A few years ago, the national food media began having a field day with goat meat as the next big thing among chefs in major markets.
Though it’s a truism that contemporary American culinary trends move from coastal cities inland — largely as a matter of demographics, whereby more diverse populations are quicker to import traditions and ingredients from other countries — heartlanders in this case had a bit of a leg up. After all, this is ranch country; just as you tend to see more locally raised lamb and buffalo on menus in Colorado than you will elsewhere, I was spotting goat at Denver’s upscale restaurants before I was reading about it in, say, the New York Times.
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While working on an upcoming cookbook, “Denver & Boulder Chef’s Table” (Globe Pequot, August 2013), I had the pleasure of collaborating with chef-restaurateur Mark Fischer, who first rose to statewide acclaim with the now-shuttered six89 in Carbondale and has since gone on to open several restaurants, including The Pullman in Glenwood Springs, Town in Carbondale and Harman’s Eat & Drink in Denver’s Cherry Creek neighborhood. Fischer has been at the forefront of local, seasonal sourcing in these parts — and remains so even at his Southeast Asian-inspired establishment, Phat Thai (also in Carbondale). The goat curry he serves there exemplifies his ability to keep one foot in Colorado, one foot far beyond.
This recipe is admittedly labor-intensive, requiring most of a day to complete — but it’s well worth the trouble. Fischer highly recommends ordering the goat meat directly from a butcher and cooking it all, though you’ll have plenty extra; it will keep frozen, carefully wrapped first in plastic and then in foil, for about a month. Many other ingredients should be available at your local Asian market.
Kaeng Massaman Pae (Goat Curry)
For the goat:
10 pounds goat legs, chopped into pieces with a cleaver
Kosher salt and black pepper
¼ cup olive oil, plus extra as needed
12 garlic cloves, smashed
8 shallots, sliced
4 dried New Mexico chilies, roasted in a dry frying pan until fragrant, soaked in warm water, de-stemmed and de-seeded
2 stalks lemongrass, peeled, trimmed and sliced thinly
1 (2-inch) piece galangal, peeled and sliced thinly
2 cinnamon sticks, crushed
5 cardamom seeds, 5 cloves and 1 tablespoon cumin seed, all dry-roasted in a frying pan and ground in a spice grinder or coffee mill
8 cups coconut milk
2 cups chicken stock, plus extra as necessary
For the massaman curry paste:
12 garlic cloves, smashed
8 shallots, thinly sliced
4 dried New Mexico chilies, soaked in enough warm water to provide 1 reserved cup liquid, de-stemmed and de-seeded
2 stalks lemongrass, peeled, trimmed and sliced thin
1 tablespoon shrimp paste, wrapped in foil and set in a dry pan over high heat until fragrant
1 (2-inch) piece galangal, peeled and sliced thin
20 cardamom seeds, 10 cloves and 1 tablespoon cumin seed, all dry-roasted in a frying pan and ground in a spice grinder or coffee mill
2 cinnamon sticks, crushed
1 piece nutmeg, grated
1 bunch cilantro
For the curry base:
2 tablespoons blended oil
4 tablespoons minced jalapeño
4 tablespoons minced shallots
4 tablespoons minced garlic
¼ cup palm sugar
4 cups peeled, diced sweet potato, blanched in salted boiling water
4 cups gai lan (Chinese broccoli), trimmed, de-stemmed, cut into 1-inch pieces and blanched in salted boiling water
4 cups coconut milk
Good-quality fish sauce to taste
4 tablespoons roasted, chopped peanuts
4 tablespoons coconut cream
4 tablespoons green onion, chopped
4 tablespoons cilantro, chopped
1 cup jasmine rice, cooked according to package instructions to yield about 3 cups
Two large roasting pans
A large wok
1. Preheat the oven to 275 F.
2. Season the goat pieces generously with salt and pepper. In a very large skillet, heat olive oil over a burner on high. Sear and brown the pieces a few minutes on all sides, working in batches (adding more oil as needed) and removing the pieces to large roasting pans as you go.
3. Discard all but a film of oil from the skillet. Add remaining dry ingredients and cook over medium-high heat, stirring until well integrated (a couple of minutes); then add the coconut milk and stock and bring to a simmer.
4. Divide the contents among the roasting pans. The meat should be completely submerged; if not, add more stock to cover. Cover the pans with foil and braise in the oven for about 8 hours, or until the meat is falling from the bone.
5. Remove the meat from the pans and strain the braising liquid into a separate container; let cool.
6. When the meat is ready to handle, pull from the bone and shred by hand.
7. Transfer shredded meat and braising liquid into a large pan and bring to a simmer over medium heat.
8. Adjust seasoning to taste, remove from heat and set aside.
9. Meanwhile, begin the curry. To make the paste, mix to incorporate all ingredients in a bowl. Transfer to a food processor and grind, adding just enough of the reserved chili-soaking liquid to make a smooth paste.
10. Reserve ½ cup to complete the recipe; the remainder will keep refrigerated for a couple of weeks (or frozen for months).
11. In a wok, heat blended oil over a medium-high burner until it shimmers. Add the jalapeño, shallot and garlic and toss until aromatic.
12. Add the reserved curry paste; stir to incorporate. Once aromatic, add the palm sugar and stir.
13. Add 4 cups reserved shredded goat meat, sweet potato and gai lan; toss to incorporate. (You can freeze the extra meat as instructed in the headnote.)
14. Finally, add the coconut milk, stir, and bring to a simmer. Season with fish sauce to taste.
15. Ladle curry into four large bowls; garnish each with a tablespoon of peanuts, coconut cream, chopped scallion, and cilantro.
16. Serve with jasmine rice on the side; Fischer also recommends a simple cucumber salad as an accompaniment.
Top photo: Kaeng Massaman Pae, or goat curry. Credit: Christopher Cina