Get Your Goat
The globally popular meat is most easily found at local taquerias, in a peppery Jaliscan stew called birria.
Thursday, March 14, 2013
Goat is a starring meat in all sorts of colorful and spice-loving cuisines, including Indian, Middle Eastern, North African, Mediterranean, Korean, South American, Mexican and Caribbean. So why is it so hard to find on American menus?
The fancy name for adult goat meat is “chevon.” In Spanish it’s chivo. It’s higher in protein than beef but even leaner than chicken, which means it needs slow, low-heat cooking for moisture and tenderness. And it’s got a distinct gaminess that’s closest to lamb but even more pungent; a New York Times foodie piece calls it “jungle lamb.”
Local meat maven Jonathan Roberts, aka PigWizard, says the relative rarity of local goat cuts may relate to the federal requirement that retail meats come from USDA-inspected slaughterhouses. Goat isn’t often done at that level.
“Lots of goats are eaten in the area,” he says. “It’s just that most of them are slaughtered on the farm for personal consumption.”
If you’re burly enough to slaughter your own, you can find goats for sale on Craigslist or look for signs on the road in Prunedale. Jamie Collins of Serendipity Farms, who raises goats on her Aromas plot (and is bottle-feeding three newborn kids following the death of their mama goat from birth complications), is one of those hard-core homesteaders. “I have a freezer full of goat,” she Facebook messages. “In fact, I’m crock-potting a leg of goat right now!”
If you prefer your goat already butchered, don’t expect to find it at mainstream grocery stores. The Del Rey Oaks Safeway doesn’t carry it, and the Monterey Whole Foods only does around holidays or by special order. Latino and Middle Eastern ethnic markets are a better bet: Mi Pueblo (1712 Fremont Blvd., Seaside, 408-493-0114) offers chivo at $4.69 per pound, and Khan’s Mediterranean Halaal Market (825 Hamilton Ave., Seaside, 392-1100) carries fresh goat at $7.99 per pound.
And if you want your goat cooked for you? Good luck finding it on an upscale local menu. Indian spots Ambrosia and Indian Summer don’t offer goat meat; Mediterranean favorites Epsilon and Dametra Cafe don’t either. Goat specials can occasionally be had at Mundaka or the Cachagua General Store; some caterers will serve it on request.
But it seems local Mexican joints have the lockdown on regular goat-meat offerings. It’s usually in the form of a potent stew called birria: a Jaliscan special-occasion dish made from a peppery broth and chopped chunks of goat meat.
Comparing the birria from four Seaside taquerias, I discover the stew is subject to wide culinary interpretation.
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Mariscos Puerto Nuevo (580 Broadway Ave., Seaside, 583-0411) offers birria on weekends only – call about Friday availability – with tortillas, rice, beans, onion, cilantro and lemons ($9.99). Generous hunks of goat float in a deep bowl, the boneless meat fairly tender. I find the oily broth to be rather thin and weak-flavored, suitably salty but lacking spice.
La Tortuga (1257 Fremont Blvd., Seaside, 899-8429) also serves birria on the weekend only, though when I stop by on a Sunday, the special is listed as chivo al horno (baked goat, $9.99). The waiter assures me it’s the same deal, and my takeout comes in several parts: a clamshell of rice, beans, guacamole and thin goat fillets; a soup container of thick red chili broth; and a rollup of corn tortillas. The meat is tenderized and spiced with sweet peppers, and the choice cuts don’t involve the fatty and gristly pieces I encounter in the other contenders. The broth is substantial but imparts a certain levity – just a bit sweet with a subtle bite. The contrast is delightful.
Garcia’s Taqueria (1022 Broadway Ave., Seaside, 394-7294) has birria ($8.99) chalked on the specials board on a recent Sunday evening. The meat is presented on the bone, including chopped-up rib and thigh cuts. The goat’s so tender it slides right off, fatty and flavorful. The broth is thick and deep burgundy in color, presenting a sort of brooding and smoky flavor with more peppery kick than the others – maybe just a bit too much.
Rosa’s La Villa Taqueria (766 Broadway Ave., Seaside, 920-4979) is a rare spot listing birria ($12.95) on the menu, including weekdays. It’s billed as “a traditional Guadalajara specialty made from my uncle’s special recipe,” served in a guajillo pepper sauce. The goat is well braised and tender, served in hearty chunks on the bone. But the sauce – only a small amount is dribbled over the meat – is a disappointment, watery and short on flavor.
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Unfortunately, three of the four (Tortuga, Rosa’s and Garcia’s) pack our takeout in polystyrene foam, which is banned in Seaside as an environmental no-no. And a week of birria overload has my family ready for a new recipe next time we go goat – Greek-style chops, maybe, or Indian curry. The meat, decadent as lamb, deserves upscale treatment beyond the casual stews, but we just might have to do that at home. And if we want to source the freshest cuts? Time for a drive to Prunedale.