Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Barbacoa de Borrego

Also known as Min's Famous Lamb Tacos!

Lamb Barbacoa from the Backyard Grill has got to be one of our all-time favorite recipes from Rick Bayless' Mexican Kitchen. If you have ever been curious about preparing authentic Mexican foods, you cannot live without this book. Find one, and buy it.

This is slow-roasted lamb at its best. Although the roasting takes virtually all day for a larger roast, it is a simple dish to prepare. Almost everything else can be prepared ahead of time, and because it is roasted on the grill, there is virtually no clean up, and minimal hands-on time. The recipe also includes a soup that is cooked right underneath the lamb. We save the soup in the freezer for a rainy day, and it is delicious.

We usually prepare this dish for dinner guests, as we did last night. We have also prepared this special meal for Christmas Eve dinner--that is how good it is. The lamb roasts we buy are larger than the recipe calls for, so they take a bit more roasting time, but you just have to start a bit earlier. The roast pictured weighed almost 6 pounds. There are some things in the soup that we typically leave out, so I will leave them out of this post as well.

Lamb Barbacoa From the Backyard Grill

Serves 6 to 8, with 7 cups of soup

3 medium red potatoes, cut into 1/2-inch dice
2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 medium onion, halved and thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, peeled and halved
1 cup cooked (or canned) garbanzo beans (I just throw in a whole can)

One 3-pound rolled and tied boneless lamb shoulder roast
Coarse salt

For serving:
- Salsa (my homemade Roasted Tomato-Jalapeño Salsa, if you're lucky enough to have the recipe)
- finely crumbled Mexican Queso Fresco or Queso Añejo (these come in 12-ounce rounds, we crumble the whole package with a fork)
- 1 cup good-quality olives (we use a mixture of jalapeño- and garlic-stuffed olives)
- warm tortillas

1. Preparing the grill and soup ingredients. You will need a gas grill with two controls--so you can turn off the flame on one side for indirect cooking, and two grill racks. (*If you'd like me to post the directions for charcoal, leave a comment and I will. I've never used charcoal, but you can) Turn on both sides of your grill to preheat, about 10 minutes or so before.

In a 12 x 9-inch heavy-duty aluminum foil pan (or something similar), combine the potatoes, carrots, onion, garlic and garbanzos. Position the pan to one side of the lower grate and turn off the flame under the soup. Pour water into the pan to about 1 inch from the top (it'll take about 5 cups). Position the second cooking grate 8 inches above the flame.

2. Grilling the meat. Sprinkle the lamb liberally with salt. Lay the roast on the top grate directly over the soup, and set an oven thermometer next to it, if you have one. (if you don't have one, I recommend you go out and buy one for this purpose.) Cover the grill and cook, maintaining a moderately low temperature (between 250 and 300 degrees), checking the temperature every 30 minutes. the will be beautifully smoky-roasted--it'll register about 170 degrees on a meat thermometer and be fall-apart tender in about 2 1/2 hours. Be sure to check periodically the slow-simmering soup that's capturing all those aromatic lamb juices to ensure the liquid level remains more or less the same, adding more water if needed.

3. Finishing the dish. With a big pair of tongs, a couple of meat forks or spatulas, remove the roast to a platter. Sprinkle with salt and let rest, loosely tented with foil, in warm place for about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, with the precision of a steady-handed circus performer, carefully remove the pan of soup from the bottom of the grill. (I take a sheet pan out and slide the soup onto the pan before attempting to carry it. Also, since don't usually eat the soup with the meal, I just leave it on the turned-off grill until dinner is over--but don't forget to bring it in after dinner!!). Taste the soup and season with salt, usually about 3/4 teaspoon. Ladle into small, warm soup cups. (or into a container for freezing!)

Remove strings from lamb. Slice into good thick slabs and arrange on a warm platter. Strew the olives around the platter and carry to the table with a flourish. Pass the meat, salsa, cheese and lots of warm tortillas for everyone to make delicious soft tacos.

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