Slow Cooker Lamb Tacos

I hope you all saw my post on Thursday about the fantastic new Mexican resturant in DC, Espita Mezcaleria.  Everything I ate there was delicious but the lamb barbacoa tacos were out of this world.  Before my second bite I told Patrick I needed to figure out how to make these at home.  I have had lamb tacos before but usually they consist of grilled lamb that has been thinly sliced or ground lamb served in hard shells.  The Espita tacos had richly sauced braised lamb folded into their homemade tortillas.  A slow cooker seemed like the best way to ensure that the lamb got fall-apart tender.  Lamb shoulder would be perfect for this but it can be difficult to find most of the year, whereas lamb leg you can pretty much always  track down.  I bought my lamb boneless and pre-butterflied because that’s all they had at the store but I promise it’s really easy to do and a good skill to have.  Here is a helpful link if you have never “butterflied” before, which is essentially cutting the meat open like a book.

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It really doesn’t have to be perfect at all since it’s all going into the slow cooker – if you are butterflying for the grill you want to make sure the meat is even thickness.  This recipe is a little more fussy than most of my slow cooker recipes – you want a decent amount of liquid to cook the lamb in but then you should cook it down to help concentrate the flavor.  If I really had all day I would have cooked all of the liquid down to the 1 1/2 cups needed but the house smelled too good to wait.  The lamb at Espita had a nice smokey, spicy sauce on it so I thought chipoltes were in order.  I used the dried peppers in the cooking process and then chipoltes in adobo to flavor the sauce.  If you cannot find dried chiptoltes in the store, any dried chili pepper will do.  As for the chipolte puree, I just take a can of the chipoltes in adobo (which you know about from here) and puree it in the food processor.  I use what I need and then keep the rest in the fridge for whenever I want to add a little kick (it will last indefinitely because of the vinegar content).  If you don’t want to do that just take one or two of the chipoltes, smash it with a fork and add them to the lamb along with some of the adobo sauce.  I served the tacos with chopped raw onion, some purple cabbage and a squeeze of lime.  I also added some of my Habanero Hot Sauce which I will be posting on Tuesday (yowza it’s hot!).  This would be perfect for Cinco de Mayo celebrations, just make it this weekend, pop it in the freezer and then defrost for next weekend!

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Slow Cooker Lamb Tacos (printable version at the end of the post)

Inspiration:  the lamb barbacoa tacos at Espita
Special Equipment:  slow cooker, blender or food processor

  • 3 dried chipolte peppers, stems removed
  • 1 tablespoon canola oil
  • 2 1/2 to 3 pound boneless leg of lamb, butterflied
  • 1 onion, thinly sliced
  • 3 gloves of garlic, sliced
  • 1 tablespoon cumin
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 1 tablespoon coriander
  • 2 tablespoons cider vinegar
  • 14.5 ounce can of diced tomatoes
  • 3 cups of beef stock
  • 1-2 tablespoons chipolte puree (a can of chipoltes in adobo pureed)

Heat a large skillet over medium high heat.  Add the dried chilis and toast them in the dry pan for 3 or 4 minutes, flipping once, until they darken a bit and you can smell the chili.  Remove and put into the slow cooker.  Add the oil to the pan and salt and pepper the lamb while you wait for the oil to heat.  Once the oil is hot add the lamb to the pan and brown on one side without disturbing it for 5 minutes.

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Flip and cook for 5 minutes more until both sides are nice and brown.  Remove the lamb from the pan and add to the slow cooker.  There should be enough fat from the lamb and the oil in the pan but if not add a touch more canola oil   Add the onions to the pan and lower the heat to medium. Cook for a minute or two and then add the garlic, cumin, oregano, coriander and salt and pepper.

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Cook for another 2 minutes until the onions are softened.  Add the can of tomatoes and use the liquid to deglaze the pan of any brown bits stuck on the bottom.  Add the contents of the pan into the slow cooker with the lamb and chipoltes.  Add beef stock so the liquid comes up at least three-quarters of the way up the lamb (you may not need all 3 cups).  Turn on the slow cooker to low and cook for 5 to 6 hours.

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Carefully pull out the lamb and place it on a cutting board to cool (it’s ok if it falls apart a bit as you do this as you are just going to shred it anyway).  I used a large spatula and a wooden spoon to get it out of there.  Pull out the dried chipoltes and toss.  Pour the rest of the content of the slow cooker and its liquid into a blender or  food processor (carefully!) and blend until smooth.  Transfer one and a half cups of the puree to a saucepan and bring it to a simmer.  Simmer over low for 30 minutes until the liquid has thickened a bit, stir in desired amount of chipolte puree.

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While the sauce simmers shred the meat once its cool enough to handle, it should fall apart very easily.  Once the sauce it done combine it with the shredded lamb.  You can serve right away or store in the fridge for several days or the freezer for several months.

Slow Cooker Lamb Tacos

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Print

Special Equipment:  slow cooker, blender or food processor

  • 3 dried chipolte peppers, stems removed
  • 1 tablespoon canola oil
  • 2 1/2 to 3 pound boneless leg of lamb, butterflied
  • 1 onion, thinly sliced
  • 3 gloves of garlic, sliced
  • 1 tablespoon cumin
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 1 tablespoon coriander
  • 2 tablespoons cider vinegar
  • 14.5 ounce can of diced tomatoes
  • 3 cups of beef stock
  • 1-2 tablespoons chipolte puree (a can of chipoltes in adobo pureed)

Heat a large skillet over medium high heat.  Add the dried chilis and toast them in the dry pan for 3 or 4 minutes, flipping once, until they darken a bit and you can smell the chili.  Remove and put into the slow cooker.  Add the oil to the pan and salt and pepper the lamb while you wait for the oil to heat.  Once the oil is hot add the lamb to the pan and brown on one side without disturbing it for 5 minutes.  Flip and cook for 5 minutes more until both sides are nice and brown.  Remove the lamb from the pan and add to the slow cooker.  There should be enough fat from the lamb and the oil in the pan but if not add a touch more canola oil   Add the onions to the pan and lower the heat to medium. Cook for a minute or two and then add the garlic, cumin, oregano, coriander and salt and pepper.

Cook for another 2 minutes until the onions are softened.  Add the can of tomatoes and use the liquid to deglaze the pan of any brown bits stuck on the bottom.  Add the contents of the pan into the slow cooker with the lamb and chipoltes.  Add beef stock so the liquid comes up at least three-quarters of the way up the lamb (you may not need all 3 cups).  Turn on the slow cooker to low and cook for 5 to 6 hours.  Carefully pull out the lamb and place it on a cutting board to cool (it’s ok if it falls apart a bit as you do this as you are just going to shred it anyway).  I used a large spatula and a wooden spoon to get it out of there.  Pull out the dried chipoltes and toss.  Pour the rest of the content of the slow cooker and its liquid into a blender or  food processor (carefully!) and blend until smooth.  Transfer one and a half cups of the puree to a saucepan and bring it to a simmer.  Simmer over low for 30 minutes until the liquid has thickened a bit, stir in desired amount of chipolte puree.

While the sauce simmers shred the meat once its cool enough to handle, it should fall apart very easily.  Once the sauce it done combine it with the shredded lamb.  You can serve right away or store in the fridge for several days or the freezer for several months.

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