Most of my recipes are fast, accessible, and light. But every once in awhile, I like to enjoy a deeply rich meaty stick-to-your-ribs caveman type of meal. The kind of meal that has you leaning back in your chair in a satisfied adobo sauce-induced stupor.
I used to live in the mecca for Mexican food in Scottsdale Arizona. And instead of learning to cook great Mexican food, I went to great Mexican restaurants. A lot. Like all of them. There wasn’t a nacho in sight that didn’t get eaten. And in my non-stop eat-fest, I gained a true appreciation of how awesome and diverse Mexican food can be.
On a memorable visit to Sedona, D and I stopped in at one of my favourite Mexican restaurants, Elote Cafe, and after a three-hour wait and many margaritas later, we got to enjoy lamb adobo for the first time. My mind was blown. Meat so tender that it was falling off the bone, drenched in a sauce with a complex meld of flavours, a little smoky, sweet, sour, salty, perfect for being sopped up with corn tortillas. Is your mouth watering yet?
Quickie about Sedona: Aside from Elote Cafe, Sedona is known for having 4 vortexes, these energy sources. Read more about it here.
After returning to Toronto and wanting to recreate some of those authentic Mexican meals, I wanted to make that lamb adobo from the Elote Cafe cookbook (the best Mexican cookbook bar none). That’s when I realized I needed an education in chiles.
The recipe calls for three types: ancho, guajillo, and pasilla. So off I went to my local market to the Latin specialty shop looking for fresh peppers, only to discover that the chiles I needed were actually dried. The kind shop owners were eager to help me find my chiles, even writing down the names of the peppers on the little plastic bags so I’d be able to figure out which was which when I got home.
If you live in Canada, you probably won’t find these chiles in your local grocery store. I found this online store that ships all the chiles and spices needed for this recipe. Once you hunt down the necessary ingredients, the process for making this braised dish is actually very simple. Boil sauce ingredients and blend. Brown the meat (the most important step), then add the sauce, cover and bake in a dutch oven for 2.5 to 3 hours. Garnish with fresh cilantro and radishes, and enjoy with rice or corn tortillas, picked onions and a fresh salad.
I considered adjusting the recipe, to substitute more easily accessible ingredients for the chiles, but I decided to keep the recipe as legit as possible and keep my adaptations to a minimum. Sure you can swap out the dried chiles for chile powders, or swap out the lamb for your favourite cut of meat, but I figure that will happen anyway. Recipes always have a way of morphing and evolving in different kitchens. I love how friends and readers who try my recipes add little tweaks here and there to suit their taste buds – your comments are great so please keep them coming.
PS – That is our friend Donkey, a mini pinata that we like to put out on our table whenever we enjoy Mexican food. He’s totally kitschy and silly but he makes everyone smile. Well, him and the lamb adobo.
Mexican Lamb Adobo
- 4 Lamb shanks (seasoned with salt and pepper)
- 1 tablespoon canola oil
- Adobo Sauce:
- 12 garlic cloves
- 4 cups orange juice
- 3 dried ancho chiles (rinsed, stems and seeds removed)
- 2 guajillo chiles (rinsed, stems and seeds removed)
- 1 pasilla negro chile (rinsed, stems and seeds removed)
- one 3" stick of cinnamon
- 2 teasspoons fresh ground pepper
- 2 teaspoons dried cumin powder
- 2 tablespoons dried oregano
- 2 bay leaves
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
- 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar
- 1 tablespoons salt
- Radishes and fresh cilantro
- Pickled Onions
- 1 cup red onions (thinly sliced)
- 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
- 1/2 cup white wine vinegar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- Place a medium sauce pan on medium high heat. Add garlic and toast until browned. Add remaining adobo sauce ingredients and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer for about 10 minutes, when chiles are softened. Remove bay leaves and cinnamon stick and set aside. Cool slightly and puree until smooth.
- Combine all pickled onion ingredients together and set aside until lamb is ready, about 2 hours.
- Preheat oven to 325 degrees. In a large dutch oven on medium high heat, add canola oil. Add lamb shanks and brown all over, about 10 minutes. Be patient as this is the most important step. When they are well-browned, add adobo sauce and reserved bay leaves and cinnamon. Cover and bake for 2.5 to 3 hours (depending on the size of your shanks), turning the shanks after 1 hour. The shanks are done when the meat is falling off the bone and fork tender. Skim some of the excess cooking fat from the surface of the gravy with a spoon before serving. Garnish with fresh cilantro, radishes, and pickled onions and serve with rice and/or corn tortillas.