It was moist, shreddy, a little gamey perhaps, tender and quite distinctive and also quite divine alongside the lush creamy gnocchi speckled with herbs, the salty capers and the salsa verde.
I was eating goat up at Bamboo, chef/ owner Greg Pieper’s elegant, oasis-like restaurant in the Casuarina resort of Santai. And I was loving every luscious mouthful. Later Greg came out to chat, telling me that he had cooked the goat long and slow, 130oC for about six hours with spices like juniper berries. He had had goat on his menu last year and no one was interested; this year it has been running out the door and in fact a wedding party booked for the following evening had specifically requested it.
Which came as a surprise for Byron Bay chef Jade Campbell-Scott of Cafe One One One when I later related the story. Some years previously he had offered it on his menu a few times – done Greek-style as a braise after marinating it in yoghurt and lemon – but the interest was never really there.
Perhaps the interest Greg is now experiencing is to do, generally, with a public ever more curious about food, better educated, prepared to take risks. Even so, goat meat recipes are few and far between in the more popular food magazines like ‘Gourmet Traveller’ and ‘Delicious’ – which itself suggests that eating goat is not yet mainstream.
Why is it? At first I decided it was that emotional response many of us have to eating animals employed as pets – rabbits and horses spring to mind – or who have faces too sweet to contemplate the cooking and consuming of what is attached to them. But then cows have the sweetest of faces; lambs are positively adorable; ducks are too cute to mention – so why without a second thought do I blithely proceed to devour them with glee?
The goats Greg has on his current menu are Yarrabee Boers and they come from
one of the largest and most established studs in Queensland, located on the Darling Downs. Boer goats, as the name suggests, originated in South Africa in the early 1900s when farmers began to select their goats for meat qualities. It is in fact the only goat breed that has been specifically bred for meat and it is recognised as the world’s premium meat goat. (The word ‘boer’ means ‘farmer’ in Afrikaans.) These goats were first introduced into Australia in the 1990s; Australia is now the largest exporter of goat meat and live goats in the world.
As a source of low-fat nutrition, goat meat is magnificent. It is as lean as chicken. However, precisely due to its natural leanness, there are two important rules for cooking it: namely to cook it slowly (at a low temperature) and to cook it with moisture. Thyme, olive oil, citrus and both red and white wines lend themselves beautifully to the meat. There are two types – capretto (Italian for kid goat), which is meat from very young milk-fed goats between four and eight weeks of age, and Chevon which is the meat from heavier goats who are six to 18 months old. And it is often said that the former resembles spring lamb in flavour, whereas the latter is more like venison.
The cuts are all very similar to lamb – leg, rump, rack, shoulder and diced. Wholly Smoked Butchery in Byron Bay occasionally has goat meat in stock, and the stunning new Howard’s Butchery and Deli in Lismore has it too, so next time you feel the stirrings of culinary adventurousness, give it a go! Drawing the line, perhaps, at goat’s head soup.