Goat Vittles

Yum, goats!  I think of goats like I think of deer.  These even-toed ungulates are lovely to look at whether the deer are ghosting through your northern woodlands or the goats are roaming through your island yard, trip trap trip trap, which is the way gruff goats have walked for hundreds of years.  Still, both deer and goats are even better on the table than on the hoof.  Cooked, and on the table, not just standing on the table willy-nilly, as goats are wont to do.

While it is possible my dad slipped some goat onto my plate when I was a boy and momentarily island bound in the Bahamas or Puerto Rico or Grand Cayman, I don’t think he did this.  Dad would have announced the goat with memorable caveman simplicity.  “This is goat meat.  Eat it.  Good stuff.”  Failure to eat the proffered goat would have led to hours of sitting in silence, deprived of my books, as my stubborn refusal to try the food he offered was met with his stubborn refusal to let me refuse his generosity, so I would have tried the goat.  I ate to survive my father.  My father ate anything, more out of indifference to the limits of food, than any particular curiosity I could discern.  Had he been curious (and British, and born a century earlier), he might have earned a chair at the Glutton’s Club.  Instead, he became something wholly other: Papa John the Consumptive.  Waste not, want not.  Dad was the original whole-beast chef.

Excepting several specific pansful of dad’s gustatory gems, including pheasant hearts, fried bluegill roe, bovine brains, and head cheese (a.k.a. souse – sure it’s non-dairy if you’re lactose intolerant, but it’s formed from subcutaneous meat scraps peeled off the skulls of the butchered, with the little gobbets of flesh set into a wobbly aspic so the whole coagulated mass clings to itself for easy slicing – jellied dog food marketed for human consumption), I did devour nearly anything put on my plate.  Conch, turtle, gator, iguana, crickets, kangaroo, ostrich, octopus, and goat – to this day, I’ll try almost anything that doesn’t wreak of offal or decay, and I’m particularly fond of reptiles and the ententacled mollusca: squid and octopus.  Goats, too.

Typically if I refused food as a youngster –  knowing this would lead to a stand-off –  it was because I’d already tried the substance in question and found it wanting.  For example, green beans want.   They want flavor.  They possess squeak.  I despise green beans squeaking on my teeth, especially since there is no flavorful reward in return for the grating nails-across-blackboard screech they set off inside my head.  By the way, only northern green beans squeak when you bite into them, possibly because they’re less dead than southern green beans, which have been cooked just shy of turning into mush.  Given enough salt and butter in the mix, southern green beans are a palatable, if no longer healthy, substrate for that salt and butter.  Unlike green beans, most of which are vile, I’ve yet to munch an unpalatable goat.  Chupacabras in the bloodline?  You might wonder.  Here are a few favorite goat dishes.

Jerked Goat, The Hot Caribbean Treat

My first recollected taste of goat was in Grand Cayman, on our initial trip abroad as a newly reconstituted family unit.  S & I had been married a couple years.  She and the kids, a lopsided and less populous Brady Bunch styled confederacy as devoted to the diminishment of my sanity as I was devoted to the yanking of their goats, voted in favor of trying out the jerk stand in Bodden Town.  We piled our clowns into the car and drove down to Rankin’s Jerk Pit.  The kids went tame – chicken fingers if I remember correctly.  S probably requested a shrimp meal.  Why they chose a jerk stand, and ordered bland chicken fingers and shrimp, I’ll never know.  I know I ordered the jerked goat, if only to honor the intent of the place, and to make the kids moan, “oooooh grossssss.”  After a short wait the food was ready and we drove back to our condo at The Turtle Nest Inn.  The spicy goat, heaped on a bed of rice and beans, was scrumptious, yet spicy enough to make me reach for a cold ginger beer.  This may raise the question, is a spicy island brew like ginger beer the best solution for rinsing down a mouthful of zesty goat?  Yes.  Jerked goat & zingy ginger are two great flavors that work perfectly in tandem, and if it’s five o’clock somewhere on your island, then you can ramp that ginger beer up with rum to make it Dark & Stormy!

Goat is the other dark meat.  It’s tender, a tad greasy, and more flavorful than many cuts of cow, especially stew-pot beef, yet less gamey than most wild game.  You could argue that goat flesh is, at least in terms of it’s forage and exercise level, wild game, but it doesn’t taste that way.  And, contrary to what my boys insist, it isn’t “manky.”  It’s also far more plentiful on islands than cattle or the resultant beef.  Island goats are rarely seen in a fenced enclosure, lazy and corn fed or scrap-fat.  They’re usually seen free-range in the scrub, on the mountains, by the shore, grazing through gardens, topping hedges, cropping flowers, or lolling roadside as they ponder their next foray against the island’s vegetation.

{Goat Note.  Drive warily.  On some islands, including Curacao and Nevis, you’re more likely to bump into goats than people using crosswalks – and avoiding crosswalks.  Many islands have a preponderance of goats, which is why it’s good to eat them.  Think of it as your environmental duty.  Save the native flora for the native fauna.  For this same reason, you should eat green, but not blue, iguanas on Grand Cayman, and any other island where they’re out-competing the natives.  And by this same logic, you should artfully plate the feral cats of Curacao, and stray dogs on most islands, but it would be better if you donated to one of the animal rescue organizations that strives to catch and spay/neuter them.}

Back in Grand Cayman, I was tucking into my first chunk of goat, not realizing that in that instant I’d develop an everlasting fondness for the savory flesh, and even as the savory yum was penetrating my brain, I was startled by a jagged spur of bone which nipped at my cheek and clattered against my teeth.  The goat’s last revenge.  Here’s a truth about the island meatery supplying the island eateries for those of you who, like me, were raised on the U.S. mainland.  Island butchers take their livestock apart with machetes, not bandsaws.  Whack! Whack! Whack! (No resemblance in this sound, by the way, to the calls of our speech-impaired ducks.)  There is nothing gentle about a machete’s impact on bone.  Machetes splinter bone.  Bone splinters and jagged ends of bones are par for the course when you’re eating meat on islands – chickens, iguanas, goats.  Boney critters make boney meals if the chef doesn’t bother to get the meat and the bones separated.  Don’t let that put you off the feed.  It’s like eating a gutted, or drawn, fish that’s served with the head still on the body.  It’s an aesthetic choice, perhaps a matter of convenience and cultural norms for the chef, but it’s also a flavor enhancing choice.  Cooking critters bone-in adds more flavor – delectable marrow – to the broth.  Just don’t chomp down fast and hard.  Eat your delicacy with delicacy, but don’t be overmannered.  Certainly don’t let a boney meal stick in your craw.  Get comfortable sticking your fingers into your mouth and drawing out the bone fragments.  Pile those sharp little smithereens high!  Make a boneyard on the side of your plate and enjoy that goat.

Goat Burger

If you don’t go in for jerked goat, which is a whole nuther thing entirely than yanking your goat, let me suggest a goat burger in Curacao rather than a cheeseburger in another paradise.  The lead image for this page is a snap of the spokesgoat for Williburgers at The Toko Willibroder Williwood.  There’s a mouthful.  I know, to an American raised on the juvenile slang of the late seventies and early eighties, it’s possible to imagine something far more horrific than goat meat forming the ground of a Williwood Williburger.  Pay close attention to the spelling.  This is a Williburger with an “i” conjoining the will and the burger, not a “y.”  Spell it like you’d spell the name of that famous champion of the chromatic harmonica, but drop the space between the first and last names.  What you’ve really got here has nothing to do blowing a tune or private dismemberment, unless you’re the goat who was yanked from the herd for today’s batch of goatburger patties.  The incomparable Williburger, the most famous item on the menu, gets its name by way of a conflation of the town, Sint Willibrordus, in which the restaurant is located and the main meal offered, the burger.   Contrary to something I read on another travel site, ‘willi’ does not mean ‘goat’ in either Dutch or Papiamento, rather it derives entirely from St. Willibrordus, Apostle to the Frisians, after whom the town, just mentioned, is named.  Here’s a more complete image of the restaurant sign.

gw blog williburger sign - less crop

S and I first saw the Williburger spokesgoat at the Hato Airport in Curacao on our 2017 anniversary trip.  He was just standing there, not saying much, but the look in his eye said, “Bite me!”  We stood, jostling on flight weary legs, watching an empty carousel circle and circle, waiting for our luggage to be spun out for pick up.  As we waited, I kept my eye on that goat.  I nudged S.  “Do ya wanna goatburger?”  I don’t think she was as tempted by the prospect as I was.  In fact, for the entire stay in Curacao she kept planning meals, in or out, that were never in Williwood.  I was vexed, and thwarted in my ambition.  Back in Hato for the flight out, the spokesgoat stared me down and the look in his eye taunted me, saying, “ya missed!”

We returned to Curacao in 2018 and there was the spokesgoat, waiting.  As if he’d never left.  This time, I was going to get his goatburger, and I did.  S knew there was no avoiding Williwood on this trip because the only two things I was insistent on doing while in Curacao were visiting the Maritime Museum, and eating a goatburger.  Having done so, let me assure you that if your spouse is wavering, lean on them and get to Williwood your first time in Curacao.  The Williburger is the sort of burger goats have been dying to make for years.  It’s what they want to become as they pass from this world to the next.  And you need to eat one before you make the same passage.  The Williburger is ripe and spicy, full of a goat-laced tang that you’ll never find in a traditional hamburger.  The Williburger is unusual, it is tasty, and it is not something you’ll soon forget eating.

{Goat Note: you might want to ingest a few antacid tablets after this spiced goat has started to settle in your stomach.  I didn’t.  The Williburger kept trying to kick it’s way out all afternoon with regurgitative burps redolent of the spice mixture blended into the goat patty.  This wasn’t bad, mind you, but it was persistent.  S kept rolling down her window in our our rented RAV.}

Goat Water

“I joked later that the recipe for this island delicacy is simple: Peel one goat and chop coarsely…”  Carol Elrod, in her book Goat Water Is Not What You Think

Ahhhhh…Goat Water.  Goat Water.  Got water?  If you have sweet spring water, a goat on it’s last legs, or it’s first legs, some carby vegetables, and a passel of spices, this is the best way to combine them all into a traditional Caribbean stew.  Get down that old black pot.  Dice your goat, your breadfruit, and the other veggies, then follow your secret recipe.  There are dozens.  I’ll call out the Goat Water from Banana’s restaurant in Nevis, pictured in their customary Nevisian redware.

gw blog goat water bowl - crop

While on Nevis in 2018, we ate twice at Banana’s.  I could have gone back several more times, just for their sirenic Goat Water, but we needed to try other restaurants.  My two favorite dishes?  Obviously, their Goat Water, but the other favorite was goat, too.  You may be scratching your head and asking how I could eat two meals and both of them wind up as my favorites at Bananas.  It’s simple, the Goat Water was actually an appetizer to a meal of lobster sliders, which were tasty, but not as remarkable as the Goat Water.  On the second visit, I tried their scallops – also nice, but the curried goat was better bite for bite.  When I had complimented the bowl above, once it had been emptied, the waitress encouraged S & I to return for their curried goat.  S consulted her calendar of evenings, found a gap, and the waitress added our names to their reservation list.  The curried goat was delicious – and boney, of course.  What was striking about their Goat Water was that it was entirely bone free.  Maybe I got the lucky bowl.

Banana’s Goat Water was remarkable – redolent of island spices, and delicious, yet beyond the bowl it was also ringing familiar bells in the ‘I’ve had this before’ recesses of my mind.  But where?  With each bite taken I was swimming deeper into the murk of my childhood.  Even S noticed that I was gone, lost, elsewhere – she thought lost in a realm of pain, a migrainic throb or an acute visceral inflamation.  “Your eyes are closed and your face is squinched; do you have a headache, or is the stew that bad?”  No, not bad, perfect, but also imperfectly reminiscent.  I know some portion of this flavor.  I can’t find it.

What’s the first thing you remember?”  It’s no good.  “The stew?”  No, no…the stew is spectacular.  I can’t get back to the beginning, I can’t remember.  “Then later, after what you’ve forgotten, what’s similar.”  S set up a terrible echo beating in my shuttered head, but she was echoing Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead, and not helping me to find the turtle soup.  Oh, I’ve got it now…it was turtle soup.  Funny, she had helped, jostled my thinking from the side, but it worked.  There was a well fed man by the window.  He was holding two turtles by their tails.

GW Blog Turtle Man - WC Crop

That’s a hazy memory.  I was about three and a half.  Those two turtles are no longer in their shells (in fact, the larger of these very two, the first two dad caught, has the top half of its carapace hanging on a wall in our library).  Can you imagine how big they’d be now, great cattle crunching Nessies of the Cocalico Creek, if he hadn’t killed them?  Dad caught them on a trot line of snooded hooks, each baited with a chicken neck, and then he made turtle soup from the pair of carcasses.  Turtle soup was one of his gamey specialities.  Like Bookbinder’s original, out of the port town of Philadelphia, Dad’s Snapper Soup had the tang of sherry and the sweet warmth of cloves in his recipe.  And that’s what this Nevisian Goat Water had – a similar spice mixture, heavy on the cloves without being overbearing, and a host of other spices related to whatever it was Dad stirred into his turtle soup. This was a flavor profile my father had prepared me for, unwittingly.

GW Blog Turtle Soup Top Shell

I pondered this culinary coincidence and decided it wasn’t coincidence.  Though I’m no historian, there’s a story of time and travel in the rhyme of these related dishes.  I’m speculating here, but not wildly.  Mariners, ancient and relatively modern, have relied on turtles as a staple of fresh protein while on voyages around the world.  Galley cooks shook out hearty dosages of spice to make palatable even meat that was going sour.  Provender for mariners, conveniently soused with grog, and hungry, too,  leaned heavy on that spice cabinet and rarely on the freshness or fineness of the ingredients.  The recipe for the roux needn’t vary much – the base will be good, and a hearty mask, even if the roasted critter isn’t, at base, good.  Nor does it matter much what the critter is: a sickly jackass, a horse that’s starting to turn, or a turtle that’s been scrambling in a foul hold below decks for months.  Or a convenient goat.  There’s no great stretch to suggest that Bookbinders, and every other seafood shanty from Newfoundland to the Caribbean ports, fed men what they delighted in: a familiar, gut-warming stew of something.  In the islands, that would often have been sea turtles, and goats.  In Philadelphia, snapping turtles were more prevalent than Greens or Loggerheads.  These days Snapper Soup and Goat Water, thousands of miles apart, don’t bear a passing resemblance.  Rather, they seem progeny of common parents, of necessities, of availabilities, and of an appreciation for a taste of home, where-ever the waters carried those eaters of turtles and eaters of goats.


Afterthought: It is worth noting that the Chinese do not appear to suffer from arteriosclerosis nearly as much as do Occidentals, and Chinese are heavy eaters of terrapin.  Maybe the answer is a double-barrelled one: we should all spend more time on a log in the sun and should eat more turtle soup.  With a dash of sherry, of course.   – from Turtle Blood Bank 1/31/53, in E. B. White’s Writings From The New Yorker 1925-1976


 

Here’s a goat that had survived the stew pot, so far, and was traipsing through the cottage gardens in Nevis.  Where’s my machete?

gw blog billygoat

You might ask, what compliment did I pay the waitress and ask her to pass along to the chef at Banana’s?  I spoke low, keeping confidence with her, and not wanting to alarm guests seated at nearby tables, and whispered that their Goat Water was so delicious I wanted to take up goat hunting when I got back home.  The waitress smiled, politely, the smile of the sane humoring the mad…yet she did invite us back for another goat dish.  S rolled her eyes when I spoke of goat hunting, but later she helped me track down a collection of Goat Water recipes.  Really, what I need is a small goat, as a protein substitute, and my Dad’s Snapper Soup recipe.  One of these nights…

Blessed Are The Cheesemakers!

Goat cheese is ambrosial.  Food of the gods.  Or at least food from the gods, manna.  “Maaaa. Naaaaa.”  That even sounds like goats.  No, goat cheese isn’t the bread of heaven, but spread on bread it’s heavenly.  Much as I love goat water, goat burgers, and jerked goat, if you have a limited number of goats, it’s better to milk them than to eat them.

Etc….the Curacao goat rustlers…

 

gw blog goatcheese - crop