Mexican Lamb Barbacoa – a simple delicious recipe from Oaxaca that results in tender, juicy falling off the bone lamb perfect for tacos and burritos!
- 3 –5 lb lamb shoulder ( bone-in or boneless, see notes)
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- one large onion, sliced
- one orange, sliced
- 3 bay leaves
- 2–4 dried ancho chilies -or sub dried chipotles, guajillo chilies ( milder) or chili negros- stems removed, seeds removed.
- 1 chipotle pepper (from a can) plus 2–3 tablespoons of the chipotle “juice” ( you can always add more at the end of cooking if not sure)
- 4–6 cloves garlic
- 2 cups chicken or beef broth or water
- Juice from one orange
- 2 tablespoons cumin ( see notes)
- 2 tablespoon coriander ( see notes)
- 1 tablespoon chili powder
- 2 tablespoons dried oregano or Mexican epazote
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 tablespoon vinegar ( white or apple cider)
- 1 tablespoons brown sugar or honey or maple
Preheat oven to 325F.
Score the fat on the lamb (see photos) Generously season all sides of the lamb shoulder with salt. Set on counter while you make the marinade.
To make the marinade, de-stem the dried chilies, break them in half and discard the seeds ( you don’t need to remove every single one, a few strays are OK). Break the chilies apart into smaller pieces and add to the blender with the remaining ingredients. Blend until very smooth, for a full minute.
Heat a skillet or dutch oven to medium high heat and add oil. Sear the salted lamb shoulder, patiently browning each side to create a deep colored crust. DO NOT SKIP THIS STEP! ( It is the secret to sealing in the juices and creating flavor!)
Once all sides are seared, place lamb shoulder in the dutch oven. Nestle the onion and orange slices all around it along with bay leaves. Pour the marinade over top and shake the pan to get the marinade to the bottom.
Cover tightly and bake in a 325F oven for 3½-4 ½ hours. See notes on timing!
Roast is done when meat pulls apart easily. Pull the meat off the bones and discard any fat. Tear into smaller pieces and place into an oven proof serving dish. Strain 1-2 cups of the marinade and pour over the meat keeping it moist. Taste the lamb and adjust salt and heat. If it tastes bland add salt.
Keep warm in oven until ready to serve. I like to leave this uncovered so the meat gets a little crispy on the top. Garnish with onions and cilantro if you like.
You can use bone-in lamb shoulder like you see here ( this is a 4 ½ pound bone-in roast). For ease and faster cooking, you can have your butcher cut the bone out and roll into a boneless “roast”. Cooking times will vary based on weight and cut. Allow 3- 3 1/2 hours for 3-4 lb boneless roast. Allow 4-4 ½ hours for a 5-6 lb bone-in roast. I always plan for an extra hour, just in case.
Epazote is a Mexican herb that really bumps up the flavor and authenticity of this recipe. It can sometimes be found at Mexican Markets. Or try growing it from seed!
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