Is America at long last discovering that goat is the G.O.A.T.? Having returned to my home in New York after three years abroad, I am surprised to see so many restaurant menus featuring my favorite form of protein, which I learned to love growing up in India.
If this represents an evolution in taste, then it is as welcome as it is overdue. Generations of immigrants from the Indian subcontinent, Africa and Latin America have despaired of Americans' resistance to goat meat. How, we have wondered, could a culture that annually celebrates the turkey, quite possibly the most unappetizing meat known to man, be immune to the attractions of the tastiest?
If you've never tried goat, take it from me that it is more flavorful than beef, less fatty than pork, more moist than lamb. (Comparisons with chicken and turkey would, frankly, dishonor the noble quadripeds that gave their lives for our pleasure.) Better yet, try it for yourself: There is a great recipe that follows, and you can find me on TikTok preparing goat burgers from this recipe.
Americans' aversion to goat meat has had real-world repercussions. For one thing, it distorts perceptions of cuisines that make liberal use of goat. My own pet peeve is many Indian restaurants, bowing to popular prejudice, often use dry-aged lamb in dishes that actually were designed for goat. These are much different meats, the former best cooked after being aired for several days and the latter ideally prepared within hours of slaughter, but most chefs didn't know to adjust the spice mixtures, marination or cooking times. The results were usually unpalatable.
For years, when friends asked me to recommend an Indian restaurant in New York, I always added the caveat, "As long as you don't order the lamb."
But Americans who weren't so forewarned never got the chance to develop a proper appreciation for the depth of Indian cuisine. They likewise didn't enjoy the authentic experience of countless African and Latin American dishes.
By shunning goat, Americans also were unknowingly depriving themselves of the most nutritious of meats -- lower in fat, cholesterol and calories than the "big four" of chicken, beef, pork and lamb. They also are probably unaware goat is gentler on the environment, as well as more humanely produced.
Another drawback: Because most Americans don't eat goat, the meat industry has never developed a nationwide distribution system for it, certainly nothing like the networks that put the big four within arm's reach of desire anywhere and everywhere. Outside the large metropolises with large immigrant communities, vast swaths of the country are goat-free. Millions of immigrants living in the goat deserts have little access to their first-choice meat.
It isn't only a matter of distribution. Culinary historians like Therese Nelson and Michael Twitty attribute the absence of goat from the American gastronomic mainstream to deeper prejudices. Twitty, author of the James Beard Award-winning "The Cooking Gene," said "goat (isn't) widely used because of its association with the so-called 'third world' and non-white people in the popular imagination."
Nelson, a chef, author and founder of the organization Black Culinary History, puts it more bluntly: "Goat -- like oxtail, pork belly, chicken wings and offal before it -- is still the delicious providence of many minority cultures," she said. But for the majority, "goat isn't worth it because its primary consumers are from cultures Americans aren't interested in fully embracing."
If New York is playing its customary role as the nation's trendsetter, then there is hope the rest of America will catch on.
In many of New York's Indian eateries, the king of meats is finally taking its rightful place in curries and biryanis. Emboldened by the growing appetite for goat, chefs like Chintan Pandya of Dhamaka, for my money the best Indian restaurant outside India, are going even further with dishes that simply wouldn't have worked with substitutes, like gurda kapura, a snack made from kidneys and testicles.
"Ten years ago, we might not have risked using goat, but now we can be unapologetic about it," Pandya said.
There is goat aplenty, too, in the Mexican food trucks that are riding the current Tik Tok-fueled craze for birria. When I left New York in 2018, it was hard to find a place that served the goat-based stew, the pride of Mexico's Jalisco state; at most taco joints, it was offered in beef. (The honorable exceptions were mostly at the other end of the country, in Los Angeles.) Now, thanks to social-media campaigns calling for authenticity, the goat version is growing more common.
The big question is whether goat can now make the leap from ethnic cuisine to mainstream menus and dining tables. It bodes well that celebrity chefs like Andrew Zimmern and Dan Barber have become enthusiastic advocates, offering recipes that recommend goat as a substitute for lamb and beef.
Zimmern, in particular, has used his TV shows to challenge the common perception that goat meat is gamey and hard to cook.
"I've become the clarion caller for goat in America," he said.
He can depend on an affirming chorus of millions of immigrants. Repeat after us, fellow Americans: "Goat is the G.O.A.T.!"
ROASTED LEG OF GOAT WITH LEMON SAUCE
Typically I buy two rear legs of goat and invite friends over for a simple meal. I roast the goat right on the rack in the center of my oven and serve it with a classic Greek avgolemono sauce. I team the goat with charred eggplant salad, plenty of leeks, potatoes, carrots and fennel in the pan catching the drippings, along with freshly made flatbread. -- Andrew Zimmern
3 tablespoons rosemary, finely chopped
1/3 cup dill, finely chopped
3 tablespoons oregano, finely chopped
1/4 cup garlic, minced
4 tablespoons vegetable oil
Two young goat legs, roughly 6-7 pounds each, at room temperature
Mixed vegetables, such as trimmed carrots, trimmed leeks, halved fennel bulbs and halved onions
1 cup chicken stock
1/2 cup dry white wine
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 large eggs
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
In a medium bowl, mix together the rosemary, dill (reserve 2 tablespoons), oregano, garlic, salt, pepper and vegetable oil.
Poke the goat all over with a small, sharp knife, then rub the herb mixture all over the legs, stuffing it into the holes.
Place the legs directly on the oven rack in the middle of the oven. Put a sheet tray with the mixed vegetables underneath the goat to catch the drippings. Roast for 75 to 80 minutes, or until a thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the leg registers 145 degrees. Transfer the goat to a carving board and let rest for 30 minutes. Place the roasted vegetables from the sheet pan around the legs, leaving all the other bits on the pan.
Meanwhile, make the sauce. Skim any fat off of the sheet tray, leaving the drippings and browned bits behind. Set the sheet tray on a burner and pour the chicken stock over the drippings, whisking to loosen all of the browned bits. Tip the mixture into a saucepan. Add the white wine and 1 tablespoon lemon juice, and cook until reduced to 1 cup at a light boil.
In a medium bowl, add a pinch of salt, the remaining 2 tablespoons of lemon juice and the eggs. Very gradually whisk in 1/4 cup of the reduced stock, then gradually whisk in the rest. Pour the mixture back into the saucepan and cook over low heat, stirring constantly over low heat, until thickened, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in the remaining 2 tablespoons of dill and season the sauce with salt and pepper. Carve the goat and serve with the roasted vegetables and the sauce.