Saturday, 5 November 2011

Greek-style goat stew

If you've never eaten goat meat, you are missing a real treat. It has a wonderfully deep flavour that is similar to mutton, yet it is far leaner than anything butchered from a sheep or lamb. Like mutton, though, it requires long, slow cooking to get the best out of it - apart from the chops, which are best marinaded in olive and lemon juice before being grilled quickly over charcoal, goat meat can be tough if not treated with the time it needs.

Goat is eaten around most of the Mediterranean - aside from the ubiquitous chicken it may be the only native meat available, particularly in areas that are arid with inhospitable terrain where only goats can graze. It's harder to find in the UK, as goat herders tend to farm them for their milk rather than the meat - much of what is sold as Caribbean goat curry, for example, is in fact mutton.

This dish is common across Greece and its islands - in the tourist resorts it's more likely to be made with mutton, but on islands like Crete, which has little farmland, goat meat reigns supreme. It's quick to prepare but needs plenty of cooking time, so it's probably best made on a weekend.

What you need:
200g lean goat meat

1 onion, roughly chopped
4 large tomatoes
Tomato purée, a generous squeeze
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
Half a lemon, cut into quarters
A few baby aubergines, halved
Olive oil

What to do:
Trim any fat off the meat and dice it. Fry the onion gently in the olive oil until it's translucent. Turn up the heat, add the meat and brown it. Transfer to a casserole or slow cooker and add everything else. If you're using fresh oregano, you'll need a few sprigs otherwise a generous pinch of the dried variety will do the job. You can add a splash of red wine at this stage too.

If you're using an oven, it should be heated to around 130-140C, but at a pinch you could also cook it very gently in a heavy-based sauteuse on the stove top. Whatever you choose, it needs a good 3 hours. Check it occasionally to ensure it's not drying out - top up with hot water from a kettle if needed. Test the meat after 3 hours - it should be meltingly tender.

Cook's tips:  
The best place to find goat meat is in a market or butcher's shop in the kind of neighbourhood that has a large Afro-Caribbean and Middle Eastern population. It's quite likely to be sold on the bone though, so you'll need double the weight. Otherwise, try a farmer's market or buy it online - many goat farms have diversified from cheese and yoghurt and started selling the meat too, usually trimmed and diced. If you're struggling to find it, mutton is the best alternative.

The oregano is essential - it is the one herb that distinguishes Greek cuisine from other Mediterranean styles. 

You can use tinned chopped tomatoes instead of fresh. The acidity of the tomatoes helps to tenderise the meat, as does the lemon. The wine just helps the process as well as adding another note of flavour. This recipe provides 3 of your 5 a day - add a side salad if you want more.

In Greece, casseroled goat is usually served with rice or chips. I prefer rice as it soaks up the lovely rich sauce, which you could mop up with pitta or crusty bread.