I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do with the pack of frozen lamb stew meat in my freezer …… This turned out to be perfect! It helps that whenever we come home from Mexico we bring dried peppers so I always have a good stock on hand. The only thing I didn’t have, in fact, was the agave leaf, or banana leaf. I’m sure it will add another dimension of flavour when I try that, but honestly this was just fantastic without.
FOR THE LAMB
- 12-inch chunk of an agave leaf (penca de maguey) or 1 large banana leaf, optional
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 3 pounds boneless lamb shoulder (you could also use beef or pork – marinade works with either)
- 1 12-ounce bottle of beer (optional but I love this!)
FOR THE MARINADE
- 2 dried guajillo chiles, stemmed, seeded and torn into large pieces
- 2 dried ancho chiles, stemmed, seeded and torn into large pieces
- 3 garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped
- 1 tablespoon cider vinegar
- 1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 canned chipotle in adobo sauce
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon, preferably Mexican canela
- 1/2 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano
- Your favorite hot sauce or salsa
- A little chopped white onion or pickled red onions
- A handful of cilantro leaves
This recipe came from Rick Bayless, and I have copied it here exactly as he posted it, but I’ve added my changes in the bold Italic font.
Roast the agave leaf being careful not to touch the exposed flesh of the agave) over an open flame, turning every few minutes until pliable and charred, 10 to 15 minutes, depending on the thickness. (If using a banana leaf, run it briefly over an open flame to soften it.) Cut into 3 pieces. We are in the midst of Covid-19 pandemic, so I wasn’t about to run out to the store and try to buy agave leaf or banana leaf (the closest we can get to either of these is frozen banana leaf). I just left this part out.
In the stovetop-safe insert of your slow cooker or in a very large (12-inch) skillet, heat the oil over medium-high. Pat the lamb dry with a paper towel, sprinkle generously with salt and lay it in the insert of skillet. Cook, turning occasionally, until richly brown on all sides, about 10 minutes. Fit the insert into the machine or transfer the meat to the slow cooker.
Combine all the marinade ingredients in a blender with 2 cups of water and blend to a smooth puree. Pour through a medium mesh strainer into the slow cooker. Nestle the pieces of agave leaf or banana leaf under and around the meat and pour the beer over the top, if you are using them. Cover and turn on the slow cooker to high. Your barbacoa will be done in about 6 hours, though you can hold it for longer. (My slow-cooker can be programmed to switch from high after 6 hours to a “keep warm” temperature for up to another 6 hours. Some slow cookers click to “keep warm” automatically; others need to be switched manually.). I put the seasonings and the torn chile peppers into the blender along with hot water, and allowed it to sit for about 20 minutes before blending. This allowed the peppers to soften nicely and they blended up very smoothly.
Given that we are just “at home” these days, I didn’t use the slow cooker, but browned the meat well before adding it to a heavy cast iron dutch oven, covering with the marinade and slowly roasting at 275 for about 3 hours. Honestly, I prefer this method most of the time anyway as it allows for the sauce to be richer.
When you are ready to serve, coarsely shred the lamb and arrange it on a warm platter. Skim any fat from the sauce that remains in the slow cooker, then taste it. If you feel it would be better with a more concentrated flavor, pour it into a medium saucepan or remove the insert and set it over high heat. Boil for a few minutes to reduce that quantity, then taste and season with salt if it needs it. Spoon as much as you like over the lamb or beef. (I like to sprinkle coarse salt over the meat at this point.) Serve the barbacoa with the hot sauce or salsa, onion and cilantro. Grab some tortillas, if you like, and you’re ready to make some delicious tacos.