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How To Get Your Goat

Curried goat, one of the national dishes of Jamaica, melds piquant curry with the slightly earthy taste of goat that has been marinated and cooked long enough to be meltingly tender.

Many years ago in a small town in Mexico, I ate cabrito al pastor. Which is to say, goat. Specifically, roasted on a spit. It was meltingly tender with a slightly sweet, slightly musky flavor. I returned home to the U.S. and went on with my life.

A decade or so later, I met a lovely Jamaican woman with whom I talked a lot about food, and we fairly quickly got to curried goat. She took me to a Jamaican market inconveniently far from my home and showed me around.

In the following years, I ate a lot of goat cheese and goat milk products. Not the meat of the animal, though. Then, a few weeks ago at my neighborhood butcher, there it was — cubes of goat meat in the display case.

Goat is the most widely eaten red meat in the world, accounting for about 70 percent of global consumption, according to Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough in their book Goat. No so much in the U.S., though.

That may be changing. The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that the country's goat industry is growing, largely because of increasing ethnic diversity among consumers. Goat is common in the cuisines of Mexico, India, Jamaica, Greece and Asia, among others. Demand now exceeds the supply from the two largest exporters of goat meat to the U.S. — Australia and New Zealand. So more Americans are raising goats.

In addition to growing consumer demand, farmers and their customers are attracted to the idea that goat is good for our health and good for the planet. Goat meat is leaner than pork, beef and even chicken. In their book Goat, Weinstein and Scarbrough write that "goat is a nutritional wonder" with fewer calories than chicken, with half the fat and a third the saturated fat.

Environmentalists like the small impact goats have on the Earth. There are no goat factory farms. The average herd of meat goats in the U.S. has about 30. I had a friend in Texas who was considering a goat as an alternative to a lawnmower. They keep the weeds under control and don't pull the grass up by the roots — excellent for keeping a tidy lawn.

Goat meat, however, is still not readily available outside urban centers or goat farms. It is carried by some high-end butchers and often in Caribbean and Latino markets. It is also available from kosher or halal markets and can be purchased online. My local butcher only had frozen cubed meat from Australia. So I ordered meat from a halal butcher who got it freshly slaughtered from a nearby farm and butchered it according to my specifications. The most tender meat is from kids 6 to 9 months old.

Goat is extremely lean, so it can be tough. I found long cooking and stewing the most effective methods. I tried marinating small chunks, then threading them on skewers and grilling, but the meat was tough. Friends who have lived in goat-eating countries say toughness is to be expected for grilled meat.

Long cooking is something altogether different. Curried goat, one of the national dishes of Jamaica, melds piquant curry with the slightly earthy taste of goat that has been marinated and cooked long enough to be meltingly tender. Ditto for Mexican mole. You also can cook goat leg in the manner of the French seven-hour leg of lamb, with meat-falling-off-the-bone results. Ground goat can be used in stews, burgers, meatballs or as a lamb substitute in moussaka.

Goat meat is likely to become more common in both markets and restaurants as Americans discover a culinary secret long known by much of the world. Home kitchens are a good place to start the journey.

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Bonny Wolf
NPR commentator Bonny Wolf grew up in Minnesota and has worked as a reporter and editor at newspapers in New Jersey and Texas. She taught journalism at Texas A&M University where she encouraged her student, Lyle Lovett, to give up music and get a real job. Wolf gives better advice about cooking and eating, and contributes her monthly food essay to NPR's award-winning Weekend Edition Sunday. She is also a contributing editor to "Kitchen Window," NPR's Web-only, weekly food column.