Baby Goats Taste Better

Whether served in a high-end tagine or $6 birria plate, goat is becoming Seattle’s other red meat.

Right now, pork is the iPod of the food world, more of a social movement than a trend. Every culinary magazine and newspaper food section has been giving the pig serious love, and Seattle has seen whole-hog dinners and salumi one-upmanship among its chefs. These days it takes a brave restaurant snob to confess that she hasn't tried pig ear or rendered her own lard. But sneaking up behind pork—not yet a fad, but more than an oddity—is goat. Many of Seattle's more adventurous chefs have been serving the meat. "Ten years ago people wouldn't touch goat, but it's becoming more and more mainstream," says Brock Johnson, chef of Lola, which has been serving goat on the menu continuously since the restaurant opened in June 2004. "We just felt that it really fit Lola and what we do here. It's one of our most popular dishes." A number of other restaurants feature the meat intermittently. "One of my cooks goes out and gets goats from a friend who has a small farm," says Matt Dillon, chef of Sitka & Spruce. "We make sausage [i.e., merguez and chorizo] and use the saddles and do roasts. I also love goat neck, and do a pasta with it." Jeremy Ravetz, sous-chef at Lark, says, "Goat has a pretty low meat-to-bone yield [meaning a high proportion of waste], so we tend to use it for special dinners such as our Whole Beast Dinner." Joseba Jiménez de Jiménez of Harvest Vine prepares Basque-style roast kid, though he thinks the meat is at its prime only a few weeks of the year. Tamara Murphy, chef of Brasa, concurs. "When I want them is when they're babies—that's when they have the most delicious flavor," she says. Goat may still be a screw-up-your-nose proposition for many white Americans, but worldwide it's consumed as widely as, if not more than, beef. Central America, the Caribbean, the Middle East, Korea and Vietnam, Africa, southern Europe—all goat territory. And truth be told, most of the local restaurants where you can eat goat meat are non-Western. But if you prefer to cook your own, and Pixie and Trixie aren't in the backyard, you'll have to search a bit. Goat meat is most popular with recent immigrants, so chichi markets like Whole Foods and PCC don't carry it. Asian grocery stores such as Ranch 99 and Mexican butchers like White Center's Carniceria El Paisano sell goat; however, the most reliable, widespread source is the dozens of markets around the area that cater to Muslims. Shahid Anis, owner of Pakistani-N-Indian Grocery, says that he sells about 15 whole goats a week—all halal, all locally sourced—as well as 30 pounds of frozen goat meat imported from New Zealand or Australia. If you're searching for local, sustainably raised goat meat, Sea Breeze Farm on Vashon Island sells 30 to 40 kids a year—basically a sideline from its dairy-goat operation. And now's the time to buy: Since the farm's (caprine) kids are born in the spring, their meat is currently at its best. You can call the farm (567-GOAT) to pick up a live animal or buy prepackaged, fresh meat at the Sea Breeze stand in the Ballard, U District, West Seattle, and Vashon farmers markets. I rarely skip over goat when I see it on the menu. Still, when people ask me how it tastes, I have to admit: either really good or really bad. Chef Dillon agrees, "The problem with goat is it goes from tender to tough quickly." When it's good—you have to pick just the right goat at just the right age to roast it right, so in my experience, braised is far more consistent—goat is the perfect red meat: tender and lean (goat meat is not heavily marbled), with all of the richness of beef and none of its barnyard overtones, as well as a seductive whiff of lamblike muskiness. Able to take on strong flavors, this is a meat to pair with your biggest cab or Barolo. When the meat's bad—undercooked or too-quickly cooked—a piece of goat can take minutes to chew. At some places, it's hacked into fat-coated chunks studded with bone shards, so eating each piece requires as much concentration as jaywalking across Denny Way in the middle of rush hour. But the payoff is often worth the gamble. Right now, Lola's goat ($25) comes in a tagine, a flat-bottomed casserole with a tepee lid. As the lid is removed at your table, a wash of spiced steam rolls up from big chunks of meat, whose braising liquid has been reduced into a glossy brown sauce. Flanking the meat are a peach-half striped with grill marks and a pile of crinkly, dark-green mustard leaves. The goat meat teases apart into long, tender strands with a fork, and its rich flavor, accented with the Moroccan spices in the braise, pairs beautifully with the ripe fruit. The only problem: The sauce, which I'd typically sop up with bread, is oversalted, and salt saturates the greens, rendering them inedible. It's a botched flourish to a gorgeous hunk of meat. Rosticeria y Cocina el Paisano in White Center—a new taqueria opened by the owners of a neighboring meat market—can't quite figure out what to call its goat. The menu says "birria" (a Jalisco-style goat stew), the servers all call it "barbacoa." Nomenclature aside, it's fantastic, stewed so long that sheer lethargy keeps it from disintegrating. Using corn tortillas instead of forks to eat the birria/barbacoa, we pull off chunks with a pinch and a tug. This is the goatiest meat I've tried in a while—you wouldn't mistake it for anything else—but the strong flavor is matched by the chiles and spices that stain the flesh, and offset by fresh cilantro and chopped white onions. Hint: Order a "small" plate ($6.50), and if you can finish it without requiring a stomach pump, feel free to graduate to the large. One of the most exotic goat meals you can have locally is the famous Korean dish called "black goat stew" at Kokiri in Federal Way. The $26.95 meal is "for 2," but the soup-filled wok that the waiter brings to your table and sets on a tabletop burner has enough contents to feed four, plus eight bowls of pickles on the side. Shredded meat floats with leeks and stalks of minty perilla (or shiso) leaves in a mustardy, chile-colored broth. On my visit, we let the stew bubble away for 20 minutes, then began spooning out bowlfuls, picking up the meat and leaves and dipping them in a saucer with chili paste, sesame oil, perilla-seed powder, and cracked mustard seeds, which I doctor up with a little salt and rice vinegar. The broth is more watery than the version of this stew that I first fell in love with at a restaurant in Oakland, but occasionally I encountered the same fusion of blockbuster flavors—goat, herbs, mustard, chile, and sesame oil—that still haunts my daydreams. Kokiri's menu describes black goat stew as a traditional health food, but doesn't describe what it's supposed to help. A research paper written by T. G. Min, K.O. Kong, and H. B. Song and posted on the International Goat Association Web site holds the answer: "[Black goat] extracts are specially good for a delivered or pregnant women [sic] and also good for the discharged patients, the old and weak men, the mental fatigue for the students and the sexual vitality of men." Good for pregnant ladies and undersexed men? Pork has some serious catching up to do.

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