My friends Bob and Dynah are goat farmers, and every Friday they bring me goat cheese. Last week they slaughtered some goats, and with the cheese delivery came some meat.
When Dynah handed me the freezer-wrapped package of goat meat, it took me back to my days as a high school teacher in Boston. On my lunch break I would walk to a nearby Jamaican cafe called the Silver Slipper. They had oxtail soup, jerk chicken, ginger beer and my favorite, curry goat. They also had the TV going, all the time, along with a running commentary by the regulars. It was a very entertaining place to eat lunch. It was also, as food often is, a window into another world.
So there I was, years later, standing with my package of goat meat, reminiscing about my teaching days and pining for Jamaican shores…I couldn’t wait to curry that goat. So I got online and hunted around until I found a curry goat recipe I liked. Most such recipes, I should warn you, do not call for marinating the meat, which is a mistake. In the recipe I chose (posted on www.caribseek.com by Veda Nugent and Marrett Green), the meat is marinated twice. Therein, I soon found out, lay a mystery.
First, cut two pounds of goat meat into bite-sized chunks. At this point, I stuck my nose into the bowl of meat and took a big whiff and made a startling discovery: Goat meat has a mildly gamey smell, closer to deer than lamb. I made a note to try this recipe at a later date with deer meat.
Then I squeezed the juice of one lime into my bowl of meat chunks, as per the directions, which said to stir the lime juice into the meat and leave it for a few minutes, and then drain the juice and rinse the meat.
While it was soaking, I pondered these instructions, which I couldn’t quite understand. I’ve never soaked anything in lime juice, and then drained the lime juice, and then washed the thing which had been soaking. It seemed as if the lime was meant to extract something, which was then washed away with the lime.
When I sniffed the goat after the lime treatment, all hint of gamey smell was gone.
The next step in the recipe is best accomplished with a large mortar and pestle. A food processor also works, as does a bowl, if you first mince finely. Mash up four cloves of garlic. Then add two minced hot peppers and mash it all together with the garlic. Then mix in one teaspoon black pepper, one teaspoon thyme leaves, two teaspoons salt and a heaping tablespoon of curry powder. Mix it all together until you have a fragrant paste, which you rub onto the meat. Mix in one onion, sliced, and marinate the mix in a closed container for two hours.
After marinating, get a pot going on medium heat and add two tablespoons of cooking oil and one tablespoon of sugar. Brown the sugar and add the marinated goat and onions, plus one bunch of chopped green onions. Cover the pot and let it cook for about 20 minutes, stirring often. When the meat is nicely cooked, add two large (or four medium) potatoes, cut into cubes. Put the lid back on and add water until it covers the contents. Cook on low/medium heat until the potatoes are soft. Rather than let the dish dry out, keep adding water to maintain a good level of sauce.
The result hits the spot in a deep-down way, with plenty of sauce if you want to serve it over rice. Or you can just drink the sauce out of your bowl .
At this point, I was still wondering if the lime really does mellow the goat’s gamey flavor, and if so, how?
I hoped back online and Googled every combination of “lime,” “goat,” “flavor chemistry,” “wild game” and “gamey” I could think of. I called chefs. I called goats.
I did not get the answer I was looking for. Acids, including lime, are well established as meat tenderizers. And they add flavor, which can mask the gamey flavors that some people object to. But I found no indication that lime or any acid will extract flavors that can then be washed away.
I did find out that in Trinidad, where they also cook curry goat, the word “lime” describes one of the most important aspects of “Trini” culture. If somebody asks “Where de lime?” they aren’t looking for fruit. They are looking to hang out. If the hanging out is not that good, they might say “dis lime have no juice.”
Back in the kitchen, I found a lime that did have juice, and I squeezed it on some deer meat and then followed through with the rest of the curry goat recipe. Yum. I may not have figured out what the lime is doing. All I know is that I will be making curry deer again sometime soon. Ya mon.