Barbacoa Chicken Tacos & Cucumber Margaritas

My untraditional version of barbacoa is inspired by the spices traditionally used to flavor the meats. I lean heavily on both the poblano & guajillo chilies in my spice mix to add a smoky, fruity, mild heat to the earthiness of cumin and floral marjoram. I use chicken thighs in this recipe bc I love that the braise does not take hours to complete unlike using beef cheeks or lamb shoulder, which by the way would be absolutely delicious too. I don’t have the luxury of building a fire pit or cooking over an open flame living in an old warehouse in Philadephia but I can turn out a braise any day! 

Barbacoa is believed to have originated centuries ago in Barbados. The island was named by 16th century Portuguese explorers to describe the giant bearded fig trees covering the Caribbean island.  It is widely believed that the West Indies native people first used, fire resistant bearded fig branches for cooking. They marinated their foods in tropical herbs and spices to help preserve them after cooking. The native peoples called their preparations “barabicu” or “scared fire pit” that over time became barbecue and Barbacoa in Mexico.  Barbacoa in Mexico still refers to meats that are slow roasted over an open fire or cooked in a fire pit covered with agave leaves. 

The best way to share this meal is family style. Set up your counter or table with platters and bowls filled with all the garnishes, sauces, warm tortillas, hot chicken Barbacoa and let everyone choose their own taco adventure. You can’t go wrong with chopped onions, avocado, cilantro, salsa verde, crema, cotija and lime wedges. I mix up pitchers of my signature cucumber basil margaritas for everyone to share. My zero proof version (which I drink) might even top the my tequila filled original! I wonder which one you would like more 🤔😁

Special Equipment: Scale, Chef Knife, (2) 1/2 Sheet Pan, Deep Frying Pan with lid, Blender
Serves: 2-4

Barbacoa Braised Chicken Thighs
yield: 2 Qt. | 1800g


Neutral Oil, as needed
2 Lb | 910g Chicken Thighs, skin on
2 Tablespoons | 17g Barbacoa Spice
1 1/2 Ea | 145g White Onion, large diced
6 Each | 30g Garlic Clove, chopped
2 Each | 270g Plum Tomato, diced
1 Tablespoon | 16g Apple Cider Vinegar
16 Oz | 475g Chicken Stock or Water
1 Tablespoon |16g Kosher Salt
1 Each Bay Leaf

1 Pack Tortillas

  1. Start by taking off the chicken skin.
  2. Season chicken thighs with spice blend, really massage it in.
  3. Let marinade overnight or as long as possible.
  4. In a pot over medium heat, add oil.
  5. Sweat, & stir diced onions, & chopped garlic.
  6. Add diced tomatoes, & deglaze with vinegar.
  7. Pour in chicken stock & mix.
  8. Carefully add in marinated bone-in chicken thighs in a single layer.
  9. When the chicken thighs are all in, bring liquid to a boil, & reduce to a low simmer.
  10. Cover with a lid, & cook for 20-30 minutes or until fork tender
  11. Let rest for an hour.
  12. Take out chicken thighs & return bones the the pot.
  13. Bring barbacoa liquid to a boil, & reduce to a simmer.
  14. While the sauce is cooking down, shred the chicken.
  15. When the sauce has reduced to 1/4 of what you started with, add shredded chicken in.
  16. Adjust seasoning with salt & additional spice.

note: Be sure to add more spice during & after the chicken thighs have cooked

Salsa Verde
yield: 3 Cup


Neutral Oil, as needed
10 Each | 580g  Tomatillos, quartered
4 Each | 20g Garlic Cloves, whole
1/2 Each | 120g White Onion, large diced
2 Each | 80g Jalapeños, halved
1/2 Bunch | 15g Cilantro
Kosher Salt to taste

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees F
  • De-husk & quarter the tomatillos & add to a bowl
  • Add garlic cloves, diced onion, halved jalapeños, splash of neutral oil, & little salt
  • Toss vegetables & lay onto a baking pan
  • Cook in the oven for 10-15 minutes. Or until vegetables start to brown.
  • Do not cook too long, you want to retain as much green color as possible
  • Once cooked, add to a blender with chopped cilantro.
  • Blend too desired consistency.
  • Adjust seasoning, & cool

note: salsa verde is usually seasoned very little because tortilla chips usually have enough salt for both.

 If you are ever looking to add a bit of a kick to a dish this Salsa Verde is your answer. It is made with only a few ingredients, tomatillo, jalapeños, onion, garlic, cilantro, olive oil & salt. It is super versatile and easy to master. I like to condense & intensify the flavor of my ingredients by roasting them all except the cilantro before blending & turning silky smooth. Paired with the chicken Barbacoa it adds a spicy & bright freshness that cuts through any of the heaviness and earthy notes that can throw the taco out of balance. Believe me you will use this sauce in everything or simply dip chips into it to enjoy! It will last 3 – 5 days in you fridge but it probably won’t last that long 😜

Cucumber Margarita
yield: 1 Glass

Special Equipment: Cocktail Shaker, Strainer, Rocks Glass, Jigger


Recipe & Method

1.5 oz Patron Silver
1 oz Cointreau 
1oz Lime Juice
1.5 oz | 45 g Cucumber diced
10 g |15 med to large Basil leaves
1/2 oz Light Agave Nectar

  • Rub lime wedge around the rim of your rocks glass and roll in salt.
  • Fill cocktail shaker half way with ice.
  • Add all ingredients, cover and shake vigorously until ice cold and bright green.
  • Add ice to salted rocks glass.
  • Strain margarita into glass taking care not to wash off salt.
  • Garnish with a shaved lime wheel & small leaf of basil.

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