spicy braised oxtail sopesColumn: Antonia Bradford Columns Food & Drink 

Spicy Braised Oxtail Sopes

By Antonia Bradford

Food is one of the main love languages in my home. We show our love by feeding you, and feeding you well. My husband works incredibly hard for our family and after a particularly strenuous week I decided to make him something incredibly special: salsa roja braised oxtails sopes.

Sopes are a kind of tartlet made from masa dough and fried. They are then filled typically with refried beans, chicken and cheese and topped with lettuce and crema (sour cream). While those are delicious I wanted to make him something a touch more intricate. And even though they are typically an appetizer, this recipe is so rich and filling we have them as a main dish.

Sope’s origins trace back to pre-Columbian Mexico. The word “sope” itself is derived from the Nahuatl word “tlaxcalli,” which refers to the corn dough that was a staple food in ancient Mesoamerican cultures. The masa is slightly sweet and aromatic. The contrast against the spicy salsa roja creates a perfect balance of spicy and slightly sweet and the crisp of the fried sope against the tender meat drenched in salsa is a delicious labor of love that will be a family favorite. 

The salsa roja (a sauce is called a salsa, it’s not just what you dip your chips in) I make is as close to my abuela’s recipe that I can get. Growing up her dishes with salsa roja which included chili colorado, enchiladas and others were my favorite treats. When she made chili Colorado I would get a stack of flour tortillas so that none of the sauce was left in my bowl. It was so delicious. 

As a mother who has five children at home nothing makes me happier than when I make this dish and my children devour it in silence, just like I did with my abuela’s food. Food is love and food is culture. 

I hope you will enjoy this recipe, it is from my heart. 

Meat with Salsa Roja

2-3 pounds of Oxtails or beef shank
10 Guajillo Chilis
4 Chili de Arbol
4 roma tomatoes, chopped in half
1 large White Onion, quartered
10 cloves of garlic
2 tsp of salt
Black Pepper to season meat
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1 tablespoon of Beef Bouillon
2-4 cups of Beef Broth
3 bay leaves


Preheat oven to 300 degrees

De-seed and de-stem all the dried chilis

Add chilis, tomatoes, garlic cloves and onions to a pot of water. Boil until chilis are pliable.

Strain pot, add contents to a blender. Add beef bouillon and tablespoon of salt. Blend until smooth.Salt to taste. Put to the side.

Salt and pepper the oxtails and flank steak.

In dutch oven warm olive oil and brown oxtails and flank steak. Put to the side.

In the same dutch oven over medium heat add a cup of beef stock to deglaze the bottom of the pan. Add salsa and stir vigorously. Add meat and turn flame to low.

Lightly stir to cover the meat. Add enough beef stock to cover the meat. Stir gently again. 

Add bay leaves

Bring to boil, then put in the oven

Roast for 1.5 hours. Check tenderness and if meat isn’t done roast in 10 minute increments.

Allow meat to cool for 5 minutes, shred.Put to the side.


1.5 Cups Masa Harina
1.25-1.5 Cups Warm Water


Mix Masa Harina and water in a bowl and knead with hands. 

Create a golf ball size ball by rolling it around. Place to the side in a bowl and cover with a clean kitchen towel. 

Test to make sure moisture level is correct. Slightly smash the ball between hands. If the edges all around crack you need to add some more water. Keep a small dish of water next to you for this purpose.  If it sticks too readily to your hands add a touch more masa harina. 

In a tortilla press lined with parchment paper press the balls one by one to a disc that is about 3-4 inches in diameter

In a very hot skillet, cook each disc 60 seconds on the bottom and 30 seconds on the other side which should be the inside of the sope where ingredients will go. No longer than this or you will dry out the sope.

After you remove from skillet, making sure the inside of the sope is facing up, let it cook for about 60 seconds.

Slowly and carefully creating the border by pinching the edges up like you are making a pie crust.

In a cast iron pan heat enough vegetable oil to immerse the sope halfway. Place the sope upside down in the oil first, spooning hot oil on the bottom to fry faster. After 30-60 seconds turn over carefully, spooning oil into the sope to cook inside bottom. Fry until a light golden brown. Remove from oil onto paper towels or a brown paper back, upside down and allow excess oil to drain for a few minutes.

Toppings and assembly

1 cup of pepitas
1 cup cilantro, coarsely chopped
1 cup cotija, crumbled
6 radishes, sliced
2 cups of refried beans
Drizzle of crema
Pickled onions
Sliced Avocado 

Toast pepitas in a hot pan. They should start to pop up.Remove from heat, and careful to not scorch or they will be bitter

In sope, add layer of warm refried beans.

Add shredded meat and a spoon full of salsa.

Sprinkle cotija generously

Add pinch of cilantro

Add pinch of toasted pepitas 

Garnish with three slices of radishes 

Add optional ingredients if desired 


Get the meat and salsa going first.

Get all toppings prepared before you make the sopes, you want to serve the sopes pretty quickly after you fry them

If you like it spicier, increase chili de arbol amount.

If you make it spicier than you like, add a dollop of tomato paste or another tomatoe to salsa and reblend (before you add to dutch oven with the meat).

Antonia Bradford lives in Boulder Creek with her husband and five children. She is a writer, artist, and business owner. She is an advocate for fire families in the area having lost her own home in Boulder Creek as well. She is committed to making contributions to the San Lorenzo Valley community wherever and however she can.

Photos by Antonia Bradford


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