Modern Mexican restaurant La Cabra knows how to please a crowd. If you’re hosting your own fiesta this summer, take some advice from the experts. “It has to be easy to eat, it has to be full of flavour, punchy and fresh,” says Derrick Chandra, co-owner and chef. “And sharing-type meals are my go-to because people can help themselves.”
La Cabra’s style leans towards moreish share plates and crowd-pleasing cocktails – or, as Chandra says, “It’s not fancy fine dining – it’s for the people.” The restaurant’s two recipes shared here – lamb birria tacos and a tropical Margarita – are easily achievable for the regular home cook, while also being big on flavour and visually impressive. (Or you can head into La Cabra where they’ll do all heavy lifting for you.)
Birria Lamb Tacos
The birria style has taken Australia by storm in recent years, and it’s easy to see why. “It’s braised meat, heaps of chillies, heaps of lime juice – so it’s punchy,” Chandra says. “It’s toasted with cheese in the consommé the meat is cooked in, so it’s very cheesy and meaty.”
With birria tacos, the protein (here, it’s lamb) is braised in a rich liquid for hours until tender. The fat that rises to the top of the cooking liquid is then scooped off and used to fry the tortillas until crisp. If that wasn’t enough, the tacos are served with the braising liquid (or consommé) on the side for dunking.
Chandra has a few tips for ingredients you’ll need to pull this off at home. The first are the dried ancho and guajillo chillies – two fruity, mild peppers that add serious flavour to the lamb. “[For] those chillies, there are speciality South American stores you can get them from,” says Chandra. “You can get them in powdered form, or you can substitute them with normal dried chillies if you want.”
Oaxaca cheese is the second. “It’s from Oaxaca in Mexico,” says Chandra. “It doesn’t have a very strong flavour and it’s very stretchy – just like mozzarella.” Like the dried chillies, sub in what’s available if you can’t find the real deal – something like a good mozzarella or cheddar will do.
Passionfruit and Lychee Margarita
Chandra’s co-founder Joshua Smith is in charge of the drinks at La Cabra, with a big focus on bold flavours. His tropical Margarita mixes tequila, Cointreau and lime with passionfruit and lychee liqueur (“I threw some of that through it to get a little bit of sweetness,” he says of the lychee kick) plus the ubiquitous Mexican seasoning blend Tajin, which adds a touch of heat to the traditional rimming salt. “I do it half with some pink Himalayan salt, which breaks it up so it’s not too full on,” says Smith.
Recipe: Derrick Chandra’s birria lamb tacos
Preparation time: 45 minutes-1 hour
Cooking time: 2.5-3 hours
1.5–2kg lamb leg/shoulder
4 dried ancho chillies
3 dried guajillo chillies
1 chopped onion
1 tbsp tomato paste
2 diced carrots
8 sliced garlic cloves
1 tbsp minced ginger
2.5L chicken stock
1 tbsp black pepper
1 tbsp toasted coriander seeds
1 cinnamon stick
4 bay leaves
1.5 tbsp salt
200g Oaxaca cheese
100ml vegetable oil
¼ bunch coriander (for garnish)
50g pickled onion
Preheat oven to 170°C. Chop ancho and guajillo chillies in half, take seeds and hard stem out.
Chop the lamb into 250–300g pieces. Place a medium-sized pot on the stove on a low heat. Add oil to your pot and sear the lamb pieces, while seasoning with salt. Watch for a golden-brown colour. Once seared, take lamb pieces out of pot and rest on a plate with the pre-prepared ancho and guajillo.
In the same pot, add a bit more oil, then add the diced onions and carrots and cook for 1 minute. Add the tomato paste and cook for another minute, before adding the garlic and ginger and sauteeing for a minute. Then add the chicken stock and bring to a simmer. Once simmered, add the lamb pieces, ancho and guajillo to the pot.
Using a muslin cloth, wrap up the coriander seeds, cloves, bay leaves, black pepper and cinnamon stick, then tie it up with a string and place into the pot. Add salt and cover the pot with a lid. Cook for about 2.5–3 hours on a low heat, or in the pre-heated oven for 3 hours. The meat should be extremely tender once cooked. Scoop out the lamb pieces using tongs and put onto a large plate or bowl. Shred the meat while still warm.
Take out the cloth with the spices and use a stick blender to blend the remaining broth. If you only have a normal blender, you can use this instead (just do it in smaller batches). Keep the meat separate from the consommé.
Dip the corn tortilla into the hot consommé and place it on a hot grill. The fat will lightly fry, which will make the tortilla crispy. Once crispy, add a small amount of shredded Oaxaca cheese to the tortilla (this can be subbed out for a mozzarella or cheddar cheese mix). Add some of the meat on top of the cheese. When the cheese is melted, fold the tacos over and cook each side until golden brown.
Garnish with coriander and pickled onions. Serve with a bowl of the birria consommé for dunking.
Recipe: Joshua Smith’s passionfruit and lychee Margarita
Makes 1 serving
Preparation time: 5 minutes
30ml passionfruit pulp
15ml simple sugar syrup
15 ml lychee liqueur
45 El Jimador reposado tequila
30ml fresh lime juice
Mixture of 50g Tajin and 50g pink Himalayan salt
½ a passionfruit for garnish
Prep your coupe glass with a salt rim mixture of Tajin and pink Himalayan salt.
Add passionfruit pulp, lychee liquor, sugar syrup, lime juice and tequila to a shaker. Add ice and shake generously for 10 seconds.
Double strain into the coupe glass (keeping the passionfruit seeds out). Garnish by floating half of a passionfruit.
This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with La Cabra.