Early Sonoran Summer
One of my absolute favorite types of tacos would be lamb barbacoa. This bold Mexican style of barbecue hits you with many flavors: spicy, smokey, earthy, with hints of herbs. The meat will vary based on the region. I’ve seen it made from lamb, goat, beef cheeks, pork, or even the entire cow head. The cooking process also has a variety: smoked, braised, steamed, or even buried on top of coals in the ground.
I was challenged recently to come up with a dish that used a rack of lamb. This was a competition hosted by Chef’s Roll. My love for Sonoran cuisine stepped in, obviously, the barbacoa flavors were screaming in my ears.
Our local landscape in Arizona blooms during this time of year, showing a variety of colors, textures and flowers. I love to be inspired by everything around me. This time of year I love to go up to Sedona to see the red rocks and enjoy the weather. How can I represent that on a plate?
I decided to use different elements from my personal experiences and build my concept: fallen saguaro cactus, tumbleweeds, the red clay from Sedona, etc. Now to imagine it coming together and building flavor and textures.
The lamb from Te Mana is incredible. Full of flavor, tender, amazing color. I wanted to use sous vide and then sear it over charcoal, providing me a way to infuse the meat with the flavors of barbacoa. Typically barbacoa meat is fatty, and ends up being served as a chopped or pulled meat. A rack of lamb can easily be flavored with all of the spices using sous vide.
The barbacoa lamb flavors are not too tricky. Toasted avocado leaves are extremely key, not replaceable, having flavors of mild anise and nutty hazelnut. Charred onion builds on the base flavors, and then follows the rub itself. Chile guajillo, cumin, peppercorns, and many other warming spices come together and round out the experience.
Creating a Barbacoa Spice Blend
This variation of barbacoa spices pairs very well with the lamb, without overwhelming the flavors. Not too spicy, and can be altered simply by switching out the chile powders:
- 3 tbsp chile powder (guajillo, or ancho preferred)
- 2 tbsp Mexican oregano
- 1 tbsp fresh ground black pepper
- 2 tbsp garlic powder
- 1 ½ tsp ground cumin
- ½ tsp ground cloves
- ½ tsp fresh thyme
- ¼ tsp cinnamon
- 2 tsp salt, or to taste
The Final Plating
The dish finally all comes together, representing my home.
The lamb was obvious, sous vide then sear over charcoal to add the barbecue flavor.
Plating the rest was based around the charred zucchini, my saguaro. The squash was brushed with oil and seasoned with salt and pepper, then charred whole on the grill above a high heat. Cooled, and sliced thin, there was a smear of smoked crema between each layer, then reassembled and plated on top of the red clay. The “clay” was pipián rojo, a type of mole sauce that is made of primarily roasted pumpkin seeds.
The tumbleweed tuile took my the better part of an hour to get right, both shape and flavor of candied jalapeño.
Freshness comes both from the pickled guacamole puree and the foraged flowers. Hand picked, there are flowers from the vitex and palo verde trees. The puree was simply pickled avocados, jalapenos, garlic, cilantro, and the pickling brine.
Would you feel bad diggin in? I sure did, but that’s because of the time and stress endured while putting this together. Once the knife crumbled up the tumbleweed and I mopped up a slice of lamb and zucchini into the spicy pipián, I got over it.
If you’d made it this far down the page, thank you so much for reading. I’m sharing the recipe for the sous vide rack of lamb and barbacoa rub. Even if you don’t make the lamb, try the rub.Print