Friday, February 1, 2013

Off The Beaten Track: Brooklyn Gets My Goat

Jen Walter, our guest blogger this week, lives in NYC with her hubby Willy and their three omnivorous kids in an apartment the size of a breadbox, in a neighborhood that holds the Eggroll and Eggcream Festival, in a city that boasts more than 4,000 restaurants. Still, they order take-out from the same five places. 

The email read simply: “Goat? Sunday.”
Some friends you go out for drinks with. Some friends you meet for coffee. Other friends say, "Let's butcher a goat." And you say, "Of course." And in the future, I’ll know to ask, “Should I bring the hacksaw?”

I’m a food lover but by no means a stunt eater. 
My husband, Willy, is braver but has been brought down by many a global streetcart. My only line-item rejection is organ meat. I didn’t know I would need another line to reject tartar raw.

Willy and Goat.
The setting: a tony Brooklyn condo overlooking a historic cemetery. Despite endless glasses of sweet, cold white wine and familiar cocktail chatter, the scene had the air of an elicit 19th century operating theater: curious amateurs surrounding a brightly lit workspace while the renderer-in-residence, a jaunty, hip butcher (“butchster?”) named Adam, maintained an erudite and informative patter of anatomical, cultural, and culinary observations, tossing off fleshy terms of art like “dressing percentage” (remarkably low for goat) and, um, “hot carcass weight.”

Our goat—the night’s centerpiece, party favor, ice-breaker—was one of three slaughtered the week before by our hosts, Pete and Heather, and hung for a week in an undisclosed location nearby. While we hadn’t made the guest list for the slaughter, their colorful account—including the bolt gun, the variations on throat-slitting, the carcass inflation, and the hide-stripping—made us feel like we had. There is, apparently, more than one way to skin a goat.

Adam and his tools.
Adam dexterously set to work, an obvious labor of love that would take him the better part of two hours, occasionally wielding a delicate, razor-sharp boning knife, at times pulling out an oversized hacksaw and even reaching for a wicked camping hatchet. While he takes obvious pride in the exactitude with which he can break down a carcass, Adam was more than happy to let the dabblers try their hand, and so I had a go at splitting the carcass and sawing thigh bones. 

While Adam reduces Goat 1 from a Golden Retriever–sized, stiff-legged (and surprisingly dry) body to a couple of coolers of good cuts, a bowl of stock bones, and a scant amount of waste, Chef (and ice cream savant) Billy Barlow works in the kitchen behind him transforming Goats 2 and 3 into a series of delicious “goat-themed” appetizers and dinner courses—and even dessert, a culinary challenge of barnyard proportions.

As the first appetizer touched down on the edge of the counter with the adjacent goat still looking very much like a complete animal minus a head, feet and skin, I face my first-ever taste of goat.

I’ve never had goat because I am afraid it’s gamey, like lamb. Goat meat is lower in fat than chicken, higher in protein than beef. I should be curious, but I’m terrified there’ll be mayonnaise in this meal, which is a total deal breaker. I don’t even like cheese. Or white food. In the presence of a group of foodies, farmers, and chefs, I am the Weakest Link. You can tell because I’m nervous, and my jokes are flat. They’re all jovial, good with knives, menu planning, brining.

Unsure crowd reaction.

A little goat meatball amuse bouche, plumped with goat milk and served in a wide spoon, is my inaugural taste. I have to steel myself as if awaiting a stiff blow, but it’s... good. Tangy. Not overwhelming. That, with a glass of chilled sweet port. Two firsts.

"Negimaki" close to carcass.
Grilled goat tacos and two wee sausagesa Thai-style as big 
as my pinkie, and a sash of “Negimaki” meat wrapped around 
a sake-compressed Fuji appleare delicious. Really, dipping 
sauce is the key.

I relax. The wine, the conversation, the butcher now kneeling on 
the counter to unhinge various joints, swapping saws, knives, and sharpening stones. This is casual. We always do this, right? Stand around in someone’s kitchen, cracking jokes, drinking sherry, manhandling a carcass?

The most popular dish, Kitfo, that I would not try.
The chef introduces a serving bowl and hands out spoons. “Dig in!” It’s Goat Loin “Kitfo,” hand-minced cured goat loin warmed in berbere-spiced goat butter and topped with crispy shallots and sliced birds-eye chili. A portion of the mixture is raw, a portion cooked to medium, and a portion cooked well done.

I wuss out. I have to draw the line somewhere, and I draw that line at raw, pink, hand-minced goat meat, crumbly like taco meat.

Obviously, this is then the most popular dish of the night. People are apologizing for digging back in and mmm-ing and throwing elbows to get another spoonful. I’m half irritated at them for liking it so much, half mad at myself for not being able to just dive in. Willy says, “I don’t want to eat anything else all night.”

Left out and sour, I revive for the salad course: mixed chicories with goat bacon, young goat cheese, and warm mustard-anchovy vinaigrette. Honestly, it’s the first anchovy of my life as well.

Cool-ass Billy and the entree.
This meal is a lot like Driver’s Ed—slowly cruising up to speed, only to arbitrarily hit the brakes, over and over. For the pasta course: garganelli with a “nose to tail” ragu. Goat cheek, tongue, heart, liver, kidney and tail. Garnished with crispy sage, smoked and aged goat gouda, and a … Goat. Brain. Foam. I hit the dashboard. I try, I really do, and I enjoy several pieces of scraped-clean pasta tubes. “I think you ate some brains,” I tell myself. It’s with a mixture of pride and nausea.

For the entrée, the baby carrots and brussels sprouts roasted in goat fat are a rich, hearty hit. I like the scorched leg meat hit with a blowtorch, because I like the taste of char. Delicious. And that salsa! Almost like a garlicky chimichurri. I used the serving spoon to skim nearly all of it off the communal platter and serve myself.

The finale: Pink Lady Apple Hand Pie with goat fat pastry crust and goat’s milk caramel. The ice cream—phenomenal organic Blue Marble vanilla—did not have goat in it. 

My favorite dish.

Or this. Blue Marble Organic Ice Cream,
made by Billy Barlow, without goat.

Safe to say, we were as satisfied and stuffed as petting zoo goats. Maybe as swollen. Even the laughter had a little goat in it.

Grilled Goat Tacos (tenderized goat shoulder marinated in chilies, citrus and onion served with a pequin chili/charred scallion/pickled ramp/pumpkin seed salsa)

La Lot Goat Sausage (goat sausage seasoned with ginger, garlic, fish sauce and palm sugar, wrapped in Thai basil leaves, steamed then grilled, served with nuoc cham)

Goat Tenderloin “Negimaki” (goat tenderloin butterflied and wrapped around butternut squash and sake-compressed fuji apple, served with soy-sake dipping sauce)

Goat Loin “Kitfo” (hand-minced, cured goat loin warmed in berbere spiced goat butter and topped with crispy shallots and sliced birdseye chili) 

Salad Course: Mixed chicories (chicory, red endive, radicchio) with goat bacon, young goat cheese and a warm mustard-anchovy vinaigrette

Pasta Course: Garganelli with a “nose-to-tail” ragu of goat cheek, tongue, heart, liver, kidney and tail. Garnished with crispy sage, smoked and aged goat gouda, and a goat brain foam

Main Course: Long bone rack of “old goat” (the 7 year old) cooked sous vide and blowtorched. Charcoal rotisserie fermented goat leg. Baby carrots and brussels sprouts roasted in goat fat. Salsa verde

Dessert: Pink Lady Apple Hand Pie with goat fat pastry crust and goat’s milk caramel.


  1. So, this begs the question where does one obtain a goat for this purpose? Is it legal to slaughter one? I had an on-going discussion about the legalities of slaughtering lives animals with the staff of one of the Central Asian Embassies, their side insisting that their territory, their rules and laws, so they could kill a sheep if they chose...I pointed out their neighbors might frown upon the practice...

    Thanks for the post, I think you are more of a foodie than you admit to, given you were invited to the Goat Gathering at all!


    1. Not sure the legality, but it's pretty common in Miami to slaughter a pig for Noche Buena (Christmas Eve), goats and chickens for "other" uses....

    2. My guess is that it is a local thing...and there is a difference between Miami and Georgetown... ;-)

  2. Lamb is pretty much a staple in our house but I've never had it - or goat, for that matter - in so many different ways, and definitely not in the same meal. What a fun post And how do I land in invitation to the next feast? I'll skip the slaughtering part, thanks...

    Ritual lamb slaughtering is part of Iranian culture, but I've never known anyone to slaughter the animal themselves. In Tehran, the places that sell the goat slaughter it for you. So where do you buy a goat in NYC?

  3. Oh, my. What an amazing party. I grew up in a family that slaughtered its pork and beef. Well, the beef was sent out, but the pork butchering took place at home. We didn't try to eat it all in one meal, however! Once a friend came by on slaughtering day and was astounded to see a huge pot piled with sausage meat. Her question, "Are you having all that for dinner?" has remained a family joke. But I see from your post that it's not such a joke, after all.

    Thanks for posting. Hope you'll come again.

    1. Right! At our friends' place in Vermont, the beef is sent out because it's just too giant to handle at home. And you have to buy a whole side, left or right—not just specific cuts. Requires too much freezer space than we can handle, though. Thanks for your contribution! Jen

  4. Love it — that tale well told and the goat well eaten.

    Goat. I made its acquaintance through my Jamaican grad school roommate. I thought it was primitive... until I took my first bite. Now, I long for more, ever more, curry goat.

    Great piece, Jen Walter.

    — jules

  5. Thank you for such an interesting post, Jen! Like the others, I'm intrigued to know how the goat is obtained and I also want to know if this is a regular occurrence with your friends. I also want to know what their next party might be -- tofu?

  6. Reminds me of the time I walked into my host family's kitchen in Georgia and they had about 200 dead chickens they were plucking, chopping, cooking, and sorting for distribution--the son of the family had started a chicken processing business and like any good Georgian son was putting his mom and aunt to work for him.

  7. Thanks for these great comments and questions, all attached to great memories of your own experiences. These goats came from a planned slaughter at a farm upstate. But here in NYC, there are still a bunch of live kill markets where you can just pick your animal and have it slaughtered according to your beliefs. At the live market next to our place (recently knocked down for generic condos—soulless except for the thousands of animals haunting the place), you get your chicken, duck, rabbit, or goat slaughtered in accordance with kosher or halal rules. And a lot of Chinatown customers prefer the head left on.

    This was a special dinner, with a real chef and, like, professionals (!) in attendance—farmers, butchers, more chefs. We do a lot of collective eating, though. A huge cook-what-you-have candlelit dinner party with neighbors during the last days of Hurricane Sandy. Silly dinners with friends with kids: Appetizers-Only Dinner. And, yes, we love tofu.

    Thanks so much for your interest and recollections! Jen