[Photographs: Chichi Wang]
Goat is not really nasty in any sense of the word, but it does happen to be underappreciated, underused, and misunderstood. I’ve gotten a lot of surprised responses over the years, for instance, when I mention that cashmere comes from goats. “Really?” people exclaim. “I always thought that cashmere was spun from mythic mountain-dwelling creatures somewhere in Asia.” Goats do dwell in mountains in Asia, but their existence on this planet is ubiquitous and their use in cookery, essential in most parts of the world. Around two-thirds of the world’s population eats goat as its primary meat in soups and stews, roasted, and cooked in curries.
Aside from being delicious, goat meat is good for you. In grams of fat per ounce, goat meat contains the same as that of a skinless chicken breast, and it has less than half the fat of lean beef or pork. A serving of goat meat has, in fact, even fewer calories than chicken. But wait! Why all this talk of less fat and fewer calories, you wonder? Isn’t the motto of The Nasty Bits that fat is flavor? This may be so, but recently I’ve been following my credo with a bit of moderation.
It all started a few weeks ago, when I joined a gym as part of a general attempt to be healthier in the coming year. On the first day I showed up to a cycling class donning sweatpants splotched with lard and duck fat. I was taken aback, to say the least, by how svelte my fellow gym members looked. As the cycling class progressed and I gradually lost all control of the lower half of my body, I began to suspect that I was, in fact, even more out of shape than I originally thought possible.
My suspicions were only confirmed the following week when I went in for my initial physical assessment. The trainer to whom I was assigned asked me a slew of questions about my lifestyle and eating habits (mostly sedentary and lots of pork, respectively, were my answers). From the drawers of her desk she retrieved a black pouch and pulled out a rather large set of calipers not unlike that which I’d use to fetch lobsters from a vat of boiling water.
“I’m going to use these calipers to lift up your skin and fat from various parts of your body,” she told me. “It’ll help me to determine how much body fat you have.”
Alone with an expert in her office, there was no use sucking in my gut. First she grabbed the flabby underside of my arm and pinched my skin and fat with the calipers. The little needle on the gauge of the caliper quivered ever so slightly; the trainer typed the number ten into her computer. From my arm she moved to the back, the hip, and finally, to the dreaded mid-section, the resting place of everything delicious and good in this world.
“This is probably going to hurt a little,” she said apologetically. I watched her gather my numerous stomach fat rolls into one large mass and clamp the prongs down upon my skin. She was right. It did sting. As I watched her calipers prodding at my extraneous flab, I was gripped by the out-of-body sensation of feeling flesh that was part of me, yet so grossly beyond that which is necessary for survival. The needle on the gauge climbed dangerously to the opposite side; wincing, I watched as she typed something like twenty-two into the computer.
Having completed all the columns of her spreadsheet, she did some clicking after which she announced rather casually, “Let’s see, you’re at twenty-four percent. So that means that twenty-four percent of your body mass is fat.”
There was a brief silence in the room. “Oh,” I responded slowly. “So, a quarter of me is composed of fat. Is that normal?”
“Well, the recommended average for a woman of your height is 18 to 22 percent. So you’re a little above average.” she said matter-of-factly. “Now, let’s move on to your general goals for joining. Are you taking advantage of all the cardio classes we have to offer?”
“Whoa, whoa. Back up,” I said. “Are you telling me that I’m technically overweight?”
“No, but you risk becoming overfat.” she replied.
I guffawed. Overfat. I suppose there’s nothing particularly silly about that phrase. Over is a prefix for scores of other words, but when used in tandem with fat, it sounds like a made-up term.
“So you’re going to want to cut down on your portions and exercise more, to take off that extra fat.”
I looked down again at my flab. Like the cuts of animals I so adore eating, I had, slowly but surely, grown fattier over the years.
There won’t be any skinless chicken breasts in my kitchen, but there will be plenty more tofu, and lots of goat meat in the days to come. Goat meat is truly a unique protein – unlike beef and pork, which are fork-tender when cooked for a long period of time, well-stewed goat meat retains a resilient texture even when it’s been stewed for a long time. If you’re used to a lot of meltingly tender textures, goat is a nice change from the softness of other stewing meats.
Cooked in curry mixtures, goat meat’s slightly gamey flavor takes well to an assortment of spices. Allspice, a strong component of the garam masa used in Jamaican and Guyanese curries, lends a distinctive flavor to this Guyanese goat curry. The liberal use of fenugreek is also noticeable in the curry sauce.
The spices, which are toasted before being ground, will darken ever so slightly in the pan. You’ll know the spices are adequately toasted when the cumin seeds turn just a shade darker and the brown mustard seeds begin to pop.
Finally, look for chunks of goat with plenty of bone and tendon. Sections of rib, shoulder, and leg went into this stew; the marrow, infused deeply with spikes of turmeric and clove, still tasted of goat. Goat curry is far from being diet food, but it’s considerably less fatty, though just as flavorful, than most of the meat dishes I eat. I’ve by no means forsaken fat, but the lean times can be tasty too.
Guyanese Goat Curry
Adapted from From Curries to Kebabs by Madhur Jaffrey.
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