La birria is on the menu at La Corona in Los Molinos
People can be so rude! So vulgaire! Picture it: Henri and Miss Marilyn, driving up Highway 99 in Henri’s little Renault, simply and innocently trying to find a place to turn around. We’d spent the morning shopping for bath towels and were heading home on the freeway when Henri missed his exit. Soon we had left Chico behind and were out on the prairie—the only signs of civilization an occasional barn or tractor off in the distance or a dusty truck with a For Sale sign in the window.
Sure, maybe I was driving un peu under the speed limit, but—excuse moi!—did that give so many drivers the right to gesture so obscenely as they sped by us every time we got to a passing lane?! And just plain puzzling: a car full of high school-aged kids pulling up alongside us and pressing two white balloons side by side up against their window, and then speeding away laughing.
So I was more than a little bit flummoxed and—naturellement!—famished when after what seemed like hours I saw a sign that said “Los Molinos” and a rather run-down looking restaurant with a large dirt parking lot just off the highway. Parfait! Henri could kill two oiseaux with one pierre; turn around and get some lunch!
Now, while Henri has been fortunate enough to dine in some of the finest and most highly regarded restaurants in the world, sometimes he actually prefers the undiscovered, the down-home, the little four-table bistro down the side street, the proverbial hole-in-the-wall. To eat like les gens du commun.
La Corona looked like it would certainly fit that bill, the dàcor—while not necessarily the kind of art with which Henri decorates—was even more encouraging: a large framed Budweiser poster and a couple of light-up “paintings,” cords running out the backs and into the wall.
And the menu! My goodness! It all looked so bon, and for very reasonable prices. Best of all, La Corona serves birria in many of their dishes, something Henri had not eaten in ages. I promptly ordered an a la carte birria taco ($2.50) and a beef tamale ($2.25) and dug into the basket of chips. When my food came, it was even better than I expected, the taco consisting of two soft white-corn tortillas piled high with tender goat meat with onions and cilantro and the soft corn-dough tamale stuffed with shredded beef.
For those uneasy about goat meat, birria is a good place to begin. Most likely dating from the 16th-century Spanish colonization of Mexico—and the goats of the conquistadors—birria is also made with lamb, beef and venison, though goat is more traditional. The meat is braised in a chile paste (anchos and guajillios), garlic, and bay leaves, wrapped in maguey leaves to seal in the flavor, and then slow cooked to tenderize the meat. While it’s sometimes served by itself in stew form, birria is more typically used as a filling for tacos and other dishes.
Much of the goat meat available in the United States is imported, primarily from Australia. Locally, Copeland Family Farms, which has been in business just outside Mt. Shasta City since the 1870s, sells goat meat (filets, sausages, stew meat, ribs, etc.) from its online store (www.goatmeats.com), where you’ll also find links to general information on goat meat, processing (including USDA standards), breeding regulations and a handful of recipes (apricot marinade, Hawaiian kabobs). For a more complete list of goat recipes (curry, sausage, jerky, soup, stir-fry and much more), go to www.jackmauldin.com/goat_recipes.htm. Maguey leaves are available at many Mexican-food markets. Corn husks can be used as a substitute.
Lunch combinations at La Corona (with rice and beans) are all about $5, and dinner plates run $7-$10 (seafood and fajitas). A la carte burritos, tacos, tamales and tortas ahogadas (Mexican sandwiches) are $2.50-$5. Kids’ plates are also available ($3.50), as are burgers and BLTs ($3-$5), for the completely unimaginative.