Goat is used widely in ethnic cooking.Getty Images/Getty Images News/Getty Images
Beef, pork and chicken all have a well-established presence at dinner tables in the U.S., with lamb, venison and other meats falling well behind those market leaders in popularity. Goat meat is one of those less-common options, seen primarily in ethnic foods and ethnic markets. It's a lean, flavorful, healthy option, but occasionally it can have a distinctively gamy odor. As with game meats or mutton, that can be tamed through several well-known kitchen techniques.
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A Goat Meat Primer
Goats are valued for their milk and meat in most regions of the world, largely because of their hardiness and — like hogs — their ability to feed themselves almost anywhere. At the supermarket you'll typically find it labeled as "chevon" — the French word for mature goat meat — or as cabrito, capretto or kid. Young kids aren't usually prone to having a strong odor, since that comes with sexual maturity in the males. Uncastrated buck goats have a powerfully musky flavor that can be communicated to other animals if they herd together. Professional growers segregate their animals to keep the flavor mild, but if you buy your goat privately, that might not be the case.
Don\’t Chew the Fat
Goat meat is exceptionally lean, even compared to lean cuts of beef and chicken, but like any other animal you'll find layers of fat protecting many of its muscle groups. If you've gotten a musky-smelling goat, much of that unpleasant flavor will be concentrated in the fat. Use a sharp knife to trim away as much surface fat as possible before cooking it, as well as any large seams of fat that can be conveniently removed. Tie the cuts back together with cotton butcher's twine, if necessary. Many recipes suggest tying thin sheets of pork fat to the goat meat as a neutral-flavored substitute, a good option unless you abstain from pork for religious or cultural reasons.
Soak It Up
After the fat is removed, you can tone down the goat's flavor still further by soaking it at least briefly. One easy option is to dissolve some coarse or kosher salt in cold water, then soak the goat in it. The salt helps draw the flavor and odor from the meat, leaving it mild and veal-like. Soaking the meat in milk or buttermilk for a few hours has a similar effect, and buttermilk also helps tenderize tougher cuts. For more elaborate recipes you might wish to use a wine-based marinade, which extracts the unpleasant taste and odor just as capably and imparts more agreeable flavors of its own.
The Final Stage
Tender cuts of goat lend themselves well to grilling and pan-searing, and if you've successfully moderated the meat's odor those are both simple and effective cooking methods. If the meat retains a strong taste and smell despite your best efforts, you'll have to fall back on sauces or spices to mask it. The Middle Eastern, Caribbean, Indian, African and Mexican culinary traditions are all rich in powerfully spiced goat dishes, incorporating the goat's muskiness as just one strong flavor among many. Caribbean cooks actually prefer the potent flavor of old bucks, making a musky specimen the more authentic choice for island-style jerked or curried goat.