Where to Get Your Goat

The pen at Madani Halal butcher shop in Queens, NY (Photo ©2015 Bob Sacha)

The pen at Madani Halal butcher shop in Queens, NY (Photo ©2015 Bob Sacha)

Goat should be rebranded Meat Without Borders.

Consider one example: At Calle Dao in midtown Manhattan, an Ecuadorean executive chef is showcasing goat necks with Cuban-Chinese flavors and selling them almost faster than he can braise them. And he is buying them from a live halal market in Queens owned by the son of a Bangladeshi-Puerto Rican couple whose customers have roots in countless countries from Africa to Asia.

Always a mainstay on immigrant tables, at home and in restaurants, goat is crossing over into other kitchens more and more. Both demand and prices are up, and so is availability, in stores and at farmers markets. Goat is just a natural to tap into so many food trends: free-range, grass-fed, farm-to-table, even nose-to-tail – everything from the liver to the skin to the hooves is usable. It also translates almost too easily. Cabrito, like lengua, turns irresistible when tucked into tacos.

Ethnic Eats-04As it moves toward all-American status, goat remains the equivalent of the United Nations of meat – it may be the most widely consumed red meat in the world. And in New York City, where immigrants settle from seemingly every corner of the globe, butchers find they are meeting demand from an astoundingly diverse group of customers.

Imran Uddin, who owns Madani Halal butcher shop in Ozone Park, says goat meat buyers include Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, any number from the Arab world, South and Central Americans and even, around Orthodox Easter, Romanians and Greeks. Because of the market’s neighborhood, which borders Richmond Hill, he also attracts many Caribbean customers, especially from Trinidad, Suriname and Guyana.

Uddin speculates that the popularity of goat cheese and goat milk has helped raise awareness of goat beyond traditional immigrant groups, though. Both those products have something of the same flavor profile and “get people interested in tasting the meat,” he says. And for diners who realize “over-consuming beef is not the healthiest,” he says, “goat is a great alternative.” According to the USDA, it has roughly half the calories and a fifth of the fat beef does.

Goat is a staple on South Asian menus in New York; a restaurant-goer can find goat curry almost as easily as saag paneer. It’s an exported taste from the West Indies, too, usually wrapped up in rotis. And of course it’s a Latin American standby, in Mexican and other cuisines. It’s lesser-known but just as prevalent in African kitchens. Buka, in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn, always has Nigerian goat stew on the menu, in a “pepperish” sauce, served over fufu, made from yams or cassavas. But more surprising is goat’s role in other cuisines, like Thai (Kin Shop in Greenwich Village serves it in massaman curry, with spices supposedly introduced by Muslim traders in the 17th century) and Korean (Bangane, in Flushing, Queens, is renowned for its dinners built around various parts of a particular type of goat).

Braised goat neck at Calle Dao (Photo courtesy of Calle Dao Restaurant)

Braised goat neck at Calle Dao (Photo courtesy of Calle Dao Restaurant)

All those influences often come together in more new American kitchens. In Harlem, The Cecil’s signature dish on the Afro-Asian menu developed by executive chef Alexander Smalls is udon noodles with braised goat, teamed with a peanut sauce and edamame. At Calle Dao, where executive chef Humberto Guallpa says the most popular dish in his home country is seco de chivo, a goat stew, his fusion treatment is an adaptation: goat neck braised with cumin, coriander, fennel, cinnamon and ginger, then baked 18 hours at 200 degrees, until it is super-tender and falling off (the many) bones. He pairs the meat with Shanghai bok choy and a mojito sauce. “It’s one of the most salable dishes on the menu; by Saturday I’m out.”

Goat has an image as cheap meat, yet Calle Dao commands $29 for its neck dish for good reason. Uddin, who took over Madani Halal from his father in 2003, says that “the demand for goat, and for halal, is huge.” Market forces have taken over.

“When my father opened,” Uddin elaborates, “farmers used goats only to clear their land, and the meat sold for $1 or $1.50 (a pound). Over the last 10 to 12 years it has risen to $4.50.” The price is calculated by the weight of the whole animal before slaughter, so multiply that by about 40 pounds. Then figure the buyer comes away with only about 20 pounds of bone-in meat, 10 pounds of ready-to-cook meat.

Uddin sells 30 to 40 goats in a typical week, 400 to 500 around holidays, and all are a cross between Boers, a South African breed, and Nubians, raised in the Texas Panhandle and bought from a dealer in New Jersey. “They taste the same,” he says, “but the Boer is meatier; the other is better for milk. Cross the two and you get the best of both worlds.”

For those not committed to a whole animal, Esposito’s, an old-style butcher in Hell’s Kitchen, always carries frozen Australian goat but also gets in fresh shoulder meat from Colorado, for about $6.98 a pound.

In fact, most of what is available in stores is likely to be imported from Australia. Alexei Rudolf, a spokesman for the Meat & Livestock Australia trade group in Washington, D.C., said imports have more than doubled over the last 10 years. While he surmises that much of the demand is among immigrant cooks, he also notes that goat is becoming more popular nationally in higher-end restaurants.

Lynn Fleming, who raises goats on her Lynnhaven farm in the Hudson Valley, charges $14 to $19 a pound for goat meat and still goes through a couple of coolers of meat at her stand at the Union Square Greenmarket on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Her regulars even want liver and heart, but she can’t always get her slaughterhouse to save those for her, let alone conserve heads.

Imran Uddin, owner of Madani Halal in Queens, NY. (Photo ©2015 Bob Sacha)

Imran Uddin, owner of Madani Halal in Queens, NY. (Photo ©2015 Bob Sacha)

Both she and Uddin say goat misconception runs rampant. Fleming suspects people who say goat is fatty or gamy are probably eating mutton. Her meat, she says, is mild enough to be braised, grilled, smoked or roasted. Uddin is more forceful: “If you don’t like goat, you haven’t had good quality.”

And there could be nothing fresher than what he sells. The young animals snooze and snack in a hay-filled pen outside the slaughtering room, where even families are welcome to participate in the slaughtering, conducted in accordance with halal law, with prayers followed by a swift slit to the throat as the animal rests.

While meat is the objective for most of Uddin’s customers, he also has one who buys skins to make drums. For Nepalis and Jamaicans, he will occasionally burn off the fur because they eat both the meat and the skin. Trinidadians use the skin to make a gelatinous soup. But he gets other requests: One recent day he took a call from editors at the food magazine Saveur, who were looking for a kid that would still have milk in its stomach for an Italian recipe they wanted to test.

Clearly, goat remains a novelty for many, even while gaining attention ­– and consumption – in the U.S. in recent years both in immigrant kitchens and high-end restaurants. But can it really become “the new pork belly,” as a headline on the American Goat Association website once blared?

Christophe Hille, founder and co-owner of the Northern Spy Food Co. in the East Village and co-owner/CFO of Fleisher’s Craft Butchery in Brooklyn, thinks not. Despite the fact that “people are mostly surprised at how mild, tender and delicious it is,” as Hille says, price remains an obstacle.

Lynn Fleming of Lynnhaven, selling goat meat at the Union Square Greenmarket (Photo by Regina Schrambling for Voices of NY)

Lynn Fleming of Lynnhaven, selling goat meat at the Union Square Greenmarket (Photo by Regina Schrambling for Voices of NY)

For a restaurateur, Northeast-raised, pastured goat costs $7.50 a pound, which translates to main courses in the low $30s. By contrast, local pork is $4.60 a pound, with higher yield. And from a butcher’s perspective, Hille says “we make little or no money on it.” With muscles too small to trim away, as butchers do with lamb, goat meat most often is cut into a generic “stew meat,” he adds.

But Lynn Fleming, who has been raising goats for both meat and dairy for nearly 30 years, is more optimistic. She deals largely in goat cheese and yogurt, with the meat as a bonus. The day I talked with her at Union Square, one woman with an Eastern European accent came by wanting goat feet to make soup “for the calcium,” while another had a persuasive argument for using goat in any stew recipe, particularly with tomatoes and/or red wine. Fleming said she also gets requests for testicles.

When Fleming first started raising goats, she says, she sold mostly to Italian immigrants who wanted to buy live kids to take home and butcher themselves. Now that their own kids and grandkids prefer their meat ready to cook, “That market is gone.” A new one, however, is clearly continuing to blur the borders.

 

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