VIDEO: Making Short Rib Tacos With Chef Joseph Martinez of Cha Cha’s

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Photo by Curt Norris

Cha Cha’s Latin Kitchen in Brea is a Mexican cantina with a frisky vibe. At the heart of its allure are the boldly-flavored dishes and handcrafted drinks. The menu showcases unique twists on Latin American cuisine, modern takes on everything from wood-oven roasted Jidori chicken spiked with Yucatan spices, to the decadent caldo with a saffron-tomato broth rich in fresh seafood and toasted angel hair pasta.

The Guajillo Braised Short Ribs are a favorite. Joseph Martinez, Cha Cha’s chef de cuisine, slow-simmers the meaty bone-in beef ribs in a made-from-scratch tomato based sauce accented with Guajillo and arbol chilies. Tender and spiced with a just-right amount of ground cloves, cinnamon and cumin, Martinez uses the tender rib meat in a several dishes, including open faced enchiladas and tacos. Both of these dishes are garnished with crumbled goat cheese, arugula and crisp radishes.

Martinez, bless his heart, agreed to share his recipe and show the step-by-step procedures for preparing his luscious tacos. In the video that we taped, he explained that when he makes the ribs at home, he cooks them in for six hours in a slow cooker, rather than braising them in the oven. Slow and easy. Home-style.

A graduate of the Le Cordon Bleu in Pasadena, Martinez started working the line at Cha Cha’s many years ago and in the process worked his way to the top with hard work and culinary creativity. His oh-so-popular Chipotle Honey Glazed Salmon along with those irresistible beef ribs became integral to the restaurant’s menu. Learning to trust himself was essential to his professional growth.

He lives in Brea with his wife Michaeleen and their infant son Ezra.

Secret Talent: He is a pen and pencil artist, drawing a wide variety of subjects. He started drawing comics as a child.

Home Pantry: Tortilla chips, Jalapeno Kettle Chips and El Pato hot sauce are always at the ready at his house. The ingredients for chilaquiles and enchiladas are always on hand.

Drink of Choice: hand- crafted Basil Hayden Bourbon. Neat.

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Cha Cha’s Guajillo Braised Short Ribs

Yield: about 8

Cook’s notes: For home entertaining, if desired the sauce and ribs can be prepared two days ahead and refrigerated.

Sauce (for braising):

1 dried arbol chili, seeds and stem removed

5 dried Guajillo chilies, seeds and stems removed

8 medium tomatoes, cored

2 garlic cloves, peeled

1 large brown (yellow) onion, peeled, cut into 1-inch chunks

1 1/4 teaspoons salt, kosher preferred

1/2 teaspoon sugar

1/3 cup chopped cilantro

Spices: 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves, 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

2 tablespoons water

Short Ribs:

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

2 to 3 pounds bone-in beef short ribs (chuck tail flap), excess (but not all) fat trimmed, patted dry

Salt and pepper to taste, kosher salt preferred

About 1 2/3 cups chicken broth

Tacos:

About 8 corn tortillas

Baby arugula

Crumbled goat cheese

Radishes, watermelon radishes preferred, cut into julienne strips

Limes, halved or cut into wedges

  1. Prepare sauce: Adjust oven rack to 6- to 8-inches below broiler element and preheat broiler. Place tomatoes in a single layer on one side of a rimmed baking sheet. Scatter garlic and onions on opposite side. Broil until lightly browned, about 4 minutes; add chilies on top of onions and return to broiler. Broil until chilies are browned (keep an eye on them to prevent burning). Place in large blender. Add salt, sugar, cilantro, cloves, cinnamon, cumin and water. Blend until smooth.
  2. Prepare meat: Preheat oven to 325 degrees. In a large deep ovenproof skillet, heat oil on medium-high heat. Add ribs and deeply brown ribs on both sides. Cautiously add broth (it may splatter) and enough of the pureed sauce to generously cover meat. Cover skillet and place in preheated oven for 3 hours (or put mixture in a slower cooker on low setting for 6 hours). Remove meat from bones, breaking it up. Mix it with some of the sauce that it was cooked in (enough to coat and moisten the meat).
  3. Heat tortillas on both sides over a gas burner. Top with meat, arugula, goat cheese and radishes. Garnish plates with limes. Serve

Source: Joseph Martinez, chef de cuisine at Cha Cha’s Latin Kitchen, Brea

Cha Cha’s Latin Kitchen, 110 W Birch St #7, Brea, CA 92821  714-255-1040

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