We just heard back from the lamb folks… and unfortunately our most awesome Barbacoa Lamb didn’t win. The winning recipe for DC involves Indian spice and sounds pretty good. Thats ok, we still love lamb and had a blast. It was a seriously good recipe and you should try it. However, it wasn’t the only lamb taco recipe we made. The theme of the contest was healthy lamb and our second recipe was a little less healthy… but not that bad.
After reading this exhaustive post on Pork Carnitas I figured I had to give it a try with lamb. The results were amazing. The only real difference between the two recipes is that one uses water as the cooking medium and the other uses fat/oil. Here is the key quote from the article on why fat makes for better medium:
Foods cooking in a givenÂ volumeÂ of oil at a specific temperature will cook more slowly than food cooking in water at the exact same temperature.
No wonder the stock-braised pork was coming out dryer than the oil-cooked version:Â Oil is a much better temperature buffer than water.
I didn’t really change anything in the recipe, I just switched the lamb for the pork. The results were amazingly good. While the barbacoa was full of flavor, the meat was drier and more stringy. The lamb carnitas remained moist on the inside, crisped on the outside and separated into chunks. While it probably had more fat in it, the lamb carnitas was not greasy and the meat didn’t absorb it.
If you have the time, make both! If not, I would give the carnitas a try. While it wasn’t “healthy” enough to submit for the contest, carnitas isn’t that bad for you and is a fun and tasty twist on lamb. Of course it wouldn’t be a dinner with Team Lamb, if there weren’t fabulous desserts. This time it was blackberry pie, made with blackberries that we picked that morning, topped with homemade ice cream.
CRISPY LAMB CARNITAS
- 1 medium onion
- 3 pounds boneless leg of lamb, rind removed, cut into 2-inch cubes
- Kosher salt
- 1 medium orange
- 6 cloves garlic, split in half
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 cinnamon stick, broken into three or four pieces
- 1/4 cup vegetable oil
- Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 275 degrees. Split onion into quarters. Set aside. Season lamb chunks with 1 tablespoon salt and place in a 9 by 13 glass casserole dish. The lamb should fill the dish with no spaces. Split orange into quarters and squeeze juice over lamb. Nestle squeezed orange pieces into casserole. Add 4 onion quarters, 4 cloves garlic, bay leaves, and cinnamon stick to casserole. Nestle everything into an even layer. Pour vegetable oil over surface. Cover dish tightly with aluminum foil and place in oven. Cook until lamb is fork tender, about 3 1/2 hours.
- Set large fine-meshed strainer 1 quart liquid measure or bowl. Using tongs, remove orange peel, onion, garlic, cinnamon stick, and bay leaves from lamb. Transfer lamb and liquid to strainer. Let drain for 10 minutes. Transfer lamb back to casserole. You should end up with about 1/2 cup liquid and 1/2 cup fat. Using a flat spoon or de-fatter, skim fat from surface and add back to lamb. Shred lamb into large chunks with fingers or two forks. Season to taste with salt. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
- To serve: Place casserole dish with lamb 4-inches under a high broiler and broil until brown and crisp on surface, about 6 minutes. Remove lamb, stir with a spoon to expose new bits to heat, and broil again for 6 more minutes until crisp. Tent with foil to keep warm.
- Meanwhile, heat tortillas. Preheat an 8-inch non-stick skillet over medium-high heat until hot. Working one tortilla at a time, dip tortilla in bowl filled with water. Transfer to hot skillet and cook until water evaporates from first side and tortilla is browned in spots, about 30 seconds. Flip and cook until dry, about 15 seconds longer. Transfer tortilla to a tortilla warmer, or wrap in a clean dish towel. Repeat with remaining tortillas.
- To eat, stack two tortillas on top of each other. Add two to three tablespoons carnitas mixture to center. Top with salsa, chopped onions and cilantro, and queso fresco. Serve with lime wedges.
For a healthier version, you can skip adding the fat from the cooking liquid back to the lamb before broiling.