I know, I know, today is Cinco de Mayo so this birria recipe is worthless to you for 364 days. But it’s super easy (slow cooker FTW!) and it’s actually better if you make it a couple days in advance of when you want to eat it so the flavors all have a chance to come together. And also I read somewhere on the internet that it cures hangovers and don’t even pretend like you don’t need that after Cinco de Drink-o.
Questionable medical claims aside, this lamb birria made for a great base for taco night tonight (more on taco night later this week!). The meat is fall-apart tender and the sauce is tomatoey and jammy, but not too soupy. And the potatoes! They soaked up the flavor of the sauce and the meat, so they’re waxy and soft and flavorful (without being gritty or glue-y? What can I say? They’re little miracle potatoes. ) Annnnnd the leftover meat is going into breakfast scrambles tomorrow morning and into quesadillas for dinner later this week, and will probs find itself perched atop a taco salad sometime soon. It’s the great thing about mexican-inspired meats — I can stick them into all my favorite mexican foods. Nachos? Sure. Burrito bowl? Definitely. Enchiladas? Yeah, why not.
If you’re looking for a way to stretch Cinco de Mayo a little further, but your stick-on mustache is loosing its stick, I suggest this lamb birria. My food plan this week is just this in different iterations until we get bored of it. And then I’ll freeze the rest and come back to it this summer when just the thought of firing up the slow cooker makes me break out into a sweat. Between that and the insanely easy prep, this one is a no-brainer. But really, birria’s cousin is barbacoa made from cow head so this shoulder roast is looking more tame, no? Also, if you have access to a cow head you can sub it in for the lamb shoulder in this recipe. I haven’t tried that, but I asked my butcher if they sold cow heads and I’m pretty sure he thinks I’m a psycho murderer because I explained, “I don’t want to eat it, I just want to know if you have it.” Which is what a psycho murderer would say so what I’m saying now is, my butcher has pretty good judgment and also no cow heads. 🙁
- A big handful of dried chiles (I used a combination of anchos and guajillos, but really any dried chiles would work)
- 4 cloves garlic, smashed
- ½ t. cumin
- 3 T. red wine vinegar
- 1.5 lbs Yukon gold potatoes
- 2 lbs bone-in lamb shoulder roast
- 15-ounce can fire roasted tomatoes
- 1 T. dried oregano
- Cilantro and lime, for serving
- Toast the chiles in a dry skillet over medium heat, turning occasionally. (Note: I like spice, and I used the chiles seen below, and my birria came out flavorful but not too spicy for me. I think this was a safe place to start. If you hate spice, 1) mexican food might not be your jam and 2) start with fewer chiles than what appears in the photo below.) Once the chiles are warm and toasty, cover them with water and turn off the heat and let them soak for 30 minutes or so, until the dried chiles are soft and pliant.
- While the chiles soak, prepare the meat and potatoes. Cut the potatoes into 6 wedges each and arrange them in a single layer on the bottom of a slow cooker. Sprinkle generously with kosher salt. Layer the lamb over the potatoes.
- Once the chiles are soft, drain the soaking liquid and throw the chiles, garlic cloves, cumin, and vinegar into a food processor with ½ cup of water to make a marinade. Process until smooth and then pour over the lamb, slopping a little down over the potatoes. Pour in a cup or two of water -- enough that the potatoes are submerged, and the water covers the bottom ¼ inch of the meat. Cook on high for 6 hours.
- After the meat and potatoes are finished in the slow cooker, heat the can of tomatoes and oregano in a skillet on medium high. While the water slowly boils out and the tomatoes cook down to a jammy consistency, pull the lamb out of the slow cooker and shred with two forks, discarding the bones. Use a slotted spoon to scoop the potatoes out of the slow cooker over the pulled lamb. Stir the broth from the slow cooker into the tomatoes and bring them up to a boil. Pour the tomatoes and broth over the meat and potatoes.
- If you have to, serve immediately. If you have a little time before you're going to serve, stick the whole thing in the fridge and let the flavors marinate together. The fat on the sauce will rise to the top and solidify, making it easy to pick off in big chunks before you reheat and serve.