Braised Lamb Barbacoa Tacos


After an initial bit of mixing, this is really a “set it and forget it” kind of meal that serves a crowd. Lamb is ubiquitous in Mexico and Latin America—especially long-cooked cuts braised in flavorful liquid tucked into charred corn tortillas and served with a squeeze of lime. Made just as simply in a Dutch oven on the stovetop as in a slow cooker overnight, this festive hands-off meal leaves plenty of time for making salsa and guac, a batch of margaritas and sliced melon for dessert.

Serves 6–8

2½ to 3 pounds boneless lamb leg or shoulder

For the dry rub:
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon brown sugar
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon granulated garlic
2 teaspoons ground ancho chili
2 teaspoons ground cumin
½ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground cloves
½ teaspoon dried thyme
½ teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon ground coriander
½ teaspoon ground allspice
2 tablespoons neutral oil, like safflower or sunflower

For the braising liquid:
½ cup orange juice
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
4 fat garlic cloves, smashed
1 medium onion, diced
1 lime, juiced
½ cup water
1 chipotle chile in adobo, minced
¼ cup minced cilantro stems
2 tablespoons honey, agave or maple syrup

To serve:
Minced cilantro, onion and scallions
Lime wedges
Thinly sliced red chilies and avocado, optional
Fresh corn tortillas

Remove the lamb from its wrapping, cut away the netting and pat it very dry. In a bowl stir together the dry rub ingredients minus the oil and rub all over the meat, being sure to get the rub into all the crevices. Let sit for 30 minutes to 1 hour at room temperature.

Combine the braising liquid ingredients in a bowl. If using a slow cooker, heat the basin to “sear” and brown the meat all over in the oil. If using a Dutch oven, place it over high heat, add the oil and brown the meat on all sides.

Reduce the heat to low, add the braising liquid and cover. Set the slow cooker to 6 hours or place the Dutch oven over a low flame. Cook until meat is tender and falling apart, at least 6 hours or more.

Remove the meat from the pot and set aside. Blend the braising liquid with an immersion blender if you like, or leave it chunky—but if it’s thin, reduce it over low heat until concentrated. Taste and add more lime, honey or salt so you have a balanced sauce that’s acidic, spicy and semi-sweet.

Using two forks, shred the meat on a serving platter and ladle over some of the braising liquid, just enough to moisten—you may not need it all. Keep warm.

Char the corn tortillas over a gas flame and serve with the lamb, chopped cilantro and onions, optional chilies and avocados and plenty of lime wedges. Or serve the braised lamb over rice with salsa, guacamole and beans as a “bowl.”