My Dad’s Burrito Beef recipe

31 Mar


* This first part is very lengthy. If you’d prefer to skip to the actual recipe, it’s under the heading “RECIPE” if you scroll down.

As an only child growing up, I was prone to catastrophising – both generally (it is an excellent way to get attention), and in particular about my parents. As I grew older, and especially after I went away to boarding school at 13 and later to uni 1000km away from home, I realised how much they meant to me – and what that brought with it was, “What if they die?”

When I was staying at home in the school or uni holidays, if they went out to a barbecue (I was too cool to go with them, obviously) having said they’d be back at 10pm and it was 10.05pm, I’d imagine every scenario of what might have happened to them. Once this had happened enough times and they came back safe and sound (usually at 10.08pm), this thought process became a superstition: if they weren’t home when I expected them (or it was a stormy night, or I didn’t know where they were), the key thing I obviously needed to do was imagine every possible bad scenario, and some part of me knew that by doing this they’d come home safe and sound. (I realise how silly this sounds!) It was like imagining the most frightening scenarios was a guarantee that nothing bad would ever happen.

And it didn’t, for a while at least. Despite regularly driving the dark road between Rockhampton and Yeppoon, travelling the world, and attending those damn barbecues, they always came home perfectly fine.

Regardless, I never took saying goodbye to my parents for granted. In my late teens, Dad and I had a rare argument one night. He started work at 5am so went to bed early before I had the chance to properly rue my choice of words. I couldn’t bear the thought of the small chance of something happening to him while we were at odds, so popped a short note in his lunchbox that night – and he discovered it the next morning and wrote me a reply. Neither of us ever spoke about it, but 10 years later I still have his sweet reply.

When I said goodbye to my parents last year after they visited over Easter, I carefully remembered and valued each hug – as always, I figured there was a chance they could be my last. They weren’t my last, but they turned out to be the last I’d have before our lives were turned upside down five weeks later with dad’s terminal cancer diagnosis. For all my obsessive catastrophising, no only child superstitions prepared me for it, nor his death in August.

Dad’s cancer worsened rapidly, but I had three weekends where he was fully lucid and the first of those it was hard to believe he was even sick. On that weekend, we made burritos. My parents had owned and managed all aspects of a Cairns Mexican restaurant called Mexican Pete’s when I was born in the mid-1980s, and, around the time I was 10 – long after they’d sold it and we’d moved three towns by then – Dad started occasionally putting burritos on the weekend dinner menu, using the recipe they’d used at the restaurant. It became my favourite meal and something I always asked for when visiting home. So, on that first weekend home after the diagnosis, I pulled out the camera and recorded a video as Dad made it. We enjoyed a very normal, tasty meal.

The video of him making it, and making it since myself, has been a great source of comfort to me. It doesn’t bring him back, but he doesn’t feel so far away.

It’s also delicious (and easy), so I want to share it with you.


NB: Now. I know what you’re thinking. I am the self-proclaimed most hopeless cook ever. I’ve used salt instead of sugar in pancakes. I’ve poured burnt toffee into a kitchen sink. (I really do not recommend this. But if you’re looking to strengthen your chiseling skills, give it a whirl.) However, I’ve made this dish four or five times in the last few months and I’m pretty convinced that it’s hard to stuff up.

NB x 2: I have never done a recipe post before. And this is not in any way technical. If you spot something wrong or missing, please tell me!


  • TIME. This recipe doesn’t require much from you, but it does require time. Don’t start it at 7pm for a dinner that you want to serve that night. I think best started at 2pm.
  • 1.2kg of chuck steak or gravy beef, diced. I can’t guarantee finding this at Coles or Woolies, but both are always available at the Belconnen Fresh Food Markets. What Dad told me is that it doesn’t really matter which one you get – just go for what has a bit more marbling (or is cheaper!). However, I’ve found gravy beef to be much better than chuck steak.
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 small green capsicums, also chopped
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 heaped tablespoons of tomato paste (I actually think just use all of one of those little tubs they come in because it’s about the same)
  • 2 teaspoons cumin
  • 2 teaspoons ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 2 teaspoons dry mustard


  1. Chop your gravy beef, onion and capsicums. Ignore pleading whippet who is keen for off-cuts.
  2. Put it all in a saucepan (one where you always know where the lid is so you don’t waste time trying to find it). No oil. No butter. No pre-heating. Nothing. Just put it all in and mix it around a bit so the three ingredients are mixed in together.IMG_9220 (2)
  3. Put the saucepan on low (LOW) heat. By LOW I mean on the lowest setting, or halfway between the lowest and second lowest. Put the lid on.
  4. Resist the temptation to lift the lid for two-three (!) hours. Cooking is not my forte as you all know, but the low heat draws out the juices from all the ingredients and the steam does a lot to help, too. There ends up being stacks and stacks of liquid, and this is what you want. All of the juice and flavour of the onion and capsicums do a lot to seep in to the beef, leaving just the very soft mushy membrane of the vegies.
  5. After a minimum two hours (I think three is best), lift the lid. There should be lots of liquid and it might be bubbling slightly. Depending on the beef and the temperature, it may need a bit longer than three hours. Drain the liquid stock – leaving just a little in the saucepan – and put it aside.

    At first stir, it should look like this. Starting to loosen up a little.

    At first stir, it should look like this. Starting to loosen up a little.

  6. This is the hardest part for me to explain. Between this and the final step, the meat should start to shred. Sometimes I drain the stock and it really doesn’t look like it’s going to shred, but it miraculously does – and sometimes it doesn’t. What I do know is that you must use a wooden spoon if you’re going to have any luck. Stir the meat a little to loosen it up.
  7.  Add the rest of the ingredients in the ingredients list (taking careful note of the difference between teaspoon and tablespoon). The key is restraint – you can always add more, but if you add in too much soy sauce (uh, for example), it might be hard to recover.
  8. Stir more! And more. It should start to really shred well so that you have very few chunks and much more shredded beef.

    Reasonably good looking shredded meat

    Starting to look okay in terms of shredding

  9. Add a little of the stock back if you need to – it should be very moist without being drippy. Otherwise, use the stock for something else (I have recently used it in a risotto and it was great).

And that is it. Serve it with shredded lettuce, chopped tomato, Old El Paso medium taco sauce, grated cheese, sour cream and guacamole (which I make with one avocado and one tablespoon of sour cream, with a big squeeze of lemon, and salt and pepper). Don’t overfill your tortilla!

It makes enough for 4-6, depending on appetites. For two of us, it’s usually two or three meals. The beef freezes well, especially if put in the freezer in small portions.

Correct way to fill a tortilla, in my opinion.

Correct way to fill a tortilla, in my opinion.

18 Responses to “My Dad’s Burrito Beef recipe”

  1. Simon March 31, 2016 at 7:18 am #

    Fabulous post Tara…begging Whippets and Golden Retrievers are a cooks ever present danger!

  2. Marg H March 31, 2016 at 12:32 pm #

    I think I’ll have to try this recipe next week as it will suit the males in the household. I am sending you a chicken recipe in return as I have just found it and think it could be quite good. Cheers MH.

  3. zultan March 31, 2016 at 3:30 pm #

    Going to defo try this — how spicy does it come out? (thinking of giving it to my kids)

    • inthetaratory March 31, 2016 at 4:18 pm #

      Not very! Scale back the mustard and cayenne a touch to be sure – as long as the tomato flavour is there from the paste you should be right.

      • zultan March 31, 2016 at 8:09 pm #

        14/10 really really good — I held back on the mustard but kept everything else as per your recipe. Only other change was to use the slow cooker, instead of a saucepan. We all really enjoyed it. Thank you for sharing. Truly sorry to read of your loss.

      • inthetaratory March 31, 2016 at 8:16 pm #

        Wow, you are quick! Thanks so much for letting me know that it worked well and that you and your family enjoyed it. Did you manage to snap a picture?

  4. Chifley_alison March 31, 2016 at 8:17 pm #

    I reckon you write beautifully when you write from the heart as you did here. Tara, as a tribute to your Dad, this is so lovely. (Plus the recipe sounds yum)

    • inthetaratory March 31, 2016 at 8:24 pm #

      Thanks Alison. I was so close to not publishing it after I’d typed it all out, but I’m glad I did.

  5. Kim P March 31, 2016 at 8:41 pm #

    I love the back story Tara. *hugs*

  6. Beck @ Goldenpudding March 31, 2016 at 8:56 pm #

    What a lovely story, and memory of your Dad, Tara and thank you for sharing his recipe – my kids love burritos, so will definitely try. Well done on your first recipe too 😉

  7. Melanie Rumball March 31, 2016 at 9:18 pm #

    I see your mistake here Tara. Ingredients should be 1.5kg of gravy beef, not 1.2kg. Then you can change step 1 to read, “Feed 300g of gravy beef to pleading whippet.”
    Will definitely be giving this one a shot, although with 3 GSDs, I am going to need more than 2kg of beef if I hope to get out alive!

    • inthetaratory March 31, 2016 at 9:19 pm #

      Hahaha that 1.2 is supposed to take into account what you feed the dog/cut off! The original recipe was 1kg 😉 thanks for reading – keen to know the outcome!

  8. Bec March 31, 2016 at 11:10 pm #

    Looks great, I have tons of chuck steak but might try this in the slow cooker. Will let you know how it goes.

    • inthetaratory March 31, 2016 at 11:21 pm #

      Awesome! Another reader gave it a go in their slow cooker tonight and relayed awesome results – fingers crossed x

  9. Megstar April 3, 2016 at 9:11 am #

    I’m trying it tonight! Will let you know how it turns out!

    • Megstar April 3, 2016 at 6:43 pm #

      Wow! It was yummo! I think this will become a regular rotation at my place now! thanks for sharing the story and the recipe!

      • inthetaratory April 3, 2016 at 6:54 pm #

        I’m so pleased it worked! Thanks for trusting me 🙂 Did you manage to get a photo?

  10. Christine Waslin March 13, 2017 at 8:19 am #

    Love the story about your Dad and thanks for the recipe too.

What do you reckon?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: