Angela's Lamb Birria
This is a traditional birria recipe with all lamb. Lamb or goat are the preferred meats, but you can do a mix of lamb and beef or only beef if that is what you have. I highly recommend spending the money on lamb! This is traditionally a special occasion dish, due to the lengthy marinating time and long list of ingredients, but it is completely worth it! You could make this dish in a slow cooker, see notes. You can eat this as a stew or shred it for birriaqueso tacos (in notes). This is a small recipe, for about half a cleaned lamb shoulder. Double it for a whole lamb shoulder.
Servings 6 servings
- dutch oven or slow cooker
- blender or stick blender
- fine sieve
- 1.5 lb about half a lamb shoulder, in large chunks I like lamb trimmed of fat and silverskin, keeping just a small amount of fat for the braising, but you can leave all the fat and skim later if you wish. A typical boneless lamb shoulder is about 4-5# before trimming.
- 1 tsp cumin
- 1 tsp dry mustard optional
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- 1 tsp ginger powder
- 1 tsp ancho powder Substitute smoked paprika.
- 2 tsp garlic salt sub kosher salt
- 1 tsp black pepper
Braise and Sauce
- 1 Tbl oil to cook chiles
- 1 dried guajillo chile, cut open and seeded, remove stem see notes about dried chiles
- 1 dried New Mexican chile, cut open and seeded, remove stem
- 1 dried pasilla chile, cut open and seeded, remove stem
- 2 bay leaves
- 1/2 stick cinnamon about 2"
- 2 tsp whole black peppercorns about 10-15
- 1 tsp whole cloves about 6-8
- 1 tsp dried thyme
- 1 tsp dried marjoram optional, if skipping double the oregano
- 1 tsp dried oregano Mexican if you can find it
- 3 Roma tomatoes, seeded and diced about a cup
- 1 small onion, diced about 2/3 cup
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 ½ Tbl apple cider vinegar
- 1 tsp cumin
- 1 tsp ginger powder
- 1 tsp ancho powder Cayenne is NOT a substitute! Use smoked paprika if you can't find ancho.
- Salt to taste
- 1/2 cup water plus more if needed
- chopped cilantro
- finely diced onion
- lime slices
- pickled radish or onion see notes
- crumbled cotija cheese see notes
- The day before, mix up the dry rub and thoroughly coat the lamb. Put in a plastic zip bag in the fridge until you are ready to cook the next day. You can marinate for a few hours if you're in a pinch, but the longer, the better.
- Heat a skillet over high with about a Tbl of oil. Sauté the lamb pieces on all sides. Set aside.
- In a small saucepan, put about 2/3 cup water and bring to a simmer.
- In same skillet, add more oil and turn down heat to med hi. Add the chiles. Cook until the chiles turn a little darker, it just takes about 2 minutes, do not burn the chiles.
- Put chiles in the simmering water until they are called for in the recipe.
- In the same skillet over med hi, add pepper, cloves, bay leaves, cinnamon, thyme, marjoram and oregano. Stir until fragrant, about 3 minutes.
- Add onions and garlic, turn down heat to medium and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes.
- Add romas and chiles with the simmering water. Cook until the whole mixture is thickened. About 8 minutes.
- Turn off heat and add apple cider vinegar, cumin, ginger and ancho.
- Put this braising mixture in a blender and puree until smooth. Push through a fine sieve to create a smooth sauce for braising. Add 1/2 cup water if cooking in oven, if using a slow cooker, skip the water.
- Put the lamb in a dutch oven and cook at 300°F for about 3 hours. OR put in a slow cooker on HI for 6-8 hours. If cooking in oven, check at halfway point to see if the sauce is too reduced; if so, add more water. It should be saucy, not dry.
- Remove lamb from sauce and shred. I leave it larger for stew and shred small for tacos. You could even do stew for dinner and then tacos for leftovers. Check seasoning (salt) and adjust.
- I keep the sauce separate to control the consistency of the lamb. Check seasoning (salt) and adjust. If it needs more acid, add a bit more vinegar. If you've got a lot of fat, skim fat before serving, otherwise it will be too greasy. The fat will come right off if you refrigerate the sauce.
I highly recommend seeking out dried chiles for this dish. There is not really anything that can substitute for dried chiles. Many chain groceries carry them now, and most towns will have an ethnic market of some sort. If all else fails, you can order from Amazon, but you'll end up with extra - which I hope will inspire you to try other Mexican dishes! You can store the dried chiles in an airtight bag in the pantry. For stew, I'd serve with rice and top with cilantro and onions. Limes on the side. Add as much sauce as you like. I really like pickled veg with this dish to cut the richness. I made a quick pickle of red onion and radish for the stew. Cut very finely about 2/3 cup veg and pickle in 1/2 cup rice wine vinegar, 1/4 cup white wine vinegar, 2 Tbl water, 1/2 tsp salt, 1 tsp sugar and a few whole allspice or pickling spices. Heat brine to simmer, take off heat and add veg. Let sit until cool. For birriaqueso tacos, add sauce to shredded lamb until nicely moist, but not too wet. I use small corn street tacos that I've charred over a burner just a little (ALWAYS cook the tortillas!). Assemble with a little sour cream, the shredded lamb, crumbled cotija cheese, pickled veg (same recipe as above), diced onion and chopped cilantro. Lime on the side. Photo courtesy @mylatinatable