by David Cecelski
The house specialty at Garibaldi Mexican Restaurant, in Four Oaks, is lamb broth, consomé de borrego. This casual little eatery’s proprietors moved to this little agricultural town in Johnston County from Veracruz, on the Gulf of Mexico, and in that part of central Mexico this wonderful dish is traditionally made with the drippings from pit-cooking lamb or mutton.
The Spanish word for that pit-cooked lamb and mutton is barbacoa, and it comes from a Taíno word that is also the origin of our own word “barbecue.” The traditional way of making barbacoa and its broth also goes back to the Taíno, Arawak, and other indigenous peoples who lived on the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico long before the Spanish conquistadors arrived in the 16th century.
The recipe is mouth-watering. Traditionally, central Mexico’s cooks prepare barbacoa by seasoning the lamb and wrapping it in maguey or banana leaves. Then they place the wrapped-up meat pieces on a grill over a cauldron of water inside an oven (called an hoyo) dug in the ground and lined with hot coals.
They cover the pit with earth and the meat cooks slowly in the smoke and steam, ending up singularly tender, moist, and delicious.
The broth—the consomé, in Spanish—is prepared in that cauldron of water. The pot collects the drippings and Mexican cooks add carrots, onions, potatoes, beans or other vegetables, as well as herbs and spices. The broth cooks in the earthen oven and makes a deliriously rich, fragrant dish that is typically served on the side of the barbacoa.
Even if they don’t prepare their broth in a pit oven, Garibaldi Mexican Restaurant’s cooks certainly capture the essence of the traditional recipe. They take the drippings from barbecued lamb or mutton, simmer them with vegetables and add rice and garbanzo beans. They season the broth with marjoram and thyme, two herbs very typical in Veracruzan cookery, and I think a little cinnamon and cloves, too.
Then they let you add diced onion, lime, dried cayenne peppers, and sliced jalapeño peppers to the broth al gusto, to your liking.
The result is just beautiful: a rich, savory broth in which the flavor of the drippings, the heat of the peppers, and the fragrance of the herbs all stand out. The broth is the perfect comfort food on a cold winter day like today, and an unforgettable introduction to an ancient and fantastically rich culinary tradition from central Mexico.
Garibaldi Mexican Restaurant is located at 5833 US 301-South in a little strip mall on the I-95 side of Four Oaks. It’s open 7 days a week. You won’t find much English spoken there, but the staff are helpful and most of the menu is in both Spanish and English. Other regional specials on the day I was there—a Tuesday—included mole verde, caldo de mariscos, lamb birria, pozole, chilaquiles, and cecina con guacamole.