Oven-Roasted Young Goat
The fossil record seems to indicate that the drought associated with the last Ice Age favored goats, and it was during this time that hunting and even semi-domestication of goats began. Goats appear in cave paintings that date back 10,000 to 20,000 years. So goats were not simply available, they were important from the start.
Goat was among the first animals to be domesticated, along with (and possibly predating) sheep and dogs. Because goats can survive in regions not suitable for cattle or sheep, they are particularly popular in rugged and arid regions. Bushes, trees, and desert scrub that other ruminants would not be able to eat or digest can quite comfortably sustain goats.
Today’s domestic goats are descended from Capra aegagrus, the pasang. Because the first written records of domestication are Persian, it seems likely that the pasang is indigenous to the Near East. However, domesticated goats had been introduced into the Balkans by Neolithic times, and goats are among the domesticated animals that have been found at China’s best-known Neolithic site, Banpo, So, as with so many other food stuffs, goat was being passed around as soon as people were aware of its virtues.
By the fourteenth or fifteenth century, Europe’s aristocracy began to favor what it considered to be more delicate meats, and goat meat began to decline in popularity among the class conscious. (This paralleled a decline in the consumption of swans, peacocks, seals, and other morsels once considered indispensable at royal feasts.) However, goat remained at least somewhat popular in Europe, especially in Mediterranean countries—including the countries that eventually introduced goats to the New World.
Today, much of the world thinks of goats primarily in terms of milk and cheese production. But in many places, goat meat is “what’s for dinner.” I have met people from northern India who said that they never had lamb or chicken growing up; goats flourished in the dry, mountainous region, and they were what everyone ate. In much of Africa and Asia, a large goat herd represents wealth and security. But this small, easily raised ruminant is popular in many places, and goat is still among the most commonly eaten meats in the world. While goats, which are low in saturated fats, are now growing in importance in North America, Australia, and Europe, three-fourths of the world’s goats are in developing regions.
The first time I had goat was in Spain, at the Casa Botín in Madrid. The spit-roasted kid we were served was memorably flavorful. I have since then had goat in a wide range of venues and recipes, from roasts to stews to curries. My favorites are still the kid from Madrid and Cabrito Asado, below.
This recipe from Mexico is an easy introduction to preparing kid, as it does not require specialized equipment. The taste of baby goat is somewhere between lamb and veal, and is perfectly suited to the big, flavorful sauce in this dish.
(Oven-Roasted Young Goat)
½ baby goat, cut into parts (legs, side and breast)
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 Tbs. oregano
⅓ cup light olive oil
1 large onion, coarsely chopped
2 medium green peppers, seeded and coarsely chopped
2 jalapeño chilies, seeded, deveined, and chopped (optional)
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
3 cloves garlic, minced
4 cups of canned, peeled Italian tomatoes with juice (approximately 2½ cans, 14.5 oz. each)
Preheat the oven to 450°F.
Sprinkle the meat with salt and pepper. Put the pieces in a large roasting pan and cover (foil works if you don’t have a lidded roaster). Bake meat for two hours, turning and rearranging the pieces after one hour. While meat cooks, prepare the sauce (salsa).
Heat the oil in a large frying pan. Add the onion, green pepper, jalapeños, cumin, pepper, and garlic, and cook, stirring frequently, until the onions are slightly wilted. Add the tomatoes (cut tomatoes in half if they are large) and simmer for 5 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
When initial two-hours are up, sprinkle the meat with the oregano, then bake uncovered for another 20 minutes.
Finally, pour the salsa over the goat meat and continue baking, uncovered, basting occasionally, for another 20 to 30 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to sit for 10 to 15 minutes, then carve and serve.
Goats get tougher, stringier, and more strongly flavored as they age, so you want to make sure you get a young goat for this dish. It might be okay to stew a slightly older beast, but roasting needs a little tenderness, so be sure you specify baby goat. The recipe above assumes that your half goat will be about 9‑11 pounds. If your goat is much smaller than that, you can adjust quantities downward. If it’s much larger, you probably want to stew it, because it will likely be tough. In the U.S., goat does not generally appear in the mainline grocery store meat case, but it can easily be obtained from ethnic grocers (Hispanic, Mediterranean, Eastern European, and Indian in particular), and can also be ordered on the Internet.