It was a good night to get your goat on. On a recent Wednesday evening, I sat outside at the pretty, agave-framed patio at Olivia, James Holmes’ South Austin bistro devoted to local and seasonal ingredients. James (famous in these parts for cooking for rock stars, and worshiping local farmers with the same reverence) is known for his affection for offal, and signature dishes like venison tartare and antelope bolognese. However the star of that night’s particular tasting menu was goat (from Windy Hill Farm) and various ales from local brewer Thirsty Planet.
On the tasting menu, Holmes went far beyond cabrito, the popular South and West Texas method of cooking a young goat over fire, then finishing it a sealed vessel to retain moisture. Instead there was cheddar-beer soup with goat ham and rye bread, goat sausage and rillettes with pickled goat heart and vegetables, and my favorite, smoked goat ribs with potato-beet salad and an IPA-BBQ sauce. Dessert was a silky goat’s milk panna cotta with Szechuan pepper, sherry, and lemon, along with a stout milkshake.
“Growing up in Abilene, I never had the luxury of eating exotic fish or meats. We mostly ate steak, catfish, venison, and goat,” James told me. “I remember my dad smoking it for special occasions, and getting cabrito tacos from trucks. I think goat is coming back in a big way because people’s palates are broadening. And, working with young rancher Ty Wolosin from Windy Hill Farm, I know where my goat is coming from. To this day, I can’t drive past Llano without stopping at Cooper’s BBQ and getting a big hunk of cabrito—and gnawing it off the bone.”
Goat is, in fact, the most consumed protein in the world, but here it’s still predominantly embraced by Hispanic and Middle Eastern markets. As an underutilized ingredient poised for larger play from chefs, goat has been rumbling on the culinary horizon for several years. I actually wrote about it for The New York Times five years ago. With an earthy, delicate flavor (somewhere between dark meat turkey and a less gamey venison) and affinity for countless preparations and flavor profiles, its possibilities are endless.
By the looks of various new menus, though, this might just be the year of the goat. At The Capital Hotel’s Capital Bar & Grill, chef/local boy Travis McConnell (who just returned to Capital after a three year stint in San Francisco) has introduced a Grilled Local Goat with Red Pepper Piperade, and Roasted Peanut-Crispy Garlic Picada to the menu. Diners that want just a nibble can order the Goat Scotch Egg with Smokey Tomato Sauce. Maurepas Foods, a bar and restaurant in the Bywater in New Orleans, is serving goat tacos with pickled green tomatoes and cilantro harissa.
And, talk about spreading the gospel of goat, this month has been declared “Goat-Ober” at Hominy Grill in Charleston, featuring multi-course dinners of what chef Robert Stehling calls “the livestock of the future.” Stehling has been serving a rich, fragrant goat daube for some time. This month’s menu, a collaboration with a collaboration with Heritage Foods USA, a sustainable meat broker in New York, will include barbecued goat shoulder, grilled goat loin with goat cheese salad, and the Caribbean classic, goat’s head soup. If the latter is too far reaching for your tastes, there’s always the arugula and goat cheese salad.
What’s your favorite way to eat goat meat?