Monday, April 9, 2012

Short & Sweet (and a little spicy)

Back in January I wrote about a mission trip I had been blessed to be a part of to Chiapas, Mexico.  I mentioned a Barbacoa de Pollo dish that had been my favorite of the trip and one that I was looking forward to recreating at home.  Tonight seemed as good a night as any to give it a try.  

I recently purchased a quarter of a lamb from my good friends at Windy Fleece Farm in Albany, WI.  Anna and Steve raise Navajo Churro sheep which are in the Slow Food U.S.A. Ark of Taste.  The U.S. Ark of Taste is a catalogue of over 200 rare regional foods whose existence is threatened by industrial standardization and environmental damage.  The list serves as a guide to farmers, producers, and consumers for celebrating and supporting the biodiversity of our country and cultural heritage.  It may seem counter intuitive to consume endangered breeds of plants and animals, but if there isn't a market demand for these items then there will be no incentive for folks to raise or produce them.  

The fresh meat in my freezer sparked some inspiration and I decided Lamb Barbacoa was on the menu for dinner tonight.  I am thankful to say that the end results were worth sharing.  Here's what I did.

Lamb Barbacoa

4 lb lamb shoulder or leg roast- cut in to large sections
1 med. onion- sliced
8 cloves garlic- smashed
14 dried, pitted prunes- cut in half
1 orange- halved and sliced
1 small jar lg green olives, pitted & halved
1/2 bottle red wine
1/4 C. Red Wine Vinegar
1 C. stock (veal, chicken, or beef)
1/2 tsp whole cloves
2 Cinnamon sticks
1 tsp Epazote, dried *from Penzey's
a few Avocado leaves *from a local Mexican grocery store
Dried Chiles: 
Guajillo x 4
Cascabel x 2
Ancho x 3
Arbol x 5
2 Tbls neutral cooking oil (pure olive oil, sunflower, avocado, grape seed)

Preheat oven to 325 degree.

Stemmed and loosely de-seeded chiles.

Heat a skillet over high heat.  Add 1 Tbls neutral oil, sear lamb on both sides til nicely browned.  Remove to covered baker.  

Reduce skillet heat to medium.  Add 1 Tbls neutral oil, add chiles to fry in pan.  When starting to brown add onions and garlic, sauté for a couple of minutes being careful not to brown the garlic.  

Deglaze pan with red wine scraping any bits (fond) off bottom of pan.  Add remaining ingredients except olives.  Simmer all briefly until softened and heated through.  

Pour skillet sauce over meat in baker.  Cover and place in oven to braise for 2 hours.  Add olives and cook for another hour.  Remove baker lid during last 30 minutes.  Remove baker from oven when meat is fork tender and remove meat to a platter.  

From remaining sauce remove large pieces of orange, avocado leaves, cinnamon sticks, any obvious cloves and discard.  Separate remaining ingredients and liquid from baker to a blender, leaving olives intact in baker.  Blend sauce on high until smooth.  Return sauce to baker with olives.  Shred meat with a fork or fingers and return to sauce.  Mix all together well.  

I served mine on a plate topped with a vinegary slaw made from red cabbage, red onion, pickled fennel, and cilantro.  I sprinkled crumbled fresh goat cheese (chèvre) from LaClare Farm on top.  You could also use a crumbly Mexican style cheese like Queso Fresco.  I purchased freshly made corn tortillas for less than $2 from a local Mexican grocery store and served them warmed alongside the Barbacoa.  The plates were garnished with slices of avocado.  

The sauce had a nice rich depth of flavor with acidic, sweet and spicy notes from the orange, prunes, and chiles.  The tender meat had a refreshingly mild sweetness, lacking the pungency characteristic to conventionally raised lamb.  It was an earthy and delicious dish that got "thumbs up" from the peanut gallery.  

Procuring the fresh Chèvre required a stop at my favorite specialty shop, Fromagination.  While there I splurged on something special for dessert.  Two tubs of Jeni's Splendid Ice Cream.  They had two new scrumptious flavors for me to try...Brown Butter Almond Brittle and Hummingbird Cake.  Jeni's ice cream is handmade in Columbus, OH using milk from grass-fed cows and ingredients local to their area.  Both flavors are delicious and worth every penny, but the Brown Butter Almond Brittle should not be legal and is now my new favorite bumping out the Lemon and Blueberry Frozen Yogurt.  


  1. Wonderful!!! This sounds so good. I love the way you write. It makes me very hungry though :)

    Fromagination is something special, isn't it? And that ice cream must be tried ASAP in this house. Yum!

  2. Thanks so much Sarah! I appreciate the feedback and you will not be sorry you tried that ice cream. I know you'll be tempted by other flavors so you'll have to report back on what you end up trying! Her Lemon Blueberry Frozen Yogurt (which is usually available early summer) is another one of my favorites.