Last fall, New York City was bestowed with not one, but two new Michelin-starred Mexican restaurants in the MICHELIN Guide New York City 2019 selection—Chad Shaner and T.J. Steel’s Claro in Gowanus, Brooklyn, and Justin Bazdarich’s bright and sunshine-y Oxomoco in charming Greenpoint. “Don’t let the sunny, easygoing vibe at Oxomoco fool you,” state Michelin inspectors. “This is a serious restaurant, capable of great magic when cooking in its wood-fired oven.”
Indeed, the hearth is what Bazdarich is known for at Oxomoco and both locations of his Speedy Romeo pizza concept. The wood-burning oven lends a smokey flavor to much of the menu, like charred cherry tomatoes gracing the guacamole, tlayudas roasted via open flame—the spring interpretation features sweet peas, salsa crudo, mint and serrano chiles—and tacos like pork cheek carnitas with avocado-tomatillo salsa and chicharrón.
The star attraction at Oxomoco—heralded by both diners and the New York City media elite—is the lamb barbacoa taco that's marinated with a mixture of guajillo chiles, avocado leaves and various spices, before being slow-roasted with banana leaves. The tender finished product is then stripped from the bone and mixed with (more) marinade before getting briefly charred and placed atop warm corn tortillas with pipicha salsa.
Here's how to make it at home.
Lamb Barbacoa Tacos with Salsa Pipicha, Watercress & Squash BlossomCourtesy of Chef/Owner Justin Bazdarich, Oxomoco, New York City
For the Lamb Barbacoa Marinade:
20 guajillo chiles, cleaned and deveined
2 cups boiling hot water
10 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon black pepper
1 teaspoon oregano
2 avocado leaves
1/4 cup distilled vinegar
2 tablespoons salt
For the Lamb:
1 leg of lamb
1 package banana leaves
For the Salsa Verde Cruda:
1 pound tomatillos, cut in medium dice
1/2 cup chopped white onion
4 serrano chiles
1 bunch cilantro
1 cup lime juice
1 1/2 avocados
1 teaspoon kosher salt
For the Salsa de Pipicha:
2 bunches pipicha leaves, stems picked and discarded**
1. Make the marinade: Soak the chiles in the boiling water for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, place the remaining ingredients in a blender; with the motor running, add the chiles and chile water and blend until smooth; cool and reserve.
2. Separate two cups of marinade from the blender; rub the remaining marinade on the lamb. Roast in an oven on high heat or cook over a grill until charrred on all sides.
3. Take one banana leave and toast over an open flame. Place a roasting rack on top of a roasting tray, and add one quart of water to the bottom of the pan. Place a banana leaf on the bottom of the rack, then the lamb, and then the rest of the banana leaves. Cover with foil and bake in a 250˚F oven until tender, 4 to 5 hours; remove from oven and let cool. Pull meat off the bone and mix lamb meat with two cups of reserved marinade. Add salt to taste and store in a container until ready to serve.
4. Make the Salsa Verde Cruda: Place tomatillos, onion, chiles and cilantro in a large bowl and mix to combine. Transfer to a blender with lime juice and blend until a smooth paste forms. Add the avocado and salt and blend further. Season with more salt and lime juice as needed; reserve.
5. Make the Salsa de Pipicha: Place pipicha leaves and 4 cups salsa verde cruda in blender and blend until smooth, adding 1/2 to 1 cup of water to thin, if needed. Salt to taste and reserve.
6. To Serve: Place 1 cup of barbacoa meat into a hot cast-iron skillet and cook until a crust forms on the lamb; flip. Line a plate with 2 tortillas, and top each tortilla with the meat and 1 tablespoon of salsa de pipicha. Garnish with some watercress, squash blossom, sliced onion, sea salt and a light drizzle of olive oil. Serve immediately.
**Note: You can use savory leaves if unable to find pipicha leaves.
Photo courtesy of Oxomoco.