On The Range: Cabrito

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Goats helped settle America.

Not kidding: According to Robb Walsh, author of The Tex-Mex Cookbook, goats were the preferred diet of common folk in Europe, so when Columbus sailed to the New World on his second voyage in 1493 he brought goats for meat, cheese, and milk--along with Spanish shepherds to make it all happen. They brought sheep, as well, but they were raised for wool, not eaten at dinnertime.

In his memoir, Are You Really Going to Eat That?, Walsh describes a memorable cabrito al pastor (young kid goat roasted on a spit over a mesquite fire) meal in Monterrey, Mexico, the cabrito capital of the world, with his at-first somewhat reluctant family in tow:

"What a feast. The cabrito had all the strong character of meat cooked over an open fire: crunchy skin, juicy, flavorful meat; and the sharp taste and aroma of charcoal. The rinonada (loin portion) was my favorite cut, too. The white loin meat along the spine pulled away in long, tender pieces. Attached to the bone were several ribs; I pulled them apart and enjoyed the moist tidbits of meat and the crispy skin covering them. My daughters went for the piernas--'drumsticks,' they called them. My wife liked the crunchy shoulder pieces. We were as content as the Jack Sprat family."

For her New York-based audience, Zarela Martinez, author of The Food and Life of Oaxaca, recommends that the home cook visit Greek, halal Muslim, and West Indian butchers to obtain goat, as Mexican meat purveyors are in short supply in the Big Apple. She also notes, "Oaxacans always include and specifically value the head, which has some extra-tender nuggets of meat." Her recipe for Barbacoa de Cabrito includes guajillo chiles, cumin seeds, whole cloves, allspice berries, Oaxacan oregano, fresh thyme, salt and pepper, garlic, cider vinegar, and, most notably, dried avocado leaves, which are scattered above and below the
meat as it oven-roasts in a large pan.

That's one hell of a list.

In his version, Matt Martinez, the late Dallas food icon and author of Mex-Tex, prefers the barbecue pit method, first marinating and larding the meat, then roasting it for more than two hours over a mesquite fire, turning frequently and adding a vinegar basting mixture until the goat is golden brown on all sides. No need to dry or sprinkle avocado leaves.

Unfortunately, this delicious-sounding dish is not listed on the menu of Matt's legendary Dallas restaurant, Matt's Rancho Martinez. Truth is, only a relatively small number of Mexican establishments in Dallas (such as El Ranchito in Oak Cliff) even carry cabrito. The only reason El Ranchito breaks the trend is because owners Oscar and Laura Sanchez hail from Monterrey, and wanted to build a place featuring their beloved Nuevo Leon cooking.

Luckily, cabrito is a staple of many of the world's cuisines. Restaurants other than Tex and Mex therefore sometimes feature the gamey dish, as well. At Inca's Café in Carrollton, the greatest challenge you may face when ordering Seco de Cabrito is figuring out how best to eat the thing. Described on the menu as goat stew, Seco de Cabrito appears instead to be stewed goat (there is a difference), presented in bone-in pieces resembling riblets, and it is served with a cool, creamy salsa that tastes of cilantro with a hint of mint.

Speaking of salsa, Inca's offers free lessons in the Latin dance on Tuesday nights. And on Saturdays they hire an authentic salsa DJ so you can dance the night away. In Carrollton.

Would I kid you about something like this?

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