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Lamb Barbacoa Street Tacos

Menu PartAppetizer/Small Plate
Cuisine TypeLatin

Sam Woodfill
Executive sous chef
Catering by Design

Tacos, always a fan favorite, are updated with a zesty lamb filling in this recipe. Chef Woodfill rubs the shank meat with a marinade of dried chiles, garlic and spices, then slowly roasts it until it falls off the bone. The shredded meat goes into grilled corn tortillas and is topped with a citrusy slaw and pickled radish crema.


Lamb filling
10 dried guajillo chile peppers, stemmed and seeded
10 ancho chile peppers, stemmed and seeded
5 cups water
1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
5 whole cloves, stems removed
3 garlic cloves
1 Roma tomato, quartered
½ medium white onion, coarsely chopped
1 tbsp. dried oregano
2½ tsp. kosher or sea salt
1 tsp. ground black pepper
½ tsp. ground cinnamon
½ tsp. ground allspice
3 tbsp. vegetable oil
8 lb. bone-in lamb shanks
Banana leaves, optional
Avocado leaves, optional
50 white corn tortillas

Citrus purple cabbage slaw
½ cup fresh orange juice
¼ cup fresh lime juice
2 tbsp. olive oil
2 tbsp. brown sugar
1 tsp. kosher salt
½ tsp. ground black pepper
2 large carrots, grated
½ purple or red cabbage, cored and shredded
¾ cup chopped cilantro

Pickled radish crema
1 cup shaved radishes
2 tbsp. lemon juice
1 tbsp. white vinegar
½ tbsp. salt
1 qt. Mexican crema
Salt and pepper, to taste


1. For lamb marinade: Heat large skillet over medium heat. Add guajillo and ancho chiles; toast for no more than 20 seconds per side.
2. In medium saucepan, combine chiles and water. Cook over medium heat for 12 to 15 minutes, until peppers are softened and rehydrated. In blender, combine chiles, 2 cups cooking liquid, vinegar, cloves, garlic, tomato, onion, oregano, salt, black pepper, cinnamon and allspice; puree until smooth.
3. Wipe out saucepan; add oil. Heat pan over medium heat for 1 to 2 minutes; add pureed marinade. Partially cover; cook for 10 to 12 minutes, stirring often, until color darkens and mixture thickens to a paste-like consistency. Set marinade aside; cool for at least 1 hour.
4. Rinse lamb and pat dry. In large, nonreactive dish, place lamb; cover completely and rub marinade into lamb. Cover; refrigerate for 2 to 24 hours.
5. Preheat oven to 300 F. In large roasting pan, unfold banana leaves; arrange in layers on roasting rack, leaving a generous amount of overlap on pan’s long sides for wrapping the meat. (Alternatively use long pieces of foil.) Place meat on top of leaves; cover with marinade. Place avocado leaves on top of the meat; fold banana leaves over to cover meat. (Or cover tightly with foil.)  Slow roast lamb for 8 to 10 hours, until meat easily comes off the bone. Let rest for 15 to 20 minutes before opening banana leaves; discard leaves. Shred meat for filling.
6. Meanwhile, prepare slaw: In large bowl, whisk together orange juice, lime juice, oil, sugar, salt and pepper. Add carrots and cabbage; toss to combine. Let stand, tossing occasionally, for at least 45 minutes. Fold in cilantro before serving.
7. Prepare pickled radish crema: In medium bowl, combine radish, lemon juice, vinegar and salt; let stand 1 hour. In blender, combine radish mixture and crema; blend until smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper; refrigerate until service.
8. Grill tortillas until charred and hot. To serve, place 2 ounces shredded lamb in each tortilla. Spoon citrus slaw and radish crema over meat and fold tortillas into a taco shape.

Photo courtesy of American Lamb Board


To simplify and speed up the recipe, use precooked lamb shoulder meat. Simmer in marinade sauce for 30 minutes.

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