Thursday, April 2, 2009
From the New York Times on Eating Goat
By HENRY ALFORD
Published: March 31, 2009
YOU never know where goat will take you. When I asked the smiley butcher at Jefferson Market, the grocery store near my apartment in the West Village, whether he had any goat meat, he told me: “No. I got a leg of lamb, though — I could trim it nice and thin to make it look like goat.” I politely declined. We fell into conversation.
I found myself telling him: “Koreans think eating goat soup increases virility. It can lead to better sexytime.” My new friend responded: “My lamb does that a little. You won’t want to every night, but maybe every other night.” Reaching toward his counter to pick up a mound of hamburger, he paused to ask, “It’s for you, the goat?”
Mine is the tale of the recent convert. Admittedly, I’m late to the party: goat is the most widely consumed meat in the world, a staple of, among others, Mexican, Indian, Greek and southern Italian cuisines. Moreover, it’s been edging its way into yuppier climes for a year or so now, click-clacking its cloven hooves up and down the coasts and to places like Houston and Des Moines. (When New York magazine proclaimed eating goat a “trendlet” last summer, one reader wrote on the magazine’s Web site, “Here are white people again!!!! Acting like they invented goat meat.”) A famed beef and pork rancher, Bill Niman, returned from retirement to raise goats in Bolinas, Calif.; New York City has a chef (Scott Conant) who’s made kid his signature dish.
Novelty and great flavor aren’t the only draws here — the meat is lower in fat than chicken but higher in protein than beef. There’s even an adorable neologism (“chevon”) for those who want their meat to sound like a miniature Chevrolet or a member of a 1960’s girl group.
I’d partaken of the bearded ruminant before, most memorably in a Jamaican curry in Brooklyn. I’d liked the flavor of the meat, equidistant as it was from lamb and beef. But when my teeth wrangled a particularly tough piece of meat that was shield-shaped and curved and slightly rubbery, I had the distinct impression that I had bitten into the cup of a tiny bra.
Indeed, goats have long held a lowly reputation. Scavengers, they are falsely accused of eating tin cans. Their unappetizing visage is simultaneously dopey and satanic, like a Disney character with a terrible secret. Their chin hair is sometimes prodigious enough to carpet Montana. Chaucer said they “stinken.”
My conversion moment came this February when I went to the West Village restaurant Cabrito and had the goat tacos. This hip taquería-style restaurant — which is named after the baby goat that is pit-barbecued in Texas and Mexico — marinates its meat for 24 hours before wet-roasting it over pineapple, chilies, onion and garlic. The resultant delicious pulled meat is tender throughout and slightly crisp and caramelized around the edges. Think lamb, but with a tang of earthy darkness. Think lamb, but with a rustle in the bushes. Think ... jungle lamb.
Suddenly I was go go goat. I wanted to order goat in as many restaurants as possible. Shortly into this process, a friend asked me, “Is it gay meat?” Confused, I said, “There’s nothing gay about it at all.” She explained, “No, I said is it gamey?”
Oh, that. Only very slightly, and depending on how it’s prepared. Two of my favorite goat dishes in New York are the least gamey. At Scarpetta, Mr. Conant’s signature dish, capretto, consists of slices of moist-roasted kid floating on top of a column of peas and cubed fingerlings. Convivio serves baked cavatelli in a tomato-braised goat ragù. In both dishes, the meat is as tender as a Jennifer Aniston movie.
Once I’d tasted a wide variety of goat — from a spicy curry at Dera in Jackson Heights, to a goat paratha at the Indian takeout place Lassi, two blocks from my apartment — it was time to make some of my own. Three butchers in my neighborhood told me that, with three days’ or a week’s notice, they could get me frozen goat meat.
“You have elk and wild boar, but not goat?” I harangued a butcher at Citarella, invoking Norma Rae; he countered, “That’s how life is,” suddenly Montaigne. I had better luck at the Union Square greenmarket, where two farms, Patches of Stars and Lynnhaven, sell frozen meat for about $13 to $18 a pound on Saturdays (and Lynnhaven on Wednesdays, too), as well as at Esposito Meats at 900 Ninth Avenue, which has it daily ($4.98 a pound). I found fresh goat meat available daily at $4.50 a pound at Atlantic Halal on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn.
Two things quickly became clear once I started cooking. First, because it’s so lean, goat is particularly good when braised or cooked with moist heat so it won’t dry out. While my mantis, or mini Turkish ravioli, filled with goat and parsley and onion, were pretty good and my goat and pork polpettine, or tiny meatballs, slightly better, the two winners so far have been goat ragù and chèvre à cinq heures.
The former, an adaptation of the chef Andrew Carmellini’s lamb ragù, adds cumin and lots of fresh herbs (thyme, rosemary and mint) to a tomato ragù, yielding a dish that evokes the saturated greenness of a meadow in springtime. In the latter, an Anthony Bourdain recipe, you cook a garlic-clove-studded leg of lamb — or, in this case, goat — in a Dutch oven so it can have all the benefit of sitting for five hours in a pool of white wine and 20 more cloves of garlic.
My second realization was that goat, like lamb, has a lot of the fatty membrane known as caul. Though a sharp knife is your friend here, I have, on two occasions, resorted to using scissors, and, while doing so, been reminded of how the chef Fergus Henderson uses a Bic razor to depilate pig. This is the only part of cooking goat that I don’t love — however, I will confess that I think the single most terrifying passage in all of literature is from a lamb recipe in Madame Guinaudeau’s 1958 book “Traditional Moroccan Cooking”: “Make a hole with the point of the knife just above the knee joint of one of the legs between flesh and skin. Blow through the opening until the air gets to the fore legs and makes them stick up.”
It is the hallmark of the true enthusiast that he is wont to proselytize. Indeed, I recently threw a dinner party at which I served goat at every course — the polpettine among the appetizers, the ragù as our entrée, and a cheesecake interlarded with nearly a pound of Coach Farm’s chèvre for dessert. At evening’s end, as my wine-fueled guests prepared to scramble down the stairs of my four-flight walk-up, it was all I could do not to tie tiny bells around their necks.
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