I have become a big fan of goat. Don’t get me wrong, I never shied away from eating it — hell, I ate stewed goat necks several times a month back in graduate school because it was one of the few meat items I could afford. But last week’s goat extravaganza taught me quite a few new things about the little ruminants. I’m beginning to figure out why goat is the world’s most eaten meat.
All of this began last year, when I met Gary Silva. Gary is a goat rancher who runs several thousand meat goats down in southern Sacramento County. I had been writing a story about the business of meat goats, which has become something of an underground success story. Underground because while mainstream America still turns its nose up at goat, the growing Latino, South Asian, Middle Eastern and African immigrant populations eat tons of it — and until recently most was imported.
I thought about buying one of Gary’s goats then, but it wasn’t until I came back to write a story about goat’s appearance in haute cuisine that I asked him to set aside a couple of animals for me. He said sure, and we agreed I’d pick them up in late April. Now your first thought might be two whole goats? Yep. I had plans.
First and foremost I wanted to roast one whole for our annual Big Fat Greek Party; I did a whole lamb several years back and it was cool, but really bulky. I reckoned that a goat would be a perfect party size.
I also wanted to break the second goat down for charcuterie. My main goal for this animal is to make the Northern Italian specialty mocetta (MOH-chettah), which originally was a salted, air-cured hind leg of a wild ibex hunters had shot in the Alps. Now it’s done with domestic goats: Think of it as goat ham.
With what was left I wanted to make a big batch of fresh goat sausages, made like a Spanish longaniza with lots of sweet paprika, fresh rosemary and garlic. The bones would go for stock.
It took some doing, but I managed to set a date to meet Joe Earl, a traveling butcher who serves the area farmers. Yes, his name is really Joe Earl, and he is as huge as you might imagine someone who slaughters animals solo might be. When the day arrived, I found myself a little nervous. Yes, I’ve shot big game animals before and have killed domestic chickens, but I was not certain what to do when confronted with a bucking billy goat. I hoped Joe would show me what to do.
As it happened, I got stuck in traffic on the way down, so when I arrived at Gary’s farm, the goats were already hanging. I was immediately struck by how small they were. Two weeks ago, I had picked up a lamb for the Greek party in Rio Vista from my boss’ father-in-law, a former Niman Ranch sheep farmer. That lamb was roughly 70 pounds hanging weight. This goat Joe was working on was no more than 35 pounds. To put it in perspective, a typical deer or wild pig will be well north of 100 pounds, often twice that.
But the goats’ small size made life a lot easier at home. I managed to stuff the whole goat into the top of my curing fridge, and I broke the other down into cuts in less than an hour. Easy-peasy. I was rapidly seeing why a whole goat is considered a perfect party-sized animal — and at $125 or so won’t break the bank.
Having now had close encounters with both goats and lambs recently, here is a quick primer on the differences.
- Goat is always leaner than lamb, but the 5-7 month-old goats typically sold for meat still have enough white fat to make your lips glisten.
- Goat is also lighter in color than lamb. Why I have no idea, although it may be because goats forage on a wider range of plants than do sheep, whose iron-rich grass diet darkens their meat.
- Goat is also noticeably milder than lamb, which is the shocker. Everyone thinks goat meat should be smelly, stringy and strong-tasting — and it is, from an old goat. The flavor of these goats was ethereally mild: red meat yes, but neither heavy nor cloyingly fatty the way lamb can be. It is perfect with a Beaujolais, Sangiovese or Pinot Noir.
- Goat’s major problem, if it can be called one, is that it is so small your normal cuts don’t really apply. Loin backstraps are skinny and while the legs will indeed slice like a leg of lamb, they only weigh about 3 1/2 pounds each; this is why you typically see goat cut into chunks.
I am sorry I have no pictures from the Greek party (Garrett has some here), but I can tell you that our 60-odd guests ate that whole goat (seasoned with salt, thyme, chile flakes, celery seed and garlic, then splashed with lemon juice) faster than I could carve it. I think even a vegetarian tried some. It was like piranhas.
Good thing I also had a big batch of those Spanish goat sausages. No pictures again, but I served them as grilled sandwiches with sorrel leaves, caramelized onions and good mustard. Pretty damn good, I’d say.
Party over, that left Holly and I with the private parts of the goat.
What I’m talking about are the parts of the goat I wanted to save for us, rather than serve at a public gathering. Were you thinking of something else, perhaps? Anyway… Yesterday I fixed up a mixed grill of the goat’s heart, kidneys and tenderloins, plus a couple Greek pork sausages and some spring onions.
I get heart so rarely I tend to cook it the same way every time: I trim it of fat, cut it flat and then pound the heart with a mallet between two pieces of waxed paper to make cutlets. Heart is flavorful but dense, so it benefits from the tenderizing action of the mallet.
As for the kidneys, they require a bit more thought. Goat kidneys are itty bitty, just morsels when split and grilled. I like kidneys a lot, especially grilled, but as they are a filtering organ it helps to soak them in milk for a day beforehand.
To prep them, start by peeling the membrane off the outside. Then split them lengthwise with a sharp knife. Inside you will see a network of white stuff, which is hard and crunchy — cut it out with a pair of scissors (kidneys are very slippery). Soak for a day in milk, then for a few hours in a mixture of olive oil, lemon juice and garlic.
Thread the kidneys on skewers — this helps prevent them from falling through the rack on the grill — and grill over high heat for 5-8 minutes; you want the interior just a little pinkish.
Grill the heart the same way, and the tenderloin will take care of itself.
How was it? Each meat had its own texture and flavor: Tenderloin is, well, tender, the heart is dense, full of flavor and a bit chewy, and the kidneys are crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. What’s not to love?