If you want to make slow-cooked barbacoa the traditional way, learn how to master this ingredient.
Lamb Barbacoa with Masala Adobo
Credit: Greg DuPree

If there was any uncertainty at how incredible the agave plant is—the one you know well from your tequila and mezcal—a recipe like this Lamb Barbacoa with Masala Adobo will dispell any doubt. The recipe calls for maguey leaves, the leaves from the agave plant, and if you haven't cooked with them before, it's time to give these umami-importing leaves a shot. Here's what you need to know:

How to Prep:

  1. Fill a large stockpot with water and bring to a boil over high.
  2. Wearing gloves, use a chef’s knife to remove thorns from the edges of maguey leaves, starting at the base of each leaf and working toward the point.
  3. Remove center rib of each leaf, starting from base and cutting halfway up leaf. Curl leaves to fit into stockpot; add to boiling water.
  4. Boil until pliable and dark green, about 2 hours.
  5. Drain and transfer leaves to a large, rimmed baking sheet. (This can be done the day before and the leaves can chill overnight.)
  6. Starting at the tip of each leaf, halve vertically to center (about 10 inches from base), then halve horizontally to form 2 long, narrow pieces (from top of leaf) and 1 rectangular piece (from bottom of leaf).

How to Cook:

The long leaves of the maguey plant are traditionally used to wrap barbacoa, like the Lamb Barbacoa with Masala Adobo.

If you’re using it for this purpose, in a large Dutch oven, arrange the long maguey leaves in a star shape (tips of the leaves will extend out of pan and be folded over barbacoa before roasting). Place rectangle pieces lengthwise in bottom of Dutch oven. Place lamb over maguey leaves, top with add avocado leaves and reserved 1 cup adobo marinade. Fold tips of maguey leaves over lamb and cover. Bake.