In 1996, farmers in the United States asked that the label of goat meat be changed to mutton since people were confusing it with sheep meat. That’s how underrated the goat was – and still is – in the United States. To promote the great goat in Europe, certain cities celebrate the month of October as Goatober. But the goat is still second, third, fourth-best to other animals. Even though it’s lower in fat than chicken and has more protein than beef. Basically, it’s pretty darn special but underrated.
In the Middle East, special takes time but minimal effort. An age-old way to cook goat meat, a method that involves underground ovens and whole goats, still practiced in Arab countries, especially Jordan and Palestine. A skinned goat, with its head intact, is made to sit on a bed of potatoes and vegetables on a large silver platter and slowly lowered into the ground, into an oven with hot coals.
The oven is then closed with a lid and covered with the earth. Five hours later, it is slowly raised out, its meat divinely falling off the bone, its eyes, small black dots. In Jordanian and Palestinian culture, its tradition for the guest of honor to get the first bite of the goat tongue.
With a steaming goat, proudly displayed in the middle of the dining table, the host breaks open the jaws of the goat, rips out the tongue and tears out a piece. It is then presented to the guest of honor who has to eat it, with pleasure. Tradition also states that if the host presents a guest with the black eye of the goat, he is declaring enmity and showing his disdain towards the guest.
In the modern version, using a goat leg, make cuts in the leg and stuff the grooves with garlic cloves. In meat, you can never have enough garlic so use as many as you can fit in. Rub salt and pepper. Using a large, oven safe pot, put the leg in with carrots, whole garlic heads, onions and potatoes. Add as much as six potatoes, three large onions cut in portions like the aloos in a biryani. Cook it in the oven on low heat, around 190 C for five hours. Keep checking to see if it’s drying out, and if it is, add water or better yet, add vegetable or chicken broth. Cook it until the meat fall off the bone. Tongue and black eye optional.