Recently, everyone from Mark Bittman to Michael Pollan and our own Andrew Zimmern has been making a strong pitch for goat meat as an environmentally sound alternative to factory-farmed proteins — one that, lamentably, hasn’t quite caught on here in the United States, despite the fact that goat is one of the most widely eaten meats in the world. As Zimmern told the Baltimore Sun: “It’s delicious, and it’s inexpensive, but goat is like soccer in America. It’s growing. We like it, but we don’t get it.” Here in the Twin Cities, the goat is indeed gaining ground and — though demand may originally have been driven by our growing East Indian and African populations — slowly trip-trapping its way into mainstream menus and kitchens.
“That’s a change: It used to be only ethnic food,” says Larry Jacoby of Shepherd Song Farm, a local goat producer. Today Jacoby’s goats are ordered by mail, sold at the Mississippi Market (ground $10.49 / lb, stew $13.49 / lb), and featured at popular restaurants around town. In fact, when we spoke, he’d just sold all of his goat racks, 15 of them, to chef Sarah Master for a special at Barbette.
According to Jacoby, the beauty of the goat as an “alternative protein” is four-fold — it’s relatively easy on the land, it eats what we don’t, it’s good for us, and it’s tasty. He begins by telling us how a cow’s foot, at five or six inches, will spread out when it stands and walks, damaging the crown of the grass — the base of the plant, at the root — as it goes. Even worse, a grazing beef, as Jacoby says, will wrap its tongue around a chunk of grass, give it a pull, and take out the roots and all. “That’s kind of hard on a pasture,” he notes.
By comparison, goats are lighter animals and have dainty feet that do not damage the grass. And contrary to popular belief, goats are picky eaters, browsers who prefer to eat up first — leaves, ivy, bark — and then down at the grasses. “Goats are kind of like a lawn mower,” he says. “I always tell people that, when we put the goats out to pasture, I grab their lips and pull them down to the grass and let them snap back to the height I want the grass to be when they’re done — they find this confusing, but I do try to show them where to stop.”
Goats are not good feedlot animals because of this predilection for greenery. “You can make them eat grain — make them eat bad — if you choose to do it, but they just don’t do well,” Jacoby says. “Poison ivy, young burdock, thistles, nettle, box elder leaves — all those things you consider negative, are like candy to them. And, of course, your flowers too. Their digestive system is designed to break down leaves and grass and extract value from it. And that’s our deal with them: You’re going to eat food we can’t eat to produce food we can eat. It’s very environmentally sound.”
Goat meat is considered a red meat, but according to the USDA, it’s lower in cholesterol and fat than chicken, beef, and pork, and has about the same amount of protein. Jacoby says that goat can be used just about anywhere that beef is — he likes it ground up in a spaghetti sauce — but be sure you get meat from a goat that was butchered at 14 months or younger. “Goat meat is very delicate, really, unless you eat an old animal. That old buck goat is going to take a lot of spices and garlic,” he says. “Actually, people don’t like to hear it, but bad goat is like good venison.”
When it comes to eating exotic or game meats, it’s always tempting to make comparisons to flavors we know, but they don’t really hold up. “Flavor-wise, goat has that pungent quality that lamb has, but it’s like when people say that rabbit tastes like chicken; it’s not true,” says Kristin Tombers of Clancey’s Meats & Fish in Linden Hills. “People say goat tastes like lamb, but it’s just not a good enough qualifier. It’s most similar in structure and fat content, but also like bison is to beef, goat is to lamb — it has a little bit more earthiness to it. Earthy and nutty, that’s what I think.”
The butcher’s favorite goat cut is a blade chop, which she says is more tasty for its bone and its fat content. Liz Kaplin (below), one of the shop’s butchers, took a couple out of the case and held them up to a lamb chop — by comparison, the marbling in the goat chop was much deeper. They were beautiful, so we took them home and pan-fried them in butter with salt and pepper. The chops were just the right amount of earthy, not pungent but very flavorful and surprisingly tender.
Clancey’s has offered goat since it opened, nine years ago. They get one or two whole goats from a local producer, most recently Thunder Ridge Ranch, every other Tuesday, and offer rib chops ($22 / lb), bone-in leg ($11 / lb), and boneless leg ($12 / lb). “Wednesday or Thursday, we’re generally down to two shanks, so they go fast,” says Tombers. “It has been a rapid transition from not selling enough to having a little market for it.”
From a butcher’s perspective, goat is an ideal “beard to tail” kind of meat. Tombers compares it to veal, which the shop was unable to continue carrying because it couldn’t use the whole animal, and so ended up with a bunch of “random parts in the freezer.” Conversely, the goat trim is used in products like curry goat sausage, a huge hit. “If we can’t use up the spare parts, we lose money, so the goat has worked out really well.”
Tombers has also seen a variety of consumers buying goat meat. “Everybody likes to try it — we get a lot of people in here just grilling up the loin and rib chops,” she says. “And sometimes we get requests for bone-in for the Indian dishes, which is sometimes harder for us to do because the bones end up so tiny, but mostly that’s for the curries, stews, and tagines.”
Talmatie Cheryl Janousek has been cooking curried goat since she was a very young girl. Although she grew up in Trinidad until age 16, when she moved to the United States, her grandparents were from India, and she learned to cook the traditional way. “We cook freehand,” she says, “Indian girls are supposed to spend time in the kitchen with the grandmother and mom, so they learn to cook by observing and practicing — by getting their hands in there and helping. We never cook from recipes.”
Her daughters — ages nine and 10 — love to cook and can make goat curry and even roti, the unleavened Indian bread. In Trinidad, goat is a popular and expensive meat. “It’s one of the meats you’d serve when you have special guests,” she says, “because the meat is rare, you don’t get much meat from one animal, and because of the flavor.”
Janousek, who works in the Minneapolis medical community, usually gets her bone-in goat meat at Holy Land Deli at Midtown Global Market ($7 / lb). If you buy your meat there or at a smaller, Halal butcher, she recommends being very specific with your order — otherwise, you may end up with a pile of bones and fat and not much meat. “I say: I will take a thigh, cut it up small, and I want lean meat — and it’s okay, I will pay extra for the lean meat. And then you just establish a relationship by always shopping at the same place.”
She usually makes the following curry freehand, but transcribed it for our use. It renders a deliciously spicy stew, in which the goat meat becomes mild and very, very tender at the bone. “When my grandmother came from India, this is how she used to make it,” she says, “except that she made it from scratch. She would make her own yellow curry and garam masala, and grind it in an old-fashioned stone. These recipes were passed on to me from my grandparents, but I just get the packaged curry and masala because it is more convenient.”
Talmatie’s Curried Goat Stew
2 lbs lean goat meat cut up in about 1-2 inch pieces
1/2 onion, chopped (set one tbsp aside)
1/4 c fresh cilantro, chopped
4-5 garlic cloves, crushed
2-3 fresh, red chili peppers
1 1/2 tbsp garam masala
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
1/2 tsp salt or to taste
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1/4 tsp fenugreek seeds
3 tbsp yellow curry powder
A pinch of cumin seeds
2-3 cups chicken stock or to taste
1/4 tsp ground cumin
- Prepare the goat meat by trimming off fat and tendons, and then pressure-cooking the meat for 10 minutes. The meat should be in the water; this will create a milder flavor and more tender meat.
- Drain the meat, and mix well with the onion, cilantro, garlic, peppers, garam masala, turmeric, and salt. Cover and refrigerate for 1-2 hours.
- Once the meat has marinated, begin the next step. Heat the oil in a large non-stick pan or Dutch oven to medium, and then add the cumin and fenugreek seeds and roast until golden brown.
- Add the remaining one tablespoon of onion and cook until golden – the spices will turn almost black, but that’s okay.
- Add the curry powder and cook for 30 seconds, stirring constantly so that it doesn’t burn.
- Add the goat meat mixture. Raise the heat to high for a few minutes to get the mixture cooking, and then reduce it to medium for about 15 minutes.
- Add the stock, and simmer gently for 30 to 40 minutes or until the meat is tender.
- Stir in the ground cumin and serve over basmati rice.