Since last Monday night when I attended a master class in butchering and cooking goat, I’ve had goat 6 different ways. Up until then, the only goat that I’d ever eaten was Mexican birria, which I thought was good but not phenomenal. (¡Pero mi amigos, me gusto mucho la comida Mexicana!) The class was organized by Women Chefs and Restaurateurs (WCR), a professional women’s group that I belong to. About 20 of us gathered in Emeryville, CA (near Berkeley) at Paulding and Company, an industrial kitchen space.
At “Got Your Goat,” we learned about sustainable ranching from Jeannie McCormack and Al Medvick, the farmers who raise the goats on a ranch near Sacramento. Then Café Rouge Executive Chef and Owner Marsha McBride and the restaurant’s butcher, Scott Brennan, gave us a great lesson on how to break down the bones on a goat and cook it. If you’re not familiar with butchery terms, ‘breaking down the bones’ refers to the act of cutting an animal carcass into parts to be used in cooking.
An electric band saw is typically used but Scott and Marsha left theirs at their Berkeley restaurant. They brought a hack saw and we all went to town. Cleavers, boning, paring and chef knives were used too! Then we got to taste the goat. (Funny how goat meat is presented as ‘goat’ whereas beef, pork, lamb stand for the flesh of cows, pigs, and sheep. Somewhat strange) The four goat dishes we tasted that night included a rich goat patties wrapped in caul fat, spicy goat merguez sausage, slow-baked goat with goat milk, fennel and potatoes, and grilled goat chops. The flavor? Definitely not goaty like goat cheese. Not gamy nor rich like lamb either. In fact, it was like lamb light. When butchering the flesh, my hands didn’t pick up any gamy odors.
I didn’t grow up eating goat, and the goat sold at Asian markets often looks somewhat creepy to me. It's frozen and sawed into unattractive pieces. Up until last Monday, I’d never cooked goat myself. Before going to the class I looked up goat recipes in my Vietnamese cookbooks. In the Vietnamese culinary repertoire, goat is a special occasion meat. However, if you were Hindu in Vietnam, you’d eat goat a lot of times as pork and beef weren’t your meat for religious purposes. The typical Viet goat preparations include carpaccio, hot pots, multilayered simmered dishes, stir-fries, grilled morsels and curry.
The grilled goat and curry recipes in a number of the Vietnamese cookbooks caught my eye. At the end of the night, I bought some of the meat that we’d butchered, a rack and some boneless leg meat to make goaty Viet dishes at home.
Last Tuesday night, I cut up the rack into chops (just like we did in class) and marinated them in a Vietnamese seasoning paste of galangal juice, lemongrass, garlic, shallot, sesame seeds, and chile flakes. Goat is often paired with galangal (rieng) in Vietnamese cooking as the meat tends to be strongly flavored. The sesame seeds lend richness, the lemongrass flavors, and the shallot helps to break down the fibers and make the flesh tender.
Rory and I went out for our daily walk and when we got back, we lit up the grill and cooked up the chops. There was a nice layer of fat and very thin skin left on the goat. The fat was fragrant and the skin cooked up rather crispy chewy. It was finger-licking good, either alone or dipped in a tart-savory dipping sauce of salt, pepper, and lime juice. So this was goat dish #5. The goat curry was the sixth dish of the week.
If you have a goat recipe to share, do let the rest of us know!
Grilled Goat Chops with Galangal and Lemongrass
The main seasonings below are pretty typical for many Vietnamese goat preparations — galangal (or ginger), lemongrass, and garlic. Galangal is available at many Southeast Asian markets and health food stores too. Buy it fresh, cut it into chunks and freeze what you don't need.
To render galangal juice, grate about 1 1/2 inches unpeeled galangal on the finest holes of a box grater. Transfer to a fine mesh strainer and press to extract the juice. If you don’t have galangal, substitute ginger. Feel free to use a rack of lamb or lamb chops instead of goat.
Serves 2 generously or 3 moderately as a main course
1 rack of goat, about 1 3/4 pounds
1 tablespoon toasted white (hulled) sesame seeds
1 teaspoon light brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons chopped lemongrass
2 large cloves garlic, chopped
1 small shallot, chopped (about 2 1/2 tablespoons total)
1 tablespoon galangal juice
Generous 1/4 teaspoon dried red chile flakes
1 tablespoon fish sauce
2 tablespoon oil
1. Cut the rack into individual chops. Aim for the space between the rib bones. Set aside.
2. Put the sesame seeds, brown sugar, and salt into an electric mini chopper. Process into a fine, sandy texture. Add the lemongrass and process until finely textured; it will look like a blizzard as the machine works. Add the garlic, shallot, galangal juice, dried red chile flakes, fish sauce and oil. Run the machine, pausing to scrape down the sides as necessary, to create a creamy, aromatic paste.
3. Transfer to a bowl. Taste and adjust the seasoning to create a flavor that’s slightly saltier than you’re comfortable with. The end result will be less intense as you lose some of the flavor during grilling.
Add the chops and combine to coat each one well. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside for 1 to 2 hours.
4. Preheat the grill to high and then grill the chops for about 6 to 8 minutes, moving them around the grill often to prevent over charring. I usually aim for medium rare. Knick the flesh to test, if you’re not sure. Serve immediately with the dipping sauce.