Aaron Sanchez's Pit-Barbeque Style Lamb in Chile Marinade

Make your next get-together extra special with this mouthwatering barbeque lamb dish. Chef Aaron Sanchez shares his delicious chile and spice blend that will get everyone coming back to the table for seconds.

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4 oz guajillo chiles (about 16 large chiles), tops and seeds removed
2 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp whole cloves, or 3/4 teaspoon ground
10 allspice berries
1/3 cup dried Oaxacan oregano or 1 tablespoon dried Mexican oregano, crumbled
12 to 15 large sprigs fresh thyme (leaves only), or 2 teaspoons dried
10 garlic cloves
1 large onion, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1 tsp salt or to taste, plus additional for seasoning
Freshly ground black pepper
6 to 8 lbs lamb shoulder, bone in, trimmed
1/2 to 3/4 oz dried avocado leaves, about 30 large leaves

1. Remove and discard the tops and seeds of the chiles. Leave in the veins if you like heat or cut them away if you want to tone down the heat. Rinse the chiles under cold running water and shake off the excess moisture, but do not dry them. Heat a griddle or cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat until a drop of water sizzles on contact.


2. Place the chiles on the griddle a few at a time and let them heat, turning occasionally with tongs, just until any clinging moisture is evaporated and the aroma is released. Allow approximately 30 to 45 seconds in all per chile for most kinds, slightly less for guajillos (which are very thin-skinned). The chiles should just become dry, hot, and fragrant; do not allow them to start really roasting or they will have a terrible scorched flavor. Remove from the griddle when they are done.


3. Place in a deep bowl and cover generously with boiling water. Let soak for at least 20 minutes.


4. Grind the cumin, cloves, allspice, oregano, and dried thyme (if using) together in an electric coffee or spice grinder or with a mortar and pestle.


5. Drain the soaked chiles. Working in batches as necessary, place them in a blender with the ground herbs and spices (add fresh thyme at this point if using), garlic, onion, vinegar, salt, and about 1/2 cup water (or enough to facilitate the action of the blades). Process to a smooth purée (about 3 minutes on high), stopping occasionally to scrape down the sides with a rubber spatula. With a wooden spoon or pusher, for the purée through a medium-mesh sieve into a bowl. It should have the consistency of a thick but still moist paste.


6. Season the pieces of lamb with salt and pepper. Slather the seasoning paste all over the meat. Arrange in a large bowl (or any non-reactive container that's large enough), cover tightly with plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight or for at least 4 hours. Remove from the refrigerator about 2 hours before beginning the cooking, to let the meat come to room temperature.


7. Preheat the oven to 325°F.


8. Choose a deep roasting pan or baking dish large enough to hold the meat snugly. Scatter half of the avocado leaves across the bottom of the pan and arrange the meat on them. Scatter the remaining leaves over the meat. Cover the pan (wrapping very tightly with several layers of foil if there is no lid) and bake for 4 to 4 1/2 hours. The meat should be almost falling off the bone.


Note: Buy the dried imported avocado leaves sold in packets in Mexican groceries. Though sizes are not standardized, they generally come in 1/4-ounce packets, sometimes with the contents fairly broken up. One ounce of dried avocado leaves is usually equivalent to about 30 leaves.