Main dish

New Zealand Grass-fed Lamb Birria

Tender boneless lamb shoulder cooked in a slow cooker to make the best lamb birria you'll ever taste! This is perfect with rice or tortillas

To recipe
cooked lamb birria on a platter
Recipe insights & TIPS

Slow-cooked New Zealand Grass-fed lamb shoulder combined with 11 different chilis and spices makes this Birria recipe perfect for tacos, enchiladas or simply served with rice and cilantro!

cooked lamb birria on a platter

Birria is hot in the food world right now and not because of the chilis used to make it! Everywhere I look, I see Birria being made and turned into other dishes like tacos, quesadillas and even ramen. It’s a delicious dish that sounds like it might be really spicy, but Birria is quite mild with a little kick of heat at the end.

What is Birria?

Birria is a slow-cooked stew from Mexico. It was originally made using goat meat but as you can imagine, high-quality goat can be hard to source, so grass-fed beef or lamb are great alternatives. Because it requires a long cook time, Birria is best made using a tougher cut of meat and my New Zealand Grass-fed boneless lamb shoulder was the perfect choice.

The animals roam freely on wide open pastures of lush green grass, which is what makes New Zealand lamb so full of flavor. Slow cooking releases all of that flavor into the Birria sauce. My Birria recipe begins with marinating the meat in the delicious homemade chili sauce. Let it rest for at least an hour or two, but overnight would be much better – it adds maximum flavor to the meat. Trimming your lamb shoulder is also a good idea, but you don’t want it completely void of fat, because fat will keep the meat moist as it renders, and, of course, add more flavor. Birria can be used in so many ways but traditionally it was eaten at celebrations and holidays or at large family gatherings. It was an easy and inexpensive way to feed a lot of people.

shredding lamb Birria with two fork

Making my lamb Birria recipe

The way Birria is prepared is what makes it so special. With three different chilis and eight spices, which include cumin, cinnamon, all-spice and coriander, the flavor is like no slow-cooked stew you have ever tasted. Once the chili sauce has been mixed with the lamb shoulder and marinated, the last part of this Birria recipe is to place it into your slow cooker. It’ll take about 4-5 hours depending on the size of the lamb shoulder. You can tell it's done when the meat shreds easily with two forks or when you can pierce the lamb with a sharp knife without feeling any resistance

blended spices in a blender

Tips for making the best Birria

  • If your lamb shoulder is one large piece of boneless meat, you can cut it into two or three pieces.
  • Sear the lamb in a pan first to help give it some extra caramelized flavor.
  • Dried chilis can be softened in boiling water, but I prefer to use beef broth.
  • A high-powered blender is best to make the chili sauce, but a food processor can also be used.
  • Once the meat is done, transfer it to a cutting board and carefully shred it, making sure to discard any large pieces of fat.
  • Skimming the top of the chili sauce after cooking will help get rid of some of the extra fat.
lamb birria in a slow cooker

Important ingredients to make lamb Birria

  • Dried chili’s- Guajillo, ancho and chile de arbol are what you’ll need. These are dried and will need to be softened in liquid before blending.
  • Spice blend- Cumin, all-spice, cinnamon, coriander, salt, pepper, oregano and paprika.
  • Canned tomatoes- I like to use fire roasted which are more flavorful than just regular plain tomatoes.
  • Garlic- Whole cloves can be sautéed with the onion and then added to the blender.
lamb birria in a bowl with rice
A white, fluffy chef's hat with an orange band, logo of Foodness Gracious.

Recipe

Slow-cooked New Zealand Grass-fed lamb shoulder combined with 11 different chilis and spices makes this Birria recipe perfect for tacos, enchiladas or simply served with rice and cilantro!

Course:
Main dish
COOKing TIME:
300 minutes
Total TIME:
315 minutes
CUISINE:
Mexican
PREP TIME:
15 minutes
SERVINGS:
6

Ingredients

  • 3 dried ancho chilis
  • 2 Guajillo dried chilis
  • 4 dried Chile de arbol
  • 2 cups beef broth
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 3½-4 pounds New Zealand Grass-fed Boneless Lamb Shoulder
  • salt
  • black pepper
  • 1 medium onion, divided, cut in half and sliced
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • ¼ cup tomato paste
  • 14 ounce can fire roasted tomatoes, including juice
  • 2 tbsp cumin
  • ½ tsp all-spice
  • 2 tbsp. dried oregano
  • ¼ tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp coriander
  • 1 tsp paprika

Ingredient Swaps

Instructions

  1. Heat the olive oil in a large pan and add the lamb. Sear on each side for 3-4 minutes. You may have to do this in stages depending on the size of your lamb shoulder.
  2. Once seared, transfer the lamb to your slow cooker
  3. Place the dried chilis in a pot and add the beef broth.
  4. Bring to a simmer and cook for about 10 minutes until soft. Remove the chilis making sure to save the broth
  5. Cut the tops from the chilis and remove the seeds.
  6. Transfer the chilis to a blender along with the broth
  7. Add half of the sliced onion and the garlic to the same pan used for the chilis and cook for 3-4 minutes until soft, transfer to the blender
  8. Add the tomato paste, tomatoes, cumin, all-spice, oregano, cinnamon, coriander, paprika, salt and pepper to the blender.
  9. Blend on medium until smooth like a sauce.
  10. Pour the chili sauce over the lamb, turning the lamb to make sure the meat is well coated.
  11. Add the remaining half of the sliced onion to the slow cooker.
  12. Place the lid on the slow cooker and cook on high for 4-5 hours or low for 8 hours.
  13. The meat is done when you can shred it easily with two forks or when it falls apart when picked up with tongs.
  14. Transfer the meat to a cutting board and shred using two forks. Discard any large chunks of fat
  15. Return the shredded meat to the chili sauce in the slow cooker. Serve with rice and fresh cilantro.
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