by Peter Moore
Goat is not so much an acquired taste as an abandoned one. People have been eating goat for centuries, just not so much in America. It’s lean and gamey and outside the comfort zone of modern American food. Middle Eastern and Mexican communities have always cooked goat, but it wasn’t that easy to find—certainly not in the supermarket meat counter.
Then, a few years ago, goat meat started making its way into food trend pieces. Bill Niman (founder of Niman Ranch, but no longer connected with them) began selling goat through his BN Ranch. I started seeing it in restaurants and artisanal butcher shops.
It’s still not what you’d call common, but you can find it. I picked up a two-and-a-half pound leg at Marin Sun and thought I’d make birria for this issue.
Birria is the traditional Mexican preparation of goat from Jalisco. The trick is to cook the goat until it’s falling apart but not completely dry and tasteless. (That’s where the lean becomes a problem.)
The solution is to seal the meat as you cook it. The pre-Hispanic version involved basically cooking the seasoned goat in a pot sealed with mud or clay in a fire pit and waiting for a while. It still takes a while, but we’ve moved beyond fire pits filled with hot stones.
2 lbs goat meat, cut off the bone into chunks
For spice mix:
Three or four dried chilies (I use Ancho & Espellette from Quetzal Farm, but you can use other dried chilies)
1 tbs coriander
1 tbs oregano
1 tbs Alleppo chile pepper
1 tbs ground cumin
1 tbs granulated garlic
1 tbs Oaktown Spice Shop Sweet Heat
1 tbs salt
One head Moon Fox Farm garlic, smashed
Three bay leaves
1 cup Gattonelli tomato juice (or water)
For pot sealing:
2 cups masa harina
1 cup water
Chop up the dried chilies, and toast them in a dry pan over medium heat, until they start smelling. Put them in a blender, with the tomato juice (or water) and the spices, and take them for a spin.
Rub the meat with the spice rub, and let sit in the fridge for a couple of hours, or overnight.
When you’re ready to cook, preheat the oven to 275°. Mix the masa harina and the water until you have a stiff dough, and roll the masa out into ropes.
Take a big Dutch oven and put a vegetable steamer in it. Pour water into the pot until it comes up to the level of the steamer. Put the marinated goat on the steamer. Put the masa ropes around the top of the pot, and then put the lid on to seal it.
At this point, the birria should be pretty much falling apart. Shred it with a couple of forks and reserve. Take the steamer out, and strain the water, which should still be close to the amount you put in. Reduce the broth over a high heat in a pan until it’s a little syrupy.
Cassoulet is a traditional dish of Southern France, a warm bubbly concoction of beans, pork, lamb, garlic sausages, and duck confit with a crust of bread crumbs and fat. But what if you went for birria instead of the lamb, used Rancho Gordo Sangre de Toro beans, Fifth Quarter Chorizo sausages, and crumbled corn bread instead of bread crumbs?
Hold that thought, and I’ll give you the recipe in the next column.
Peter Moore lives, shops, and cooks in Berkeley, California. A co-founder of San Francisco’s Roxie Cinema, he worked in the film world for many years until the lure of food drew him into the world of professional cooking. Shortly thereafter, the lure of day shifts and a medical plan drew him out of restaurants, but his love of cooking remained. He is currently an intern at The Crucible in Oakland and an Operations and Development Associate for the SF Silent Film Festival.