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Thursday, May 1, 2014

Chivo Guisado

It's almost impossible to island hop in the Caribbean and not bump into some variation of goat stew. Because it's everywhere, I've tasted quite a few. While most Caribbean goat stews are curry based, a few concoctions  take a different spin. Goat Water is a beloved stew found on the islands of St Kitts & Nevis. Fortified with a stock made of goat's heads, it's loaded with goat meat,  breadfruit, paw paws, and tomatoes. Several years ago, lazily perched under a palm tree on a pristine beach in Nevis, I shared a bowl of goat water with a hungry wild horse. As much as I loved that bowl of goat water stew, the horse got the last few precious drops. Unfazed by the experience, we both reveled in its gelatinous fabulousness. That said, I'm particularly partial to Dominican Goat stew. Chivo guisado picante is a tomato based stew that utilizes a sour orange marinade to tenderize the meat before it's caramelized in a mysterious Trinidadian-style  browning sauce. I love sour orange and adore a sticky browning. Combined, they make my heart sing.

Always the trusty sidekick, Michael tagged along while I hit my various markets in search of goat stew stuff. Sure, boneless goat stew meat might have been the logical way to go. More stewy, I guess. I'm a rule breaker. I needed/wanted bones for added flavor. After snagging 2 pounds of gorgeous goat shanks from Quarles Farm at the farmers' market, we stopped by the African Caribbean Market for ripe plantains, pigeon peas, rice, and coconut milk. Game on.

Dominican Goat Stew.
Because sour oranges are kind of difficult to come by outside of the Caribbean, a combination of fresh orange and fresh lime juice was a great
substitute. After squeezing the juice from 2 large oranges and 3 limes, I tossed the combined juices into a large bowl before adding 2 diced cubanella peppers, sliced green onions, and chopped cilantro. For the spice rub, I crumbled 2 tablespoons Mexican oregano into a mortar and added 1 tablespoon of kosher salt. After smashing 2 peeled garlic cloves, I tossed them into the mortar and used a pestle to grind the mix into a rough paste.

When braising shanks of any kind, I really like the meat to pull down and away from the bones, so I simply snipped the tendons at the top of the bones before dropping them into the marinade. After rubbing the spices and marinade into the meat, I covered the bowl with plastic wrap and slid the meat into the refrigerator to soak up the flavor overnight.

The fun part. I like to call it the brown down. I've used the caramelized sugar browning method for Trinidadian chicken several times. It's tricky business. And weird. And amazing.

After scraping most of the herbs off of the goat shanks, I patted them dry and set them aside. With the shanks at room temperature, I slid a large cast iron skillet over a medium high flame and added 3 tablespoon of brown sugar. Patience was key. I wasn't making a caramel sauce. It wasn't supposed to be pretty. I knew I had to take it to the edge. It needed to look almost burnt (or burnished) without
actually burning. Within seconds, the sugar melted and turned golden brown.
Just before it combusted, I carefully nestled the shanks into the molten sugar and browned the pieces on all sides. When the shanks were deeply caramelized, I added the reserved marinade, 10 split grape tomatoes, 2 tablespoons tomato paste, 2 cups chicken stock, cracked black pepper, and 1 whole habanero pepper. I brought the mix to a boil, reduced it to a simmer, sealed the skillet with aluminum foil, clamped a lit over the foil, and slid the stew into a 350 degree oven to braise for 2 1/2 hours.

While the shanks braised away, I sliced 2 large ripe plantains on the bias and fried them in olive oil until they were golden brown. Peas and rice. Rice and peas. Beans and rice. Rice and beans. Like goat stew, the combination is found throughout the Caribbean. Dominican rice with pigeon peas gets jazzed up a bit with the addition of coconut. I sauteed 1/3 cup minced onions in olive oil for 5 minutes.  When the onion softened, I added 1 tablespoon minced fresh cilantro, 1/4 teaspoon oregano, and 1 tablespoon tomato paste. Just before the tomato paste caramelized, I added 1 can of drained pigeon peas, 3 cups chicken stock, and 1/2 cup coconut milk. I brought the stock to a boil, added 2 1/2 cups long grain rice, reduced the heat to a simmer, covered the pot, and cooked the rice until it was tender, about 25 minutes.

I pulled the goat shanks from the oven to rest. To perk up the sleepy stew, I scattered julienned yellow peppers and scallions over the shanks before nestling them over heaping spoonfuls of the creamy coconut rice and pigeon peas.

I suppose it could have been stewier. Some folks probably would have added more stock or water to the base. I purposely chose to let it cook down or "fry down" to create a more intense flavor base. Here's the deal. It was ridiculous. Period.  The sultry shards of goat slipped off the bones like wet silk stockings. Tender. Moist. Succulent. Sure, the shanks weren't swimming in sauce. It didn't matter. There was just enough vegetable-studded jus to bathe the shanks, seep into the rich coconut rice, and puddle around the meat. Funny, the intense caramelized browning of the meat didn't bring sweetness into play. At All. It added a subtle smoky depth to the fiery sweet tomato-based stock  that countered the slight tang of the sour orange marinade and tamed mild gaminess of the goat meat. Fabulous.

What trumped everything?
In the end, we had bones to suck. Win.


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