A traditional Mexican dish with lamb, spices and a hint of mezcal

Kitchen Cabinet: Lily Ramirez Foran's barbacoa recipe uses local ingredients

Barbacoa is a traditional Mexican dish generally prepared with beef, lamb, or goat. The whole idea is to slow-cook the meat in chillies, herbs and spices for a long period of time. The word barbacoa comes from the Nahuatl word Baalbak Kaab, literally meat covered in soil.

The Aztecs and many other indigenous people in Mexico cooked barbacoa in holes in the ground filled with hot stones, wood and charcoal. For this dish, I have taken inspiration from a barbacoa recipe particularly popular in the region of Oaxaca, in southern Mexico. I like blending local and Mexican ingredients, so unless typically Mexican, like the chillies and the mezcal, I always try to find local ingredients that work.

I absolutely love The Apple Farm cider vinegar, which has become a must in my pantry. The Apple Farm in Co Tipperary, run by Cornelius Traas, was founded by his parents Willem and Ali Traas who came from the Netherlands in the late 1960s to grow fruit in Ireland. As well as apples, the farm now grows a variety of berries and produces juices, jams, ciders and vinegars. Con takes great pride in continuing the family tradition. The farm grows up to 60 different varieties of apples,

For my meat, I have chosen lamb from Achill Island Mountain Lamb, but you could choose to use beef cheek or neck, or goat's leg and shoulder, which would be equally as delicious. Mezcal is widely available in most off-licences, but you could substitute tequila, or simply use water for an alcohol-free option. Guajillo and ancho dried chillies are available in any ethnic store.


Lily Ramirez Foran is the owner of Picado Mexican food store and cookery school.

Oaxacan-style barbacoa

Serves 4-6


For the sauce
25g guajillo chillies
20g ancho chillies
1 tbsp sesame seeds
2 very large garlic cloves, peeled (15g approx.)
½ cinnamon stick (5g approx.)
100mls water
1 tsp dried Mexican oregano
1 tbsp Apple Farm cider vinegar
2 springs of thyme (leaves only)
1 tsp Achill Island flaky sea salt

For the meat
1.5 kg lamb shanks
150mls water
60mls mezcal
3 large fresh bay leaves, washed and dried


1 Start by making the sauce. Remove the stems of the dried chillies and using scissors, cut them along the side to butterfly them. Remove all seeds and veins and discard them. Put the now cleaned chillies into a pot with plenty of boiling water and boil on high heat for 10 minutes or until the chillies are completely soft.

2 Heat a dry, medium size frying pan to medium-high heat. No oil or grease of any kind on it. Add the sesame seeds to it and, stirring regularly, toast the seeds until they're golden brown, about three minutes. Remove them into a bowl to cool down and return the pan to the heat. Add the garlic cloves and cinnamon stick and toast them for about five minutes, turning them regularly to avoid burning them. Once they're done and the sesame seeds are cold, transfer the seeds and the cinnamon to the blender and blend until they are a fine powder.

3 Add the rest of the sauce ingredients: garlic, chillies (completely drained of their cooking liquid), water, oregano, cider vinegar, thyme and salt. Blend until you have a smooth, thickish paste.

4 Preheat the oven 170 degrees. Arrange the lamb shanks on a cast iron casserole with a lid (you can use a roasting tin but you will need to seal it well with tin foil before it goes into the oven). Pour the sauce from the blender over the meat, making sure it is completely covered. Pour the water and mezcal on the sides of the pot so you don't wash away the sauce. Add the bay leaves and cover. Roast for four hours or until the meat is tender and falling off the bone.

5 Shred the meat in the pot and mix it with the juices. Serve hot on warmed corn tortillas and top with freshly chopped onion and coriander. Crown with your favourite hot sauce for extra heat.

Kitchen Cabinet is a series of recipes for Food Month at The Irish Times from chefs who are members of Euro-Toques Ireland, in support of Ireland’s food producers. #ChefsMeetProducers.