Getting the goat: can we learn to love its unique flavour?
As the international campaign promoting the meat reaches these shores, Aoife Carrigy hears from the chefs putting it back on the menu
Sunil Ghai of Dublin's Pickle restaurant is an accomplished chef with a decade's worth of awards to his name, but one of his proudest achievements is helping to introduce Irish diners to a quintessential flavour of his north Indian childhood.
"For us, goat is like lamb for the Irish," he says, explaining that the lamb dishes beloved of Indian restaurants throughout Ireland are actually Westernised adaptations of traditional goat dishes.
And slowly but surely, Irish diners are catching on. In the 18 months since Pickle opened on Camden Street, demand has tripled for their kid goat mince curry. "Today we're using about 15kg a week of goat meat - that's a big achievement for us," says Ghai, adding that Irish people are afraid of goat meat, expecting it to be strong and odorous as an old puck goat. "But once they eat it, they come back for it."
Despite our reluctance to fully embrace it, outside of Ireland goat meat is one of the world's favourite meats. Low in cholesterol and relatively lean with easily trimmed fat, it is a versatile meat with a flavour that changes depending on the age and diet of the animal.
And now there's a drive to get people eating more of it. Back in 2010, a US campaign called #Goatober was launched to raise awareness of cabrito - kid goat meat - as an ethical source of healthy protein, with over 50 New York City chefs adding it to their menus. This year Irish restaurants are getting in on the act, with a number of businesses planning events to tie in with the month-long campaign.
At Pickle, where the chefs use the "tender and very flavoursome" meat of free-range Roscommon kid goats, Sunil Ghai pays more than twice the price for goat mince than for top quality lamb mince, but he reckons that as goat meat becomes more widely available and affordable, we will see many more restaurants throughout Ireland featuring it.
For now, you can find it on menus if you know where to look. This week, Pickle's local Dublin 8 neighbourhood is offering rich pickings for anyone interested in sampling it. At Assassination Custard on Kevin Street, they regularly serve Broughgammon goat offal or off-cuts on their lunchtime menu, such as this week's Turmeric Yoghurt Marinated Goat Neck Flatbreads.
Around the corner, The Fumbally cafe will feature Caribbean Goat Jerk for this week's Wednesday Dinners offering. And at nearby Meet Me In the Morning, on Pleasants Street, there'll be a seven-course celebration of all things goat on Saturday. That event is organised in conjunction with Broughgammon Farm in Antrim, who specialise in cabrito produced from rescued kid billies that are byproducts of the dairy industry, and would otherwise be euthanised at birth. Kevin Powell, chef and co-owner of Meet Me In The Morning, says he jumped at the opportunity to get involved in the campaign. "It's exciting to be working with a great family who are farming such a sustainable meat - plus it's a super tasty meat that's been overlooked."
Kevin worked with Broughgammon at the UK's Street Food Awards 2016 when they won Best Snack for their goat taco. Featuring chorizo-spiced goat kidney and liver and topped with crispy goat bacon, the taco is a hit at Broughgammon's food truck in St George's market in Belfast.
At the Saturday food market in Dublin's Temple Bar, Broughgammon do a brisk trade in Billie Burgers as well as a selection of goat meat and offal from their on-farm butchery unit.
That taco will be the first of seven courses at Powell's Goatober dinner. Another course will see the whey by-product of a homemade cultured goat butter transformed into a mayonnaise for the goat meat croquettes.
"We're a nose-to-tail butchery, so there is no food waste," says Charlie Cole, the young brains behind Broughgammon Farm. The Cole family are not the only goat farmers forging relationships with Irish chefs. Paul Davis of the Galway-based Goat Ireland featured on Radio One's Countrywide last weekend, when he reported recent interest from Michelin-starred restaurants as well as one leading retailer. Another unlikely epicentre of goat meat is the Burren in Clare. Cassidy's pub in Carran in the Burren highlands has been serving locally reared goat meat for over 15 years. "It used to be only tourists ordering it," says publican Robert Cassidy of their goat burger, "but in the last few years, it's become very popular with Irish people too."
Down near the wilds of Fanore strand, Ross and Karen Quinn of Vasco Cafe and Restaurant report similar shifts in attitude. Their menu features goat meat reared by the Jeuken family on what Ross describes as "the most beautiful farm in the high Burren" where the goats are free to roam. Vasco's recipes evolve with the seasonal variation of flavour from delicate milk-fed goat through to more robust flavours later in the season.
"We start in late April with small goat cutlets, simply grilled with sea salt and maybe served with a wild nettle, thyme and sorrel salsa verde," says Quinn. "In early summer, we roast whole cuts of the meat like the shoulder or leg. Later we slow-cook it, braised in buttermilk with wild herbs or in pear cider with juniper berries. Very late in the season, we'll cook it as a Jamaican-style curry with much stronger flavours."
Initially, demand came almost exclusively from local folk in their late 70s and early 80s seeking a nostalgic meal of the roast milk-fed kid goat they remember as a traditional Easter treat. "But we felt it was important to keep it on the menu as it's something indigenous to the Burren - you see them running past the restaurant everyday."
Today, goat meat is a steady bestseller at Vasco, amounting to a healthy proportion of sales to tourists and locals alike. "It just shows how much more open people are to trying something new."
What remains to be seen is whether we might one day be ready for the real favourite of Ghai's Indian childhood - bheja fry, or fried goat brain. That might take a little longer.
Turmeric-marinated goat neck
Serves 4 as a light lunch or 6 as a starter
This is one of Ken and Gwen's favourite goat recipes to serve at Assassination Custard and uses boned goat neck which they buy from Broughgammon Farm's market stall in Meeting House Square, Temple Bar on a Saturday.
- 400-500g boned goat neck
- 1 x 500g tub natural yoghurt
- 1.5 teaspoons turmeric powder
- 2-inch piece of fresh turmeric, grated
- 2-3 cloves of garlic
- 1 teaspoon sea salt flakes
- 1 medium-sized red onion, peeled and finely sliced
- 1/4 teaspoon hot paprika
For the pomegranate jam (optional)
- 2 fresh pomegranate, seeds only
- 1 tablespoon cider vinegar
- 1-2 tablespoons sugar
- 1 flatbread per person
- salad of bitter leaves and vinaigrette
Slice the goat meat thinly with a sharp knife, leaving the fat on. Pour a third of the yoghurt into a mixing bowl, combine with the powdered turmeric and add the sliced meat, tossing to coat the meat. Cover and marinate in the fridge for a few hours or overnight. Meanwhile, finely grate the fresh turmeric into the remaining yoghurt (wear gloves to protect your fingers from staining and reserve a little grated turmeric for garnishing). Finely chop the garlic, scatter with sea salt flakes and crush beneath the flat of the knife to form a paste. Add this to the yoghurt and set aside.
In a separate bowl, mix the finely sliced red onion with the paprika and set aside.
If you're making the pomegranate jam, heat the pomegranate seeds in a small pan with about three quarters of a tablespoon of vinegar, three tablespoons of water and a tablespoon or two of sugar, depending on how sweet or sour you would like it. Simmer gently to integrate into a loose jam-like consistency, adding more water if needed to loosen and more vinegar or sugar to taste. Set aside to cool.
Cook the sliced meat under a hot grill for a few minutes either side or until cooked. Season to taste, remembering that the extra yoghurt will bring some seasoning. Place a flatbread on to each plate, top with some garlic and fresh turmeric yoghurt, and slices of the grilled meat, and some spiced onion and pomegranate jam (or use chutney instead). Garnish with the reserved grated turmeric and serve while hot.