One summer a few years ago, I spent some time on a dairy farm in northern Italy. The farm, called Finocchio Verde (“green fennel”), produces sheep and goat cheese, so the bulk of my work was milking and pasturing sheep and goats. As one does, I got attached to one of the goats, a baby boy named Pistolino. While the others were munching grass and wild herbs, Pistolino would curl up in my lap to hang out, or allow me to carry him around. I wrote to the farmers later that year and, half in jest, inquired about Pistolino. “He was delicious,” they wrote back.
Accounting for roughly 70 percent of all red meat consumed worldwide, goat meat beats beef and lamb by a good margin. Its popularity extends from India and Pakistan to the Middle East and Africa, Mexico, South America, and the Caribbean, and, alas, to a farmhouse in Piedmont, Italy. In the United States, where a trendy sandwich without goat cheese is like a cake without frosting, goat meat is still mostly consumed by ethnic communities. And while it is popping up more on fine dining menus as chefs push sustainability, goat is an easy and rewarding project for the home cook. Versatile, flavorful, sustainable, and healthy, there’s very little goat doesn’t have going for it.
Goat lends itself to slow-cooking — braising, roasting, and stewing. It can be grilled, but only as long as the meat comes from a kid goat (three to five months old), otherwise it will be tough. Goat is very lean meat, and many cuts do not take well to the open flame. Better to enjoy a tender, juicy final product than test your luck.
Whole legs, for example, are perfect for braising just like lamb, though to compare the taste of the two animals would be an oversimplification. While a goat’s flavor deepens with age, goat is generally milder and more nuanced than its wooly counterpart. The enormous geographic range of goat’s popularity means you can draw from myriad flavors and accompaniments when planning a recipe. Take cues from the countries where goat dishes are prevalent and keep things traditional.
In Greater Boston, it’s not difficult to purchase goat meat. Though some new-generation butchers like M.F. Dulock in Somerville carry the meat, and specialty butchers like Savenor’s special-order it, ethnic markets are a good place to start, and the meat is less expensive.
Waltham India Market is one place to go. Once you’ve worked your way through the sprawling produce, and the well-stocked dry goods aisles, the butcher in the back is the go-to guy for goat. Common cuts such as chunks of shoulder are displayed in the case, but you can request another cut. Note that goat is often sold on the bone. This makes eating it slightly less dainty, but the bones provide a lot of the best flavor that comes out in the cooking process.
On a stretch of Prospect Street outside Inman Square, a confusingly named little store beckons customers with signs marked “GOAT” on the window. It has two names — Al Bara Market and Al Hoda Market — both written on the storefront (one in English and the other in Arabic) and both routinely used.
In addition to a well-stocked selection of Middle Eastern and North African dry goods, Al Bara is a full-service halal butcher, and delivers on the promise of goat. The goat leg sold to me by manager Laith Albehacy came from an animal he killed himself at a slaughterhouse in Athol.
So this interaction isn’t confined to grass-fed meat at farmers’ markets. Albehacy purchases the animals from farmers at an auction in Littleton on Tuesdays, and slaughters according to the halal guidelines four times a week.
Meat at Al Bara is as fresh as it gets.
Goat is available at Al Bara Market/Al Hoda Market, 304 Prospect St., Cambridge, 617-441-7854; M.F. Dulock Pasture-Raised Meats, 201a Highland Ave., Somerville, 617-666-1970; Savenor’s Market, 160 Charles St., Boston,
617-723-6328 and 92 Kirkland St., Cambridge, 617-576-6328; and Waltham India Market, 315 Moody St., Waltham, 781-899-6018.