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“Barbacoa is a rich, celebratory dish, often eaten in Mexico on Sundays and special occasions”

Having spent ten years living in Mexico City, El Pastor co-founder Crispin Somerville has built up a wealth of knowledge around Mexican food and drink culture. To coincide with the launch of El Pastor’s latest menu, we chatted to him about barbacoa, its origins and traditions.

What is barbacoa and how is it made?

Barbacoa refers to the process of cooking meat slowly in a pit underground. “Barbacoa is a dish arguably originating in the central plateau outside Mexico City. Traditionally, it’s made by digging a hole, filling it with hot stones, then wrapping spice-marinated mutton, goat, or sometimes beef in maguey (agave) ‘pencas’ (pads), which are placed over the hot stones on a grill, with a tray underneath for catching the juices. The hole is then covered, leaving the meat to cook overnight.” These days, brick ovens are built into the ground, but the stones are still heated by burning wood. The wrapped, seasoned meat is placed on a grill and the slow-cooked juices are collected underneath. Traditionally, this would also be topped with the animal’s stomach, stuffed with offal and spices, before being covered and left to steam-cook overnight.

This process results in three different parts of the dish: the cooked offal; the beautifully tender, easily shreddable meat; and a rich, meaty broth, referred to as a consommé, made predominantly from the meat’s cooking juices, to which chickpeas are sometimes added. Crispin explains “in Mexico, the consommé is often eaten first, a bit like a soup, with white onion and coriander. Next the offal, followed by the shredded meat itself are used in tacos, usually topped with diced white onions, coriander, salsa and a squeeze of lime.”

How is El Pastor’s barbacoa made?

“For our version, we marinate British lamb shank in morita chile (a type of smoked red jalapeño), Mexican oregano and garlic overnight,” explains Crispin, “we then wrap it in a banana leaf and slowly braise it for four–six hours in a stock with onions and leeks.”

El Pastor’s lamb shank barbacoa comes with consommé and chickpeas – which can either be eaten first, or drizzled over the tacos – as well as authentic, house-made corn tortillas, white onion, coriander, lime and a chipotle and tomatillo salsa.

Try El Pastor’s lamb barbacoa in the latest Taco Party menu here.

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