Americans are squeamish about their meats. When I lived in Italy it was no problem finding horse, rabbit and goat meat, in fact it was the norm. I will never understand how someone can eat a cow with no problem but a bunny is deemed “too cute.” The whole business of butchery is a necessary and often gruesome evil no matter which animal you’re killing, so it doesn’t occur to me to eat my meats based on the ascending scale of adorability.
Some of it can be attributed to cultural familiarity. When I tried to get the turkey for American Thanksgiving in Italy every year, more than one butcher looked at me quizzically and inquired as to whether I was Russo aka Russian. According to the Italians, the Russians are the only ones hardcore enough to want an entire turkey, and I soon found out why. In the US, turkeys typically reach market between 14 and 20 weeks of age. They range in size on average from 15-30 pounds. In contrast, Italian turkeys are raised with the idea that the parts of the bird will be sold separately, more like a cow. Therefore they are older and much, much bigger.
A week after I’d placed my order at the macelleria for the turkey, I went to pick it up. The macelliao told me this was on the small side, but it was so big I could hardly carry it and I was thankful I had brought a rolling handcart with which to wheel it down bustling Corso di Gasperi to my flat. Once home, my husband and I weighed Marinella the turkey. She came in at 18 kilos- that’s about 40 pounds.
With this story I mean to illustrate the fact that cultural mores contribute to diet and no culture is “right” per se, but I’d love it if the US could learn a little from Europe and Asia in terms of variety meats, and perhaps Italy will clue in to the fact that younger turkeys are more tender and a helluva lot easier to wheel home from the market.
But this is a story about goat meat. Goat evangelists like Mark Scarborough and Bruce Weinstein have been singing the praises of goat meat, milk and cheese, most notably in their new book, Goat: Meat, Milk and Cheese. Producers are starting to hear these incantations, slowly but surely.
It used to be that you had to duck into a back alley butcher in the international district if you wanted to find goat, and even then the dubious origin of the meat was enough to give a conscious omnivore pause. But now goat is experiencing the beginnings of a renaissance- just last week I saw sustainably-raised goat in reputable shop Bill the Butcher as well as at a stall at the Columbia City Farmer’s Market called Tobotan Creek Farms. I picked up a whole leg and hatched a plan.
Recently, the very kind people at Polyscience donated this immersion circulator to my growing pile of contemporary kitchen paraphernalia. They felt it was high time I weaned myself off the Sous Vide Supreme and step into the kitchen with the “big boys” of sous vide cookery. I enthusiastically agreed. There are two main advantages of the Polyscience immersion circulator over the Sous Vide Supreme. One is more consistent regulation of temperature and the other is versatility in terms of portability.
The Polyscience immersion circulator is essentially a wand that you can place in any vat of water to heat. This means if you are cooking something small like an egg you can use a stockpot or if you are doing something large like a goat leg you can use a giant plastic Cambro food storage box. I would have been unable to cook the whole 22” goat leg inside the Sous Vide Supreme without hacking it up, and by contrast, when I cooked an egg the next morning it only took 10 minutes to get the water to temperature because the water volume in a little pot is so much smaller than the standard bath in the Sous Vide Supreme. Not everyone needs the capacity, regulation or versatility of the Polyscience immersion circulator, but hey, isn’t it nice to drive a Lamborghini even though a Volvo might do?
After careful consideration, I decided to prepare the goat leg in the style of osso buco, but modified for sous vide. I cooked the cryovacked leg at 139°F for 48 hours. It turned out to be the perfect time and temperature- just high enough to encourage collagen breakdown but low enough that the leg was still medium rare. The true wonder of sous vide and meat is that you can cook a tough, sinewy cut of meat for long enough that it becomes fall-off-the-bone tender and yet the meat remains sub-medium.
In honor of the goatcasion (that’s an occasion where goat is involved), Jonas and I assembled a group of 14 revelers for dinner, you know, because my goat leg brings all the boys to the yard. Of course most of those boys brought their husbands, and try as I might, I could not get Marc to deep throat the bone, so clearly I am not as well-versed at entertaining the boys in the yard as I might like.
My two semi-professional photographer friends Jonna and Victor tag-teamed the photography featured in this post because I was a bit busy goat wrestling. I think they did a very nice job, don’t you? Jameson brought a magnum of pinot noir that he hand-carried all the way back from the Loire, and Jon brought fancy salmon and even fancier pie. Sarah made sure we all ate our vegetables and everyone at the table drooled over her Nudie Foodies photo. Patrick kept us in baguettes and rhubarb, and Justin, Michael and Leslie provided entertainment whilst also being ridiculously good-looking.
It’s funny how at a party people will maintain an aura of politeness about something until they’ve knocked back a few glasses of wine. I had no idea there was so much goat trepidation in the world. I heard audible sighs of relief and pleasure all around me and suddenly all the loose-lipped partygoers began to tell horror stories of badly-prepared goat.
Apparently goat is prone to dryness, which is why sous vide cooking is a particularly effective method. Everyone at the table who had eaten goat previously said this osso buco version was the best goat they’d tried. Goat tastes to me like lamb mixed with a lingering hint of chevre. Some describe it as “gamey” but I’ve never been a fan of applying that word to meats, for lack of defining characteristics.
I very much winged the recipe so I’m not going to write it here since it was more one of those “a little bit of this, a generous ladle of that” kind of dishes. There are a few defining steps along the way, however. 48 hours in the water bath at 139° F was perfect. I had made an osso buco sauce that simmered on the stove, and when I cut into the goat bag, I poured about a cup of the juices from the goat into the sauce to finish it. I then seared the goat quickly on very high heat to evoke the Maillard reaction. I served the osso buco with risotto Milanese and parsley gremolata. I highly recommend it.
Get into the goat groove, baby. You won’t regret it.