Caldo de res — Mexican beef soup

Caldo de Res, Mexican beef soup, is perfect for our unusually chilly winter. With chunks of tender beef and vegetables, including chayote, this soup is found on menus all across Mexico. Years ago, before we settled here, we would cross the border and drive all day through the desserts of northern Mexico to reach the highlands and jungles further south. As we drove, we would be already thinking about that day’s breakfast and lunch, our mouths almost salivating with anticipation of the upcoming meal, the first real Mexican food since our last trip south. Driving all day was tiring, the northern desserts could become boring. The thought of lunch or dinner was the carrot dangled in front of us. Onward to the next town and its restaurants, with their regional dishes of locally grown and raised chiles, beef, tomatoes, chayote, and more. I guess you could say we travel on our stomachs.

“Chayote?”, you are wondering. Also known as mirliton in France, and vegetable pear in English, it is a common squash south of the border, served in soups or stewed with tomatoes. Its unique appearance sets it off from the more familiar squashes, with tucked-in creases on its wide end. Zucchini makes a good substitute if you can’t find chayote.

Thinly sliced shanks and meaty beef bones make a rich broth. Oscar and Marta at Kenny’s Carniceria know I’m a regular soup maker, so they slice the bones thinly for me. Ask for chambarete (sham-bar-EH-tay) if you are shopping in Mexico. I brown the meat and bones first for richer flavors. I don’t pretend to be a food scientists, so this is the best explanation I can offer: when foods brown, chemical reactions take place, resulting in hundreds of different flavor compounds. This same reaction gives cajeta, (dulce de leche) its marvelous taste.

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 lbs. (1 kilo) shank and soup bones, thinly sliced
  • 2 quarts water plus more as needed
  • 2 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1/2 onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 carrots, peeled and sliced
  • 1 potato, peeled and cubed
  • 1/8 head of small cabbage, chopped
  • 1 ear of corn, husked and cut into 4-6 pieces, or slice off kernals
  • 1/2 teaspoon dry Mexican oregano
  • 1 tomato, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon fresh herbs, such as basil, mint, epazote, minced
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • cilantro for garnish
  1. Heat oil in large, heavy-bottomed pot and brown meat and bones on all sides, about 15-20 minutes.
  2. Add water, cover and simmer 1 hour, or until meat is tender (or pressure cook 30 minutes).
  3. Pour off broth and reserve. Skim off any fat.
  4. Remove meat from bones when cool enough to handle.
  5. Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in large pot over medium-low heat and cook onion until tender.
  6. Add garlic and cook 30 seconds, stirring.
  7. Add carrot, potato, cabbage and corn and reserved broth. Cover and simmer until vegetables are tender, about 20 minutes.
  8. Add meat, tomato and fresh herbs and simmer 5 minutes more.
  9. Salt to taste.
  10. Garnish with cilantro. Serve with lime wedges and warm corn tortillas.

Notes ~

~ For a traditional bowl of caldo de res, vegetable size matters. Cut the pieces into large cubes, slices or chunks for an authentic presentation. Mexican soups are always served with lime wedges and corn tortillas.

~ Of all those bowls of caldo de res we ate while traveling across Mexico, neither of us can ever remember chile being one of the ingredients. For heat, a dish of cooked salsa was brought to the table. Salsa roja would make a nice accompaniment to serve with caldo de res.

~ Again, we have the Aztec Nahuatl language to thank for the word, chayohtli, which became the Spanish word, chayote.

~ Corn, or elote, as it is known in Mexico, is still a foreign vegetable to me. Tough and starchy, it is not the sweet, tender, juicy corn we grew up with north of the border. It is included in the recipe and photo for the purpose of remaining true to the preparation and presentation of caldo de res, but I generally omit it because I simply can’t chew Mexican ears of corn. Mexicanos love their elote, sold roasted on sticks, smeared with mayonnaise, and sprinkled with lime juice and chile powder. I have yet to find one tender enough to chew.

More Warming Mexican Soups

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