Crock-Pot Lamb Tacos and Cumin Cucumber Slaw

by R.B. Quinn and Min Merrell
lamb tacos

Lamb is not a popular Southern protein historically, but our growing Persian community has us cooking more of it. A lunch run to the international corridors of Nolensville Road or Charlotte Pike, followed by a stop at Costco, Publix, or a Halal market and lamb will make it to the dinner table, even as lamb tacos. 

These lamb tacos served with Mindy’s fabulous Cumin Cucumber Slaw and a side of our twist on Loretta Lynn’s tater log skillet potatoes borrow from plenty of cultures and pull together nicely. The tacos start with some super easy, hands-free indoor barbecue in a slow cooker. And if “barbecue” is too much of a stretch for you, then how about “low and slow-cooked, smoky, moist, pull-apart meat?” We can argue terminology after we eat. 

A crowd of lamb shanks (4 or 5) in a 5-7 quart slow cooker will fall apart into a beautiful dish of moist, shreddable rich lamb, much like pulled pork shoulder, in about 5 hours on high. You can sear them first in a hot pan, but we skip this step as meat cooked in a slow cooker without liquids or sauces develops plenty of crust, believe it or not (see photo below).

Season all sides of the shanks with Kosher salt, place them in the cooker and add 4 tablespoons of all-natural liquid smoke over the meat. A quarter cup of liquid smoke is NOT too much. Use Colgin, Wright’s, Figaro, Stubbs, or Reese brand liquid smoke, whatever you like. We tend to use Colgin because it’s on nearly always on the shelf, from Whole Foods to Walmart. Or, we order quart bottles of Wright’s from Amazon.

Liquid smoke works best when cooked with fatty meats over a long period — the fat does a great job of absorbing the smoke and distributing it throughout the meat.   

If you’ve read any of this site you know that we’ve been on an indoor barbecue journey for a while now, But, even after years of experimenting, we stick to the same basic method — tough cut of meat, simple seasonings, liquid smoke, and time. We don’t add other liquids or sauces to the crock pot, and we go light on seasonings.

Cuts like pork shoulder, beef chuck roast and brisket, lamb shanks and shoulders, even chicken, all contain enough moisture and fat to provide plenty of tenderizing liquid. Add a sauce when it’s time to serve; you don’t need to cook the meat in the sauce.

When you go light on seasonings during the cooking phase you can change up the flavor profile of the leftover meat for the next meal. Some of your simple pulled pork shoulder can be sauced for barbecue now and the rest doctored up with cumin and chile powder for tacos later. All the more reason to cook the big cut and turn it into new meals in a day or two.

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