Friday, March 13, 2009


I didn't mean to go off and leave you with nothing but enchiladas to eat. [g] Been Really Busy here of late, though, what with the Final Frenzy (which is going well; about 120,000 words of ECHO has been dispatched to editors and German and Finnish translators. How much of the total is that? I have no idea. I think the book is going to be somewhere around the size of DRAGONFLY IN AMBER, but I'm always wrong about these things.

Anyway--here's the machaca recipe. Hope you enjoy it!


Here’s a recipe that will work for Atkins’ followers or low-fat devotees—though I’m afraid there really isn’t a good vegetarian equivalent. Developed by Mexican peasants faced with the prospect of eating elderly goat, stringy rabbit, or the leftover remnants of the village cow, machaca is a way of rendering any cut of meat both edible and tasty. That being so, it really doesn’t matter what cut you select, or how big it is, but I usually buy a large rump roast, because it’s not very fatty, and is easy to clean. By and large, a pound of raw beef will yield about 10 to 12 ounces of machaca.
A large chunk of beef, any cut (one pound will probably feed 2-3 people)
1 onion, any color (yellow Spanish onion is traditional)
1 green bell pepper
1 red bell pepper
1 head of garlic
Cilantro, chopped (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste

*Note: Traditional Mexican cookery occasionally uses carne seca—dried beef, or jerky—instead of fresh beef. In this case, you don’t need to boil or shred it, but will need to allow a longer steaming time. (Note: don’t use spiced jerky if you employ this option.)

Preparation has several steps; this isn’t a recipe for people rushing home from work and wondering what to microwave. On the other hand, once made, machaca will keep—and improve in flavor—for up to a week in the refrigerator, and can be used in a number of different quick, tasty dishes.

Boil the beef. This is simple; it just takes a while. Put the raw beef in a large pot, cover it with water, and put over a medium-high flame. Bring to a boil, and keep gently boiling for 3 to 5 hours. The only thing to remember is to check the pot and add more water, to prevent the meat boiling dry. You know it’s done when you stick a fork in the meat and it begins to fall apart.

Chill. Scoop the beef out of the water, put it in a large bowl, cover and put in the refrigerator to chill. Overnight is best, but 2 or 3 hours will do.

Shred the chilled, boiled beef with your fingers, removing any gristle or fat. Put shredded beef in a large frying pan or stewing pan—any wide, shallow pan with a lid (or that can be covered with a sheet of aluminum foil).

Add the vegetables and spices. The thing to observe here is that the vegetables are spice in this dish. Ergo, you don’t want to have big chunks of garlic, onion, and peppers—you want to use quantities of very finely minced vegetable, which will desiccate in the cooking and flavor the meat. How much? Depends on how much you like garlic, essentially. For a 4-to-6 pound roast, I’d use a whole head of garlic, myself. Mince a quantity of onion equivalent to the quantity of garlic, and an equal quantity each of red and green peppers. If you like cilantro (aka coriander leaf) and can get it fresh, add 2 or 3 tablespoonfuls, also minced. Mix all the minced vegetables into the shredded beef, adding a light sprinkle of salt and pepper.

Steam. Pour a small amount of water over the meat and vegetables—3 or 4 tablespoonfuls. The water is to keep the cooking meat from sticking to the pot, and gently steam it, not to braise or stew it, so you don’t need a lot. Cover the pan and set over a low heat. This is a good dish to make while you’re doing something else time-consuming in the kitchen, because while you don’t need to do anything but stir it occasionally, and now and then add more water, you do need to keep an eye on it. Check every 5 to 10 minutes, stirring the meat, adding water as needed, if the meat begins to dry or stick. Add additional salt or pepper, as desired, when stirring. Continue this process until all the vegetables are desiccated—appearing as no more than colorful shreds among the meat—and the meat is uniformly moist and totally shredded. This usually takes 30 to 45 minutes.

A version of this dish in Cuban cuisine is known as ropas viejas—“old clothes”—which will tell you something about what it looks like when done. Machaca can be served as a main dish, accompanied by fresh salsa, fried plantains, or fried potatoes, rice and beans (traditional Mexican-style Pinto beans—whole or refried—or Cuban black beans), or eggs. It also makes a delicious filling for tacos, flautas, enchiladas, tostadas or burritos—my favorite is a machaca burrito, made by ladling a couple of large spoonfuls of machaca into the center of a flour tortilla, covering with grated cheddar cheese, and sticking in the microwave for 30 seconds (just enough to melt the cheese). Top with chunky tomato salsa (fruit salsas are also great), wrap the tortilla, and eat!

Machaca is time-consuming, but remarkably simple to cook—and since the flavor will improve even more as the pepper-onion-garlic flavors continue to blend, it’s great to make a big batch to keep in the refrigerator—ideal for the Atkins’-approved snacking!


A variant on machaca is something called beef barbacoa. Essentially, this is machaca with red chile and a little additional water added. I use dried Pequin chile flakes, but Ancho or any other dried red chile will work. You add this to the steaming machaca, to taste—I judge it by color, myself; the meat should have a uniform reddish look, and be moister than regular machaca; enough liquid to ooze out when you drop a spoonful of the meat into a tortilla. Some people would leave the bell peppers and cilantro out of barbacoa, but I usually include the peppers.


  1. Thanks you for another great recipe. I will be trying this one too.

    Exciting about the book :)
    My day to day life while kicking cancer's butt

  2. Mmm, this has become one of my favourites, especially with lots of fresh cilantro. Instead of cheese, we serve it in a soft tortilla with sour cream and salsa.

    Here's to writing The End sometime soon.(g)


  3. The recipe sounds yummy. I plan on trying it very soon. Good to see you back!

    I have a question. I am re-reading the series in preparation of Echo, and I have stumbled upon something that I'm confused about. I am reading "The Fiery Cross" and am in Chapter 17. Jamie is talking about the gruesome undertones of lullabies, and you refer to a song that Brianna had sung to Jemmy with a verse of "the miner's daughter who drowned amidst her ducklings...". What lullaby is that? (My hubby laughed at me last night when I was reading and said outloud to him that I was going to "ask" you about this). hehe


  4. I discovered your books just before Christmas and I have been enjoying them immensely! I tried your enchilada recipe, it was really good. I shall try this recipe on Sunday. Thanks for taking the time to post them.

  5. Tina, I can answer you that: It's "(Oh my darling) Clementine"

    You can find the lyrics here for example:


  6. Thanks Nina! Can't say as I know that part of the song. :)

  7. Thanks for the recipe. I look forward to trying this.

  8. Thank you, Diana:

    My family loves machaca and I make a variation using left over pot roast (boneless chuck roast). I'm happy to have your method and will test it soon.

    Two questions: have you ever made tacos or burritos al pastor? If so, do you have a recipe?



  9. And for those in the UK who have may not know what cilantro is, it is coriander - I know you mention it further down but a translation in the ingredients list would also be a good idea.

    I'll give this recipe a miss, as I can't bear the thought of subjecting the lovely Scottish beef I buy at my local butchers (in Scotland, of course) to the rigours of double cooking (once, yes, but not twice). It would be good for poorer cuts of meat, though, so I take your point about the Mexicans using it for old goat....!

    Can't wait for Echo - have been re-reading again and am about to start the Fiery Cross for the 5th time:)) My hubby is fed up and keeps asking "Haven't you got anything else to read" - he doesn't seem to have noticed that I have re-read books by Friedrich Engels and Aldhous Huxley lately, not to mention various history books with dates ranging from Ancient Greek and Roman days through the Dark Ages and Byzantium to the 2nd World War; I dunno - men!

  10. The recipe sounds yummy...I will definitely be trying it.
    But, Diana, I'm surprised at you.
    "Desiccated"? Don't you mean dissolved or disintegrated or decomposed (well, maybe not decomposed).

    Rereading again, prior to Echo. Good idea. We'll be taking our 4-seater plane on another coast-to-coast trip this's a good thing I have the paperbacks, not the hardcovers, or my husband would be telling me the plane will be overweight!

  11. Hi Diana, Something Really Nice for this morning. You have been nominated for the blogging Sisterhood Award at today, so please drop by and take a look! xx Lucy

  12. Yum -- gotta love dissolving veggies! We have a chili recipe like this -- chopped steaks first sauteed then cooked with the beans, onion, tomatoes, garlic and spices 'til it falls apart, and always better a few days later.

    As for Clementine, how did we wind up with gruesome lullaby and fairy tales as children's fare? Cradles dropping out of trees, witches cooking children, wolves eating grandma...Were these originally adult stories?

  13. Dear LittleM--

    No, probably just the uninhibited expressions of parents before it became unthinkable to expose children to reality.

  14. Dear Diana,

    >>before it became unthinkable to expose children to reality.<<

    Rof,l! As always, your dry humor makes me grin from ear to ear.

  15. Pertinent verses of Clemenine re earlier question:

    Drove she ducklings to the water
    Ev'ry morning just at nine,
    Hit her foot against a splinter,
    Fell into the foaming brine.

    Ruby lips above the water,
    Blowing bubbles soft and fine,
    But alas, I was no swimmer,
    Neither was my Clementine.

  16. OMG...just found your website and I am absolutely delighted to find that there is another book coming in September!!

    Now I *must* re-read the books in preparation :)

  17. Thanks for the recipe, sounds absulutely delicious and the barbacoa-mouthwatering, and my favorite. I love trying the different types of barbacoa.Thanks.
    Can't wait for the book, I am re-reading A Breath of Snow and Ashes, and I am going to re-read for the 4th time, the rest of the series in preparation for Echo!!

  18. Thanks for the recipe. Sounds great.

    I thought I was the only one that decided to reread your books in preparation for the new one. Guess not. I'm now at the end of Breath of Snow and Ashes. The really fun thing is to find out just how much stuff I had forgotten.

    I wanted to say something to you, especially after the reread, about Roger's voice. I am amazed at how well you seem to understand and write about the difficulty of losing your voice. I know this because I have had vocal chord damage after surgery and I felt, at times, as though I was reading my own story.

    Thank you.

  19. This recipe sounds delicious. I am really looking forward to the new book. My father loved your stories, so I am rereading them all in honor of his memory. He passed away three weeks ago today. Reading the books makes me feel a little closer to him.... Thank you for the wonderful stories. :)

  20. Dear Kathy--

    I'm sorry to hear about your vocal cord damage; I hope you don't have quite as much difficulty with it as poor Roger!

  21. Dear missaylors--

    I'm so sorry to hear about your loss of your father--and I'm glad that you can still have a sense of closeness with him in the reading.

  22. Mmm, this recipe sounds delicious - it makes me crave some lomo saltado, a Peruvian dish my mother's family makes. Extra cilantro, please... :)

    I, too, am rereading all of the books, much to the detriment of my college studies... but I do go a bit crazy if I don't have at least five minutes of Jamie and Claire time before bed :P

  23. Dear Diana:
    Thank you for responding. My voice is often like a 14 year old boy - not sure whether it wants to sound feminine or masculine. I wrote to thank you. You seem to understand how a person might feel when they loose something like a voice - trivial though a thing like that may be. I appreciated it.
    I am just finished the last of your Lord John books and had to tell you how much I love Lord John. If it were not for that one tiny flaw, he would be a perfect man. Thanks.

  24. Dear Kathy--

    Man, nobody who's had bad laryngitis for even a day would think losing their voice was trivial!

    Glad you like Lord John. [g] He's a good guy.

  25. Dear Diana,
    Thank you. Most people see it as a minor problem and that I should be glad I can speak. True enough - but still...I did go through lots of voice therapy to get it back.

    Please keep writing about Lord John. Let us know whatever became of Tom Byrd and if Percy ever comes back into his life.

  26. Many thanks for the machaca recipe- it is a favorite of ours. We prefer this in our enchiladas, tacos adn burritos.

  27. I tried something I'd never had before this morning at Mollie's Original Kountry Kitchen in Victorville : machaca con huevos. I don't think I've ever even heard of shredded mildly-spiced beef in eggs, but I would come back here for this dish any day.
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