A little while ago I got an email from my friend and neighbour Jem which said “Want half a goat? This message has been sent from my blackberry.” I checked whether the goat had free ranged, and when I found out it was pasture-raised by his colleague’s relatives in the country, I was all in. A few days later he popped around with a bag containing half a very fresh young kid.
I knew there was no huge rush to cook it, as the meat hadn’t been aged for long. It was firm, with barely any smell, so I bagged it up and set about investigating what to do with it. With meat so fresh, and a beast so young, you can really cook it like a Spring lamb, but I wanted something goatier. The kid was small, so I figured I could make one dish from the leg, and one from the shoulder.
Indian is an obvious choice as most Indian “mutton” recipes actually refer to goat meat (or so I read). However I ruled that out as we’d just finished the leftovers of a delicious Raan, an Indian spiced leg of lamb. The recipe, from the Foods of the World India book, involved briefly marinating the leg in a paste of ginger, garlic, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, cumin, turmeric, cayenne, salt and lemon juice rubbed into slashes in the leg. It then got a prolonged – two day – marinade in a puree of almonds, cashews (substituting for the original pistachios), raisins, honey and yoghurt. Then a saffron bath before a slow roast. It was, as you would hope after all that time and sixteen additional ingredients, utterly sumptuous, but I fancied something other than a curry.
I was shocked – shocked! – at my difficulty in turning up goat/kid recipes. I’ve recently written about my extensive cookbook problem collection, but it’s got some big gaps. Big goat-shaped gaps, as it turns out. Finding nothing in Stephanie Alexander’s Cook’s Companion was a sad portent of what was to come. I knew that many African cultures enjoy goat meat, but I have only two African cookbooks (by Dorinda Hafner and Tess Mallos), neither of which had any goat recipes. After pottering through a number of other books, and failing to find anything, I hit food blog search which trawls 3000+ food blogs, and twitter.
Jackie of Eating with Jack tweeted that she’d found a similar difficulty, and developed her own recipe for roasted goat shoulder, inspired by a meal in Spain. That was the shoulder sorted then, and I decided on a Birria do Chivo from a newly-discovered blog, Masa Assasin for the leg.
We ate the shoulder first. Jack’s recipe requires slowly cooking the browned shoulder on a bed of aromatic veggies with wine and stock then uncovering it and finishing the salted joint under high heat. She used suckling goat and the piece she used weighed 1.5 kilos; mine was barely a kilo, so obviously extremely young. I reduced the cooking time a little, and we ate it with a very creamy mash.
It was sensational. Incredibly tender, but any beast that age and size would be. The flavour was delicate but with the definite richness and slightly gamey flavour of goat meat. Thanks to Jackie for the recipe – we will definitely be having this again.
Sadly, the Birria was not so successful. It was tasty, but not exceptional. I think the first mistake I made was to use such young meat for a dish that has very long, moist cooking. We lost the texture that was so pleasurable in Jackie’s recipe and the meat didn’t have the intensity of flavour that an older beast lends to such a preparation.
Checking out the original recipe will make it obvious why I had been so excited. Mike, the author, has Mexican and Cuban heritage and lives in San Diego, just a whisker above Mexico. His expertise is obvious, and the site is fantastic, with descriptive unfussy photography and nice clear instructions. But I’ve never eaten a Birria of any kind, and had no palate memory of what I was doing. And I lacked some of the chillies used, which are quite hard to find here. If I had eaten the dish before, I would have known whether using the chillies I had already – a mixture of dried Ancho, chipotle and habanero – was a sensible one. The smell of them toasting:
was extraordinarily good. After that you reconstitute them and whizz them with vinegar, garlic, allspice, pepper and oregano, and tiny quantities thyme, cloves, cinnamon and cumin. The meat sits in a splash of vinegar overnight, is browned and then cooked in a big pot in a broth with onion, bay and the strained chilli paste. Not knowing any other use for the goat’s rib cage that I’d been provided with, I thought that its collagen and gelatin might go some way to making up for the goat’s head included in the original recipe.
You eat the Birria in a bowl, with corn tortillas and a range of traditional side dishes – oregano, chopped onion, limes, radishes, coriander and salsa:
It was tasty, but didn’t compare to the shoulder the night before. The wikipedia link to Birria up there says it’s known for it’s variety, as different cooks use different peppers, but my combo lacked some depth of flavour. I’d love to hear what any experienced Birria cooks or eaters out there use, or alternatively find a steady supply of fancy dried Mexican chillies.
* Sounds best if you put on your Barnsey voice.