Thursday, January 31, 2013

Homemade Cinnamon Sugar Butter and Other Compound Butters

I love butter.  Who doesn't?  And butter can be impressive, too.  Did you know?!?  You've probably been to a steak house where your steak came out with a delicious, melting pat of herby butter, and it really added something to the meal!  Did you know you can make this butter at home, and it's REALLY EASY?!?

Hot French Toast
with Homemade Cinnamon Sugar
Butter with herbs, spices, pastes, zests or even vegetables and nuts is known as compound butter.  It can be used to "sauce" grilled or broiled items (like that delicious steak), add flavor instantly to vegetables or pastas, and can even be used as a spread for sandwiches or canapés. The great thing about compound butter, other than it being so tasty and impressive, is that it freezes beautifully so you can always have it on hand!

There are endless possibilities for compound butter...my favorites are Cinnamon Sugar Butter to use on toast/waffles/pancakes, hot bread or sweet potatoes, and simple Garlic and Parsley Butter, which basically can be used on absolutely anything, including dinner rolls, steaks and can even be used to baste turkey or chicken. 

Here are two simple recipes for both, each making 1/2 lb of butter (the equivalent of two sticks).

Garlic and Parsley Butter
1/2 oz garlic (about 3 small cloves), roughly chopped
3/4 bunch flat-leaf parsley (about 4 oz), stems removed
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 lb butter, cold, cut into small dice
  1. Place garlic, parsley and salt in a food processor with blade and pulse until minced and well blended.  (Alternatively, mince finely by hand.)
  2. Combine garlic-parsley mixture and butter in a stand mixer with paddle attachment and blend on medium speed until butter is softened and mixture is well blended.  (Alternatively, bring butter to room temperature and then mix ingredients by hand until well combined.)
  3. Place compound butter in a ramekin, butter molds, or roll into a log using plastic wrap.  Cover and refrigerate or freeze.  Bring to room temperature (with the exception of butter molds, which should be unmolded while still cold) before serving.
Mixing Up my Butter
Cinnamon Sugar Butter
2 tsp ground cinnamon
4 tsp granulated sugar or packed brown sugar
1/8 tsp nutmeg
pinch of kosher salt
1/2 lb butter, cold, cut into small dice

1.  Whisk dry ingredients together until mixed well.
2.  Combine sugar mixture and butter in a stand mixer with paddle attachment and blend on medium speed until butter is softened and mixture is well blended.
3.  Place compound butter in a ramekin, butter molds, or roll into a log using plastic wrap.  Cover and refrigerate or freeze.  Bring to room temperature (with the exception of butter molds, which should be unmolded while still cold) before serving.
Here are some other ideas to get your creative and salivary juices flowing...all you need to do is chop and add your extra ingredients until it looks right to you.  Don't forget salt!
  • Horseradish Butter instead of pre-made sauce for your next prime rib or steak
  • Sundried Tomato or Roasted Red Pepper Butter for any number of different sandwiches
  • Jalapeño Cilantro and Lime Butter for Arrachera or to spread on hot tortillas
  • Parmesan Butter to melt and drizzle over popcorn
  • Lemon Thyme Butter to serve over fish
  • Basil and Toasted Pine Nut Butter to toss with pasta and chicken
  • Smoked Paprika and Sage Butter to serve over pork chops

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

More Details on High Altitude Baking

Illustration Courtesy of www.cakespy.com
Yesterday I received a GREAT question via email from a reader asking to further explain high altitude baking, so I thought I'd share it along with my answer here.  Hope this helps!

Hi Alaina,

I read your article in the Mexico City Newsletter this last week and can't wait to try the
crunch bars. I love to bake and have found it a bit more of a challenge here. I have been looking for any suggestions on what to do to alter the recipe for high altitude, and I really appreciated your concise list of things to try.

I have been curious as I've been doing some of my own research why the suggestion to increase both the liquid and dry ingredient. Do you know why that is?

I'd love any other baking recipes you try while you are here.

Thank you so much,
E.T.

The SHORT answer as to why you must increase both liquid and dry ingredients while baking is because all the ingredients you use have important functions within your baked good.  You cannot lump them together into simply "liquid" and "dry" categories becasue each and every ingredient does something different.  Additionally, all of these functions are hindered in different ways at altitude, so you must treat each ingredient individually.

Here is your LONG, more detailed answer, since it seems like you really want to understand this process:

First of all, as you very well know, baking is a complicated, scientific procedure.  There is A LOT going on in that cake pan in the oven!!! But the functions of each produce in your baked good can easily be explained (it's their interactions that are not as easy to explain!), and I also think the effect of high altitude on them can also be explained simply.  Regardless, I still must start from the beginning, becasue I think understanding the principles will help you manipulate your recipes more effectively.

Here are the basic ingredients of baked goods and their functions:
  1. Stabilizers (flour and egg) - lend structure
    • Flour binds and absorbs all other ingredients. Its gluten (from wheat) forms when flour takes up water, and that builds structure.
    • Eggs provide stability because they incorporate/distribute air.  (This also happens to have leavening power, since that air expands when heated.)  Egg yolks will serve to make your baked good a little dryer, while egg whites add moisture and give your baked good volume.
  2. Liquefiers (water/milk, fat, sugar) - loosen/liquefy dough
    • Water/Milk are necessary for flour to form gluten.  They also gelatinize starch (necessary for the cake/baked good to “set”), and dissolve/distribute other ingredients.
    • Fat increases the elasticity of gluten, preventing doughs and batters from being tough and dense.
    • Sugar tightens and bind the dough initially, but because it attracts so much moisture it ultimately tenderizes and loosens the dough in two ways:
      • Sugar takes moisture away from flour, inhibiting gluten development (because, although some gluten is necessary, too much will make your product tough).
      • Sugar also interacts with the starch and delays gelatinization so that the cake can spread and rise before it actually sets.
  3. Leaveners (yeast, baking soda or powder, or steam) - raise, or make lighter
    • Yeast uses warmth, moisture and food (carbs) to ferment (or breathe).  The result is carbon dioxide (which expands to leaven the dough) and alcohol tenderizes the gluten strands.
    • Baking Powder and Soda, although very different, both provide an alkaline (base) ingredient that then interacts with an acid.  These two then combine with liquid and produce carbon dioxide (which expands to leaven the dough).  I can provide you a more detailed description of the chemical leaveners if you like.
    • Steam is produced when air and moisture that was trapped during the mixing process expands.  The three mixing processes that create steam are foaming, creaming and lamination.  Let me know if you want me to explain these processes.
  4. Salt
    • Strengthens gluten strands
    • Contributes to elasticity (improving texture)
    • Flavors
Now, let’s talk about high altitude.  Basically, baked goods cooked at altitude using “sea level” recipes turn out dry and dense.  Why?  The low air pressure at this altitude allows water to boil at a temperature lower than 212°F/100°C, causing the following reactions:
  • Batters/doughs lose moisture quicker, drying out more rapidly.
  • Air bubbles and leavening agents expand faster and at temperatures lower than the temperature needed to “set” the baked good.
  • Protein and starch set and stabilize more slowly because the batter doesn’t get as hot.
 
With that knowledge, I’ll give you again the suggestions for adapting your recipe to high altitude, and the reasons why:
  1. Increase Baking Temperature - This counteracts the slower protein coagulations and starch gelatinization by providing a higher temperature.
  2. Increase Flour - This helps the structure and stabilizing elements to set at a lower temperature.
  3. Increase Eggs - Also helps the structure and stabilizing elements to set at a lower temperature.
  4. Decrease Sugar - This prevents gelatinization from being delayed too much, preventing the sugar and stabilizing elements from setting.
  5. Decrease Fat - Also prevents gelatinization from being delayed too much, preventing the sugar and stabilizing elements from setting.
  6. Increase Liquids - Compensates for the loss of moisture which occurs at a lower temperature at altitude than it does at sea level.
  7. Decrease Leavener - Counteracts the overexpansion of gas cells which occurs because there is less air pressure and because the temperature required is much lower than is necessary for the baked good to set.
Additionally, your mixing methods might have to change slightly, in order to incorporate slightly less air into your doughs and batters.  Because this air expands more quickly at altitude, your baked goods will expand beautifully with all that air, but then deflate as they cool. 
  1. When creaming butter and sugar together, cream until just combined, not "light and fluffy".
  2. When beating egg whites, beat only until "soft peaks", not "stiff peaks".
Hope this helps you, and everyone else out there!  Remember that baking at altitude is very much variable, so you might have to adjust your recipe a few times before you get it right.  Let me know if you guys have any more questions and Happy Baking!!


Sources:
Baking & Pastry: Mastering the Art and Craft, 2nd Edition by The Culinary Institute of America
On Food and Cooking by Harold McGee
www.cakespy.com

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Homemade Lemon Curd and Cheesecake Squares

Yum!
Photo by Rita Maas
I had never heard of lemon curd before I worked at Fine Cooking magazine, and when I did hear about it I was pretty sure I wouldn't like it.  Boy was I wrong.  Lemon curd is a traditional English spread used on bread, scones, crumpets and the like.  It provides a delicious juxtaposition between sweet and tart, with a luscious, creamy texture that's just irresistable.  It's brightness, both in color and flavor, just makes you want to smile.  On this side of the pond (that is, in the U.S.---must explain since many of you are FROM there but don't LIVE there!), we're more familiar seeing it on lemon merengue pie or on top of cheese cake.  You might also have tried delicious French Macarons, which often use lemon (or lime, or other fruit) curd as a perfect accompaniment in the middle of two tiny and deliciously light flavored merengue cookies. 


The gift I made for my friend...
Lemon curd, along with other citrus and fruit curds, is widely available commercially, but I am of the opinion, as are many others, that once you taste homemade you never go back.  There are many recipes out there, most calling for some combination of fresh lemon juice and zest, butter, sugar and egg yolks, whole eggs or a combination of both.  The amount of each varies on where you look and for what purpose you will be using the lemon curd.  The method used resembles how you make a custard (replacing the traditional milk with citrus juice), but truly is in its own category.

I was recently invited to a friend's house for afternoon tea and a play date, and since I never go to anyone's home without bringing something, I decided I wanted to try something new and interesting.  I had not had lemon curd since my days at Fine Cooking, and I wanted to tackle it again.  I basically used Fine Cooking's Lemon Curd Cake Filling recipe, but switched up the method after consulting their article on a non-traditional but apparently "Fool-Proof" Method.  I had enough to both take my friend a jar full as well as make Lemon Cheesecake squares.  It was so good I ate some right off the spoon, and also froze some for a later use, as lemon curd freezes excellently. (You should be able to spoon it out as you need it as it does not freeze solid.)  You can half this recipe if you don't need that much lemon curd.  Here's the recipe:


Squeezing and Zesting!
"Multi-Purpose" and "Fool-Proof" Lemon Curd
Recipe adapted from www.FineCooking.com
Yields about 2 1/2 Cups
  • 8 oz (1 C, or two sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 C granulated sugar
  • 1 C fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • 6 Tbsp lightly packed finely grated lemon zest (using a rasp grater, commonly known by the brand name "Microplane")
  • Pinch salt
  • 12 large whole eggs (I used whole eggs as I wasn't going to use the whites for anything else at that moment and didn't want to waste them!)
  1. Mix lemon zest with half of the sugar and pinch of salt using a spice grinder or small food processor, or just by hand as best you can.
  2. In the bowl of an electric stand mixer, cream the butter on medium-high speed, then add the sugar/lemon zest mixture and cream together with the butter until fluffy.  Add the remaining sugar and cream again. 
  3. Beat the eggs in slowly (a couple at a time).  Once well combined, add the lemon juice and mix until combined.  At this point, your curd may look "curdled", but don't be alarmed.  It will cook up smooth.   
  4. In a stainless steel, anodized aluminum, or enamel sauce pan (not plain aluminum or unlined copper), heat the lemon mixture over medium-low heat, stirring often with a wooden spoon.  Make sure you use your spoon to scrape along the seam where the bottom and sides of the pot meet.  
  5. Cook your curd until it thickens significantly and reaches approximately 170 degrees Fahrenheit.  You can use any probe thermometer to measure the temperature.  Make sure your curd does not boil as this will cause your eggs to curdle.  When it's ready, your lemon curd should coat the back of a spoon and when you run your finger across the spoon, it should leave a clear path.  This is known as medium to heavy nappé.
  6. If you see that you have some bits of curdled egg white in your pot, you can strain your lemon curd through a fine-mesh sieve, but usually that is not necessary.
    Checking the temp of the
    curd while it cooks.
  7. Regardless, remove your lemon curd from the pot and let cool to room temperature before using or storing in the refrigerator or freezer.
Lemon Cheesecake Squares
Photo by Scott Phillips
As I mentioned above, I also used the lemon curd over cheesecake squares, which were a HUGE hit.  Make your lemon curd as directed above (a full recipe yields 2 1/2 Cups and a half recipe 1 1/4 Cups) and use 1 Cup of it as directed in this recipe for Lemon Cheesecake Squares, found on Fine Cooking magazine's website.



Friday, January 25, 2013

Baking at Altitude: An Experiment

Crunch Bars
Photo by Chris Craymer
I’m a “savory” person, which means I’d much rather have a plate of salty French fries than an ice cream sundae.  My husband (who always says, “Life is uncertain; eat dessert first!”), thinks I’m crazy.  Regardless, when I decided to go to the Culinary Institute of America I knew without a doubt I would major in Culinary Arts and not Baking and Pastry.  However, even though I may not enjoy the outcome as much as others, I still love to bake sometimes.  This is especially true because it’s something fun I can do with my daughter.  So when I find a savory/sweet recipe like the one I recently found in Bon Appétit magazine for “Crunch Bars”, which are a mixture of a sweet cookie base, dark chocolate (a “savory’s” go-to dessert), and salty, crunchy toppings like popcorn or nuts, I knew I had to try it.  Then I remembered that, in Santa Fe, I live at 8500 feet above sea level.  Groan.  Baking at altitude…what a pain!  As if baking wasn’t already persnickety enough, what with changes due to humidity, the type of pan you’re using, having to weigh everything, etc!  But off I went on my experiment, which resulted in a very different recipe than was printed for “sea level” bakers.  Here are my results, so you too can make these delicious Crunch Bars and perhaps have a starting point for baking at altitude experiments of your own.
 Before I get into the details, I will first tell you that I have baked several things at altitude with no alterations to the recipe at all with great success.  But some things just will not turn out right without modifications.  It is up to you to decide whether you want to try the recipe first without changing anything, or if you just want to forge ahead, making your altitude modifications from the beginning. 

Here are the basic guidelines for baking at altitude.  The exact measurements are more appropriate for leavened cakes and bread, and may have to fiddled with for cookies.

My "lab assistant"
·         Increase oven temperature (just slightly for cookies, by 25°F for cakes and bread).
·         Decrease the fat and sugar content in your recipe (by 1-3 Tablespoons for every cup called for).
·         Increase liquid ingredients (by 3-4 Tablespoons for every cup) and flour (by 3 Tablespoons).
·         Decrease leavening agents like baking powder and baking soda (by ¼ teaspoon for every teaspoon).
For the cookie base of my Crunch Bars, here are the alterations I made:
·         Increased the oven temperature from 375°F to 380°F.
·         Decreased the butter (fat) by ¼ C (down from a whole cup) and decreased the total sugar by 2 Tbsp.
·         Added two egg yolks (the original recipe did not call for any egg) and increased the flour by ¼ C.
Hopefully this gives you a starting point for your next baking experiment, and I hope you enjoy these Crunch Bars!  The original recipe can be found on Bon Appétit’s website.  If you’d like to leave your comments on this article or recipe, or if you have questions on how to modify another recipe for altitude, please leave me a comment!


Crunch Bars
Recipe by Dorie Greenspan, Adapted for Baking at Altitude by Alaina Missbach
Bad: Cookie Base BEFORE
Modifications for Altitude 
Makes about 26 Bars

Cookie Base
·         ¾ C (1½ sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for dish
·         7 Tbsp (packed) light brown sugar
·         3 Tbsp sugar
·         ½ tsp fine sea salt
·     2 egg yolks
·         1½ tsp vanilla extract
·         1¾ C all-purpose flour

Topping
·         6 oz semisweet, bittersweet, or high quality milk chocolate, finely chopped
·         1-1½ C assorted toppings of choice, such as cocoa nibs, crushed candy, toasted nuts or coconut, or popcorn
·         Flaky Sea Salt or Kosher Salt

Cookie Base
1.       Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 380°F.  Line the bottom and sides of a 13x9x2” metal or glass baking dish with foil, allowing 2” overhang on either side.  Butter foil in dish.
2.       Using an electric or stand mixer at medium speed, beat the ¾C butter in a large bowl until smooth, about 3 minutes.

Good: Cookie Base AFTER
Modifications for Altitude
3.       Add both sugars and salt; continue to mix until mixture is light and creamy, about 3 minutes longer.
4.       Beat in egg yolks, one at a time, then vanilla, and then slowly mix in flour, beating until entirely incorporated.  The dough will be wet and sticky.
5.       Scrape the dough into the prepared dish and use your fingers to spread into a thin, even layer.
6.       Bake cookie base until it is golden brown and has begun to puff, about 18-20 minutes.  (Your base can be made 2 days ahead.  Let cool completely, then store airtight in the baking dish at room temperature.)

Topping
1.       If you pre-made your cookie base, preheat your oven again to 380°F.  Scatter chopped chocolate evenly over cookie base and bake just until chocolate is soft and has begun to melt, 3-5 minutes.  Immediately spread chocolate in an even layer over the cookie base.

Yummy! I used popcorn...
2.       Scatter your chosen toppings over warm chocolate.  Press lightly into chocolate.  Sprinkle with salt.
3.       Let cool in dish on a wire rack for 15 minutes.  Using the foil overhang, lift cookie from dish.  Place on rack and let cool until chocolate is set, about 2 hours.
4.       Carefully remove foil from cookie and slide onto a cutting board.  Cut into bars and serve within 5 days, storing in an airtight container at room temperature.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Arugula Stuffed Leg of Lamb

On Christmas day, I made an amazing recipe for leg of lamb stuffed with delicious, garlicky arugula. I served it alongside the same wine I used in the recipe.  This is a complete meal fit for a holiday or any day, and my whole family devoured it. I bought the leg boneless at Costco and it worked perfectly. Make sure you have kitchen twine on hand, but it is not difficult to make. Enjoy!

Arugula Stuffed Leg of Lamb
Recipe adapted from www.epicurious.com and Gourmet Live.
Serves 6

Arugula Filling:
· 3 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced lengthwise
· 1 Tbsp olive oil
· 10 ounces baby arugula or baby spinach
· Salt
Lamb:
· 7 large garlic cloves
· 3 Tbsp chopped fresh rosemary
· 1 Tbsp grated fresh lemon zest
· 2 Tbsp olive oil
 · Salt and Freshly ground black pepper
· 4 1/2-to 5-lb boneless leg of lamb, trimmed of fat on both sides and butterflied (from an 8-lb lamb leg on the bone)
Vegetables:
· 2 medium red onions, peeled and root ends trimmed, but left intact
· 1 1/2 pounds small (1 1/2- to 2-inch) red potatoes (or regular potatoes cut to size)
· 1 pound medium carrots, peeled and cut diagonally into 1-inch pieces
· 2 1/2 Tbsp olive oil, divided
· Salt and Freshly ground black pepper

All my beautiful vegetables!
I used zucchini as my green veg,
which roasts beautifully.
     · 1 pound green vegetable of choice, such as asparagus, zucchini or green beans, cut in 1” pieces
Sauce:
     · Pan drippings from lamb
     · 3/4 cup red wine
     · 2 cups chicken stock or reduced-sodium broth
     · 1 1/2 Tbsp cornstarch (labeled as “maicena” in Mexico), dissolved in 3 Tbsp cold water
     · Salt and Freshly ground black pepper

For arugula filling: In a 12-inch heavy skillet over medium-high heat, cook garlic in olive oil, stirring, until it begins to turn pale golden, then add arugula in batches, stirring and turning over with tongs until slightly wilted before adding each new batch, and continue sautéing until completely wilted, about 1 minute more. Season with salt, and transfer arugula filling to a large sieve set over a bowl to drain. Let cool.

My butteflied lamb leg, with Arugula filling
ready to roll up!
For lamb: With a food processor running, add garlic cloves, one at a time, through feed tube, and finely chop. Add rosemary, lemon zest, olive oil, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper to processor, and pulse until paste is well blended.
Pat the lamb dry. Arrange it, boned side up, on a work surface. Patch any holes with slices of meat from the edge, and season it with 3/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Rub boned side with half of rosemary paste, then top it evenly with all of the arugula mixture, leaving a 1-inch border around the edges.
Beginning with a short side, roll up lamb, enclosing arugula (the rolled roast will appear messy and ungainly, but once it's roasted, it will look delicious). Snugly tie roast closed, crosswise at 1-inch intervals and around the length, with kitchen string.
Transfer lamb to a roasting pan and rub it all over with the remaining rosemary paste. Let it stand for 1 hour at room temperature.
Put oven rack in middle of oven and heat oven to 450°F.
Roast lamb for 30 minutes.
 
Ready to roast my veg...
The lamb had already roasted about 30 min
at this point.
      Prepare vegetables while lamb is roasting: Cut each onion lengthwise into eighths, and halve potatoes or quarter if large. Toss onions, potatoes, and carrots with 2 tablespoons oil, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Scatter vegetables (not including green vegetables) around lamb in the pan, then reduce oven temperature to 350°F, and roast lamb until an instant-read thermometer inserted into center of thickest part of roast registers 130°F for medium-rare meat (test temperature in several places), 40 to 50 minutes more. Transfer lamb to a platter and tent loosely with foil, then let it stand for 30 minutes.


While lamb is standing, increase oven to 450°F, then stir vegetables in pan, and continue to roast until tender, 10 to 15 minutes.
Toss green vegetable with remaining 1/2 tablespoon oil and 1/8 teaspoon salt, and scatter among roasted vegetables, then continue to roast until green vegetable is just tender, about 10 minutes.
Transfer vegetables with a slotted spoon to a serving dish, and keep warm, loosely covered. Reserve roasting pan.

For sauce: Skim any fat from the pan drippings in roasting pan, and set roasting pan over 2 burners over medium-high heat. Add wine and deglaze the pan by boiling the liquid, scraping up the brown bits, for 1 minute. Strain the liquid through a fine-mesh sieve into a saucepan, then boil until reduced by half (to about 1/3 cup). Add chicken stock and any juices that have accumulated on the platter, and boil the sauce until reduced to about 2 cups. Reduce heat to a simmer.
Stir the cornstarch mixture, then add it to simmering sauce; continue to simmer sauce, stirring, for 1 minute. Season sauce with salt and pepper and keep it warm.
Discard the strings from the lamb, then carve lamb into thin slices on a cutting board and serve it with sauce and vegetables.

Cooks' Notes:
The boneless leg of lamb I bought at Costco was not butterflied (cut open so that the boned leg lies flat and the thicker parts of the meat sliced to even out the overall thickness), or trimmed well of fat. The quality of the butterflying and trimming can also be a problem at supermarkets. The good news is that it was not difficult to remedy the situation.
  • Use your sharpest knife to trim the fat from both the boned side and the outside of the lamb.
  • To butterfly your boneless lamb leg, cut it open so that it lies flat, boned side up. Look for the sections that are thicker, and holding a very sharp boning or other long-bladed knife horizontally, cut each thick muscle almost, but not completely, in half, keeping the upper piece attached, so that the meat opens up to form a bigger area with a more uniform thickness.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Meat in Mexico: Lamb

                                                                                                                                                If you're looking for the spreadsheet of PORK LABELS, click here!

It’s time to get back into our “Meat in Mexico” series! With information in the Aztec Newsletter and here on my blog, I will continue to help you decipher confusing meat labels and restaurant menus, and figure out how to enjoy (or avoid) all the various types of meat available in Mexico. This week, we’ll be talking about lamb.  Click here to download or print this diagram.

A couple of things I’ve noticed about Lamb in Mexico:
·         Names for lamb include cordero, carnero (usually indicating an older sheep—“lamb” by definition is under one year old), as well as borrego and oveja (usually used when referring to the animal as opposed to the meat).
·         One of the most popular cuts of lamb in Mexico is the shoulder roast. This cut is best braised, whether whole (for barbacoa, see below), or stews (“guisados”). You might also find lamb brochetas (kabobs) cut from the shoulder.
·         One of the most popular uses of lamb in Central Mexico is for barbacoa. Barbacoa is meat wrapped in banana leaves and cooked for a very long time until extremely tender. (In the north, it is more common to find barbacoa made from beef or goat, and in the Yucatan it is more common to find barbacoa made from pork and referred to as “cochinita pibil”.)  Check out the amazing recipe below from Pati Jinich for traditional Barbacoa en Adobo!
·         Other than small cuts, I have only ever seen lamb leg and rack of lamb available at grocery stores.  A larger variety of large cuts of lamb are available at Costco (including boneless cuts), or you can ask the butcher at the grocery store to have something cut for you. Ask for the particular cut “en trozo” and specify how many kilograms you want. Be aware, you might have to special order these cuts in advance.

Here is the spreadsheet of all the various lamb labels I have found here in Mexico.  Click here to download and print this spreadsheet.

COMMON LABELS FOR LAMB/CORDERO                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  by Alaina Missbach, www.TheGlobalFork.blogspot.com
Label Price per Kilo Translation American Equivalent Cooking Method Traditional American Dish Traditional Mexican Dish
Brochetas   (sing.) skewer (plur.) kebabs Meat for Lamb kabobs, most often cut from the shoulder (espaldilla) Marinate and Grill or Braise Lamb Kabobs or Stew Mixiotes de Carnero (Spiced Lamb in Maguey Leaves), a specialty of central Mexico
Chamberete or Caña   Shank Lamb Shank Braise Osso Bucco Braised in Soups
Chuleta   Chop Lamb Chop (cut from the ribs, quite lean) Roast, Sauté or Grill Lamb Chops Lamb Chops
Chuletas de Espaldilla   Chops of the Shoulder Blade Chops Braise Braised Lamb Braised Lamb
Chuletas de Lomos Cargados   Loin Chops Lamb Loin Chops (cut from the loin, lean and tender) Roast, Sauté or Grill Lamb Loin Chops Lamb Loin Chops
Costillitas   Little Ribs Lamb Riblets Roast or Grill Can be used any way you would use pork spareribs, but are smaller Same
Espaldilla $115MXP Shoulder Lamb Shoulder Roast Braise or Marinate and Saute Shoulder Roast or Shoulder Chops (which must be marinated prior to cooking) Barbacoa
Lomos Cargados en Trozo   Whole Loin Loin Roast Roast Loin Roast Loin
Manteca   Fat Rendered Lamb Fat,                       or lard (from pigs) Used as a replacement for fat (oil, butter, etc.) in cooking for better flavor Could be used to make Lamb Confit Pork Manteca is more popular, but Mexican cooks use all types of manteca to subsitute for other fats
Pechito   Little Breast Lamb Breast, although not usually found Roast or Braise None Roasted Breast of Lamb
Pierna $175 MXP Leg Leg of Lamb Roast Roast of Lamb Barbacoa or Pierna de Cordero a la Parilla, which is a specialty of Chihuahua (leg rubbed with garlic, herb and chile paste before grilling)
Pierna deshebrada   Shredded Leg None, not usually found Usually pre-cooked, only need to reheat n/a Used any way you would use shredded pork
"Rack de Cordero"; Chuleta en Trozo (sometimes labeled "Frances" which means the rib bones have been "frenched")   Rack of Lamb Rack of Lamb (Crown Roast, Rib Roast) Roast Crown Rack/Roast of Lamb, for which it's imperative to have the ribs "Frenched", meaning extra skin and sinew have been removed Not usually used whole in traditional Mexican cooking
Rebanadas de Pescuezo   Slices of Neck None, not usually found Braise n/a Used to flavor stews and soups

Finally, here is Pati Jinich's recipe for traditional Barbacoa en Adobo.  I can't wait to try it!  Pati is not only the host of "Pati's Mexican Table" on PBS, but also the chef for the Mexican Cultural Center in Washington, D.C.  She is a native Mexican, and not only cooks for the Cultural Center's important events but also offers AMAZING courses there in D.C.  I was fortunate enough to attend one, and she's amazing!  You can check out her website here.  Hope you enjoy this recipe!

LAMB BARBACOA IN ADOBO
Serves 12
Pati's Barbacoa
INGREDIENTS
For the Marinade
10 dried guajillo chile peppers, stemmed and seeded
10 dried ancho chile peppers, stemmed and seeded
5 cups water
1/3 cups apple cider vinegar
1 medium Roma tomato, cut into quarters
1/2 medium white onion, coarsely chopped (1/2 cup)
3 medium cloves garlic
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
5 whole cloves, stems removed
2 1/2 teaspoons kosher or sea salt
3 tablespoons safflower or vegetable oil
For the vegetable base
2 medium white onions, coarsely chopped (about 2 1/2 cups)
1 1/2 pounds carrots, peeled and cut crosswise into chunks
1 1/2 pounds red potatoes, peeler and cut into large cubes
8 ounces dried garbanzo bean, soaked overnight in 3 cups of very hot water, then drained
12 ounces (1 bottle) light colored beer, such as Corona
3 cups water
bay leaves
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher or sea salt
For the meat
8 pounds bone-in leg and shoulder of lamb (or a leg or a shoulder)
1 pound banana leaves
5 to 6 fresh or dried avocado leaves (optional)
For assembly
lime wedges, for serving
warmed corn tortillas
TO PREPARE
For the marinade: heat a large, dry skillet over medium heat. Add the dired chile peppers and toast them for no more than 20 seconds per side, taking care not to burn them.
Transfer them to a medium saucepan and add the water, place over medium heat and cook for 12 to 15 minutes, until the peppers have softened and rehydrated.
Transfer the peppers to a blender. Add 2 cups of their cooking liguid (discard the remaining liquid), the vinegar, tomato, onion, garlic, oregano, cinnamon, allspice, black pepper, cloves (stems removed) and salt; puree until smooth.
Wipe out the medium saucepan and add the oil. Place over medium heat for 1 to 2 minutes, then add the pureed marinade, being careful to avoid any splatters. Partially cover, and cook for 10 to 12 minutes, stirring once or twice, until the color darkens and the mixture thickens to a pastelike consistency.
Rinse the lamb and pat dry with paper towels. Place in in a large, nonreactive dish. Use the marinade to cover it completely, rubbing the mixture into the meat. Cover and refrigerate for 2 to 24 hours.
Just before the lamb is finished marinating, prepare the vegetable base. Have a large roasting pan at hand with a rack that fits inside, preferable with some space underneather. remove the lamb from the refriegerator about 20 minutes before you place it in the over.
Combine the onions, carrots, potatoes, and soaked and drained garbanzo beans in a large raosting pan. Pour the beer and water over the top. Add the bay leaves and season with salt to taste; toss to combine. Place the roasting rack over the mixture.
For the meat: Preheat the over to 325 degrees.
Unfold the banana leaves and arrange a few layers of them on the roasting rack, leaving a generous amound of overlap on the pan long sides for wrapping the meat (alternatively, you may use a few long pieces of aluminum foil). Place the meat on top of the leaves and use all of the marinade to cover it. PLace the avocado leaves, if using, on top of the meat, then fold the leaves over to cover the meat. If using the foil, poke a few small holes near the bottong edges to allow the meats juices to fall into the vegetable base below during cooking. The juices will natually fall through the spaces between the banana leaves.
Cover the banana leaf package or foil package tightly with a layer of foil. Slow-roast for 8 to 10 hours; until the meat comes off the bone easily and the vegetables should be well seasoned and tender. Transfer to the stovetop (off of the heat), and let everything rest for 15 to 20 minutes before opening the package. Discard the avocado leaves, if using.
For assembly; Serve with lime wedges, warmed corn tortilla and a salsa you like.