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Pau's Braised Birria Lamb

April 5th, 2020

Pau's Braised Lamb Birria

Today I'm showing you how to make birria de borrego, or braised lamb birria. This recipe is based on my grandmother Maria Elena’s recipe, which has been passed down the generations from daughter to daughter. While my mother’s notation of the recipe calls for chuck roast, I’ve decided to share it with a spin of my own. We replace the beef with lamb and skip the stovetop method for a one-pot, slow-cooked braise in the oven for the most concentrated flavor and tender meat.

The history of this birria runs deep in my family. It’s unlike the Jalisco-style goat birria, which is more broth-forward, and relies on a thicker marinade in which the meat is served as a proper braised dish. What’s beautiful about birria is that it’s the kind of meal that can feed a crowd for cheap when made with inexpensive chuck roast, but it’s also special enough to serve to your most treasured guests when using lamb or goat.

In fact, part of this recipe’s lore is that Maria Elena served her goat birria to Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas, who was then campaigning for governor of the state of Michoacán, and that he so enjoyed it that he declared it the best birria he’d ever had. In the way of family legend, there’s no way to verify the truth of this anecdote, but the fact that the women of our family have cemented this story as part of the recipe’s mythos tells you all you need to know about the esteem in which we hold it.

In our iteration, it is a rich lamb braise meant for holidays and dinner parties, perfect for impressing guests. It’s a meal that brings everyone together in an immersive experience – your taste buds just can’t get enough!

This recipe makes for about 8 servings. If you want to make it smaller, reduce the recipe in half.


  • A heavy bottomed pan, like my gorgeous le creuset braiser pictured above. You'll want at least 5 qts, and something to cover it; foil works fine.
  • A blender to puree chiles , garlic cloves, spices and herbs. We love our Cuisinart hurricane blender and think you would to.  
  • Optional: A mortar and pestle (we love ours linked below); this will be necessary only if your spices are not ground. If they are ground; be intuitive and generous.
  • A small pot to soak chilies.
  • Pot for rice
  • A skillet or cast-iron griddleIngredients
    • 5-6 lb Lamb shoulder
    • 1lb dried guajillo chiles
    • 1lb dried pasilla chiles
    • 1 tbsp Cumin
    • 1 sprig of Oregano
    • 5 sprigs of Marjoram
    • 2-3 sprig Thyme
    • 3 Garlic Cloves
    • 1 inch or so Ginger
    • Handful Peppercorns
    • 5 Bay leaves
    • 3 Tbsps Sugar
    • 1/2 cup Apple cider vinegar or white vinegar
    • 1 Kilo Tortillas


How to do Birria



  • 1:Set oven to 325 degrees.
  • 2: Take off the heads of the chiles and remove the seeds inside.
  • 3: Fill a small pot with water and place it on the stove for the water to heat. Once the water is bubbly, add your chiles to soak and soften.  
  • 4: Grind whole spices with a mortar and pestle or use pre-ground spices. The original recipe isn’t measured, so we took creative liberties to translate my grandmother’s intuition into a recipe for anyone. For the sauce it’s important to tap into intuition of your own. This is a recipe made with love. Trust yourself.
  • 5: On the side, fill a cup of water and add half a cup of vinegar and three tablespoons of sugar; whisk to emulsify. You want this to taste tangy and sweet.
  • 6: Once the chilies have softened, put them in a blender. Add cumin, oregano, three garlic cloves, some marjoram, ginger, thyme, peppercorns and salt. Gradually add the vinegar/sugar water mixture to the blender. Blend all ingredients. Sauce too chunky? Add a little more sugar vinegar water and accommodate spices and salt to it as well.
  • 7: Salt the lamb shoulder on all sides and place it in the braiser. Pour the sauce and cover every inch of lamb in sauce, using your hands as needed. Add herbs like bay leaves, marjoram and thyme on top of lamb once it is submerged in sauce. Place in the oven at 325 degrees until tender, juicy, and falling apart at the bone (approximately 5 hours, depending on the consistency of your oven and the tightness of your braiser or casserole lid).


The birria:

Take out the birria once it’s ready. Remove the sprigs of herbs before shredding or serving. You’re all done, and you’ve made delicous and authentic Michoacán-style birria. The birria should be tender and soft, pulling apart from the bone and into the birria juice; you can skim off some of the fat if you’d like (the lamb will render ample, and its unctuousness may not be to your liking), or you can mix it into the sauce for a richer dish. Heat up tortillas on a griddle, add your rice. Make them into tacos if you like oreat it in its stewed sauce with rice and tortilla. Cut up some cilantro and onion if you like, you can even add some oregano to your dish for extra flavor. Traditionally, birria like this is served with fresh pico de gallo to contrast with the meaty richness of the sauce; we highly recommend this. Enjoy!


Written by Paulina

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