Lamb Barbacoa-style stew and tacos

Barbacoa is a preHispanic slow cooking method where meat is covered by plantain or maguey leaves, cooked underground in pits and covered with stones to achieve high temperatures. Historic documents show mentions of barbacoa since 1518* and in the preHispanic Mexico barbacoa was used to cook birds, deer and fish. During colonization Spaniards introduced sheep, cattle and pigs adding new flavours to preHispanic Mexican cooking.

In modern times recipes vary per region, in the north of the country barbacoa is used to cook beef and goat kid mainly; in the south you will find more chicken and pig, while in the center region lamb and goat are more common.

A big part of the lamb flavour is the spices used to cook it and to achieve tender meet I recommend using a pressure, slow cooker or Instant Pot. The stew recipe below is typical of Mexico’s centre region.


For the stew:

  • 1 leg of lamb (approximately 1 kg.)
  • 2 tbsp. cinnamon
  • 1 and 1/2 tbsps. black pepper
  • 2 tbsp. salt
  • 4 to 6 bay leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon of thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon of cumin
  • 1 dried chipotle pepper
  • 1 small onion
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • fresh mint
  • 2 cups of chickpeas
  • 2 litres of water
  • 2 potatoes, chopped in small cubes
  • 2 carrots, chopped in small cubes
  • 1 cup of rice (rinsed)

Hot sauce:

  • 2 dried pasilla peppers
  • 2 dried or canned chipotle peppers
  • 2 tomatoes
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 1 small onion
  • 1 cup of light lager beer
  • Juice of 1 tangerine or 1 orange
  • Sal and pepper to taste

For the tacos:

  • Corn tortillas


  • Lime juice
  • Fresh cilantro, finely chopped
  • Pickled onion


For the stew: Put all ingredients, water and spices on your pressure cooker or Instant Pot, cook at high pressure for 90 minutes or until meat is tender. Serve with toppings and some hot sauce.

For the hot sauce: In a large pan or comal, char the tomatoes, onion and garlic for 10 to 15 minutes. Meanwhile, in a sauce pan put the dry peppers, cover with water, cook at high temperature until the peppers are tender. Blend with the rest of the ingredients until you get a puree-like consistency. Put the sauce back in the sauce pan, salt and pepper to taste, cook for 5 to 10 more minutes.

For the tacos: Using forks, carefully shred the lamb meat. Warm the tortillas in a large pan or comal. Add lamb, lemon juice, cilantro, pickled onion and salsa.

*Sources: The origin of Barbacoa (Spanish only)

Author: Aída Guerra

Foodie, Mexican-Canadian with a passion to share my favourite recipies.