very clean . Rich on the palate. Mildly salty suggesting to me absolutely no reinforcement. Poached bacon gave bold additional flavors to the soup. The meat, like the bacon, was also either stewed or poached in the broth. I suspect that this was stewed meat from the making of the broth. Possibly a more authentic version than most attempts in Chicago?
This was a wonderful base for a CESJ. However, because it was missing so many crucial ingredients, I couldn't help but feel somewhat shortchanged.
(Served periodically – call first) Taqueria Los Altos
1848 W. 47th St.
Definitely tastes of a homemade broth quality. If they use bouillon, it would be sparingly. Actually talked with the owner quickly. She said that they start with plain water and build a flash consomme with the usually added ingredients (bacon, grilled meat, aromatics). I find this hard to believe (maybe poor translation?).
Unlike some of the other neighborhood versions, this was a more usual thin consommé probably due to the lack of processed vegetables into the consommé. No bacon used at all. Since the broth was wonderful on its own, it actually took me half a bowl to realize that this was the case, which I believe says a lot about how much I was enjoying it. Again, possibly a more authentic Mexican version?
ReneG noted that the beans were mushy and had been overcooked since many of them had exploded.
Nicely grilled small pieces of steak. The best CESJ I have tried in the back-of-the-yards neighborhood. I'm not quite sure Peter felt the same way about this soup at all.
Enjoyable and certainly above average but not at the highest levels.
(Serves CESJ only on Saturdays & Sundays) Los Tres Gallos
112 N. Broadway (Melrose Park)
Another apparent homemade broth. Thin version. Definitely little if no bouillon element. Talked to the owner for a bit. Said he was from Jalisco but never made CESJ until he came to the U.S. He noted that the broth was entirely made from bones. Uses a little tomatillo, red tomato, as well as celery, jalapenos, and garlic. Marginally salty but certainly acceptable. He claims that no additives were used at all. The broth is a clean, beef flavor with no other dominant flavors present, including the bacon. Although they use tomatillos, this CESJ wasn’t green in appearance (clear). Beans seem to be added at last minute. Since they did add them late, they didn’t thicken the soup at all. Firm pintos. No spice element at all. Chile de arbol, if used, was very hard to detect. No chiles served on the side: just raw onion, lime, and cilantro. Nicely crisped bacon definitely an asset to the natural broth. Well grilled small pieces of meat with a nice chew. I’m not sure if the added steak reinforced their broth much since they are starting with such a wonderful stock already. Outstanding.
(Served daily)Taqueria #1 Traspasada
3144 N. California Avenue
One of the real nightmare examples of CESJ (Red). From the time you are served the soup to the bitter end (whenever that might be), it never ceased to amaze me at its utter atrociousness. The soup arrives like a mess. Firey red from the use of guayillo peppers. There is no trace of beef stock in the consommé whatsoever. This is nothing more than a super red watery vegetable soup with mealy, tasteless inedible steak added. Bacon is added at the last second, making its influence on the broth superfluous.
A number of other places would fare much worse than Trespasada.
Since it is a restaurant talked about, I felt I should let it be known to northsiders that might try it out to stay clear of their CESJ.
(Served daily)Taco Mex
10658 S. Torrence Avenue
Talked to the owner at length and said that his broth is homemade (wouldn’t give me the details) and that he processes both the tomatillos as well as jalapenos finely, to give it its green appearance. He also stated that the typical color of Jaliscan CESJ is green and that red most likely came from areas outside Guadalajara and possibly other adjacent states to Jalisco. As is to be expected, the broth was spicy and had a certain dried spiced element to it as well as being just a bit salty. He said that the broth was made totally from scratch but I question that due to the saltiness. This is not to suggest gross oversalting but it was certainly apparent. An interesting facet of this version of CESJ is that the soup took on a slightly sweet character (possibly from a basting ingredient he uses with the meat). As I was eating, I kept thinking that epazote was the dominant dried spice but he denied it. He mentioned that he bastes the meat (aguayon) and poaches it directly in the consommé to reinforce the existing stock. He was surprised that other places often grill their steak( more than half did).
Whole sautéed scallions accompanied the soup. Long strips of lightly grilled bacon and average–sized chopped meat. Small amount of pintos.
He talked about the use of suet being used in place of bacon in Mexico because of cost considerations and that, most likely, using bacon as an ingredient there came from the Mexican-Americans versions made here. He still thinks most of the CESJ’s there don’t use bacon.
As far as the use of cattle head in the U.S restaurants, he would be surprised if any place cooks CESJ from the cattle head because of time constraints. He said it takes about 3-5 hours to make a consommé from head which is more labor intensive than making a bone/organ based stock. He personally thought that you can make an equally good version just with bones or organs. He did say that the use of cattle head will make a richer and thicker soup, quite different than anything you’ll find in a restaurant. He believes that Mexicans who make CESJ at home often times still use cattle head.
On my second try a few weeks later (with TonyC & ReneG), I found the broth to be way too salty; basically overwhelming the soup. The poached or stewed meat was quite unappetizing as well as having very mushy beans. I didn’t enjoy this bowl at all. The whole strips of poached bacon bordered on gross. I clearly disliked this retry.
(Served daily)Los Gallos
(#1 at 4211 W. 26th St., #2 at 4252 S. Archer, #3 at 6220 S. Archer)
Beautiful consommé (clear) with a strictly beefy flavor only. Thin and clean but quite flavorful. No apparent bouillon characteristics at all. No spiciness to the broth at all. Mildly salty but enjoyable. Even after finishing the entire bowl, I wasn’t parched which is so often the case.
A large quantity of grilled steak was used.The bacon was extra crispy.
The bacon was definitely added at the last minute because the broth didn’t take on any of the bacon flavors.
Could not see or taste either red tomato or tomatillo.
I talked briefly with the owners and they claim that their recipe at all 3 of locations is exactly the same. I find this interesting since I enjoyed the bowls at the Archer locations significantly more than their 26th St. location, which I found fairly unmemorable (only tries once).
They also said that they make the consommé strictly from whole rump roast (aguayon).
No artificial additives (adobo, suizon, etc). Beautiful broth flavors. Clean. A hint of onion in the consommé.
Super crispy bacon bits. Steak very well grilled, cut into small pieces. Chewy but very flavorful meat. Outstanding proportion of ingredients. Not too many pintos (added at last minute since they are completely intact and the soup wasn’t thickened in the least from their starches.
Highly Recommend the Archer Locations.