Goat: Coming Soon to a High-End Menu Near You

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Commence with the "roast kid" jokes. Photo: iStock Photo

People are afraid of new meats, we get that. But seeing as it's Fall Preview week at Grub Street, we thought we'd call your attention to a trend that's been brewing throughout 2010: the appearance of goat meat dishes on non-ethnic, and even high-end menus. Long embraced in Jamaican, African, and Middle Eastern cuisines, goat has both critics and foochebags alike talking up its marvelous flavor, and chefs are responding from coast to coast.

Goat's new appeal seems due in part to chefs discovering the delicate flavor of goats being raised alongside grass-fed cows at places like Marin Sun Farms in Northern California. Ranchers have been trying to mimic nature, pasturing goats and cows together, since goats finish the mowing job and tend to eat the rougher brush that cows won't touch. They're also slaughtering the animals at a younger age, which yields more tender and mild meat.

"Goat has a wonderful earthy flavor to it, reminiscent of lamb, but slightly rounder," says chef Christopher Kostow of the Michelin two-starred Restaurant at Meadowood in the Napa Valley. "Like lamb, it lends itself well to spice, but being milder, it's better suited to summer flavors. Our guests often say that it's their first time ever trying goat and they love it."

It's not like good goat has been easy to find, however. Even Latino markets where goat meat has consistently been in demand typically only stock frozen, imported goat from New Zealand. Mexco DF chef Luis Contreras describes that kind of goat as "gamy and sticky."

But the goat on menus like One Market and Oliveto in Oakland is nothing of the sort. Michael Bauer spotlighted a whey-poached goat dish earlier this year in his four-star review of Meadowood. He described the meat as "tender and mild as chicken, yet with a sweet earthiness that sets it apart." Left Bank in Larkspur hosted a head-to-tail Goat Night event last night, featuring goat sausage, a rack of goat, and a braised goat shank dish.

Two sure signs that more Americans are loving goat are a report earlier this year of a goat meat shortage, and the upcoming, first ever goat meat conference in Tallahassee, Florida on September 12. Make sure to mark your calendars.

Chefs from Chicago, New York, and elsewhere are also getting braver and trying to sell young, tender goat in various, high-end preparations. Top Chef season 4 winner Stephanie Izard opened her new restaurant The Girl & the Goat in Chicago earlier this year, and she features escargot & goatballs, a smoked goat pizza, and bucatini with goat, veal & beef sugo. And one of the reigning culinary kings of Chicago, Rick Bayless, uses suckling goat in his barbacoa.

Philadelphia chef Marc Vetri recently featured a roasted capretto (baby goat) dish on his summer menu at Vetri. In New York, goat has popped up only a few places so far, including Aldea, where chef George Mendes serves shoulder and belly with paprika and herb pistou; Scarpetta — which is opening an L.A. branch soon and likely bringing its signature roast kid dish with it — and Brooklyn's Fatty 'Cue, which recently roasted a whole goat for a tasting event, indoctrinating a gang of gastro-hipsters in the process.

There may be reasons to go goat beyond mere taste. An Alternet article from earlier this year points to goats as a more environmentally friendly livestock option to cows, because they produce smaller amounts of greenhouse gases. And San Francisco-based 7x7 already made the bold proclamation that 2010 was the year of goat belly, and we should expect to see it supplant the clichéd pork belly any day now.

Earlier: Does Stephanie Izard Fear the Goat Meat Shortage? [Grub Street]
Bauer Adores Meadowood's Goat [Grub Street]