Thanks to both an overactive imagination and a strong susceptibility to the written word, I am easily persuaded to try out new recipes if the accompanying prose is sufficiently convincing. (It worked with this dish, after all, and that wasn’t the first.) A beautiful descriptor gets me every time, which would explain why this recipe for goat tacos has been stuck in my head for the past year. I was hooked with “the subtle perfume of bay leaves and cloves,” on the line with “the depth and spice of dried chiles,” and completely sunk by the time I got to “a combination so compelling we found ourselves going back for more even after we were full.” As someone who often finds herself in a similarly compelling position, I was at once validated and intrigued.
Although I’ve eaten my fair share of curried goat and the like, I’d never prepared it myself. The thought of tracking down a decent source for the meat and devoting the necessary hours to cooking it to the falling-off-the-bone point was more than enough reason for me to let this one slide for awhile.
But, two weeks ago, an undeniable taco craving struck, and it just happened to coincide with a visit from an epicure: the Carnivore’s Mother. Remembering this recipe, I pulled out last year’s July issue of Gourmet and made my shopping list.
I picked up the requisite dried chiles at the grocery store and easily found goat shoulder (for $4.99 per pound) at one of the halal meat markets on Atlantic Avenue. I toasted and soaked the peppers, gave them a quick whirl in the food processor with an unfortunately unripened tomato, a few cloves of garlic, and the rest of the herbs and spices, then poured the resulting sauce over the goat. The whole roasting pan went into the oven for three hours, time I used to make the apartment look like a bomb hadn’t recently hit.
The meat was still braising when his mother arrived, and it neatly masked the smell of floor cleaner with something much more appetizing. During the last half-hour of cooking, I sliced radishes and lettuce from my friends’ garden in New Jersey, chopped onions and cilantro, crumbled queso fresco, and heated tortillas. A bowl of limes and two different kinds of pepper sauce rounded out the spread. (Nota bene: I’d recommend adding crema or sour cream to that list as well; we missed the tangy moisture that one of those would’ve provided.)
We carted the whole lot outside, and, with accompanying Coronas, ate and drank ’til we were ready to pop. Compelling, indeed.
From Ian Knauer and Alexandro Garcia; Gourmet, July 2008
2 dried ancho chiles, wiped clean
1 pound tomatoes
3 1/2 to 4 pound bone-in goat such as shoulder, neck, or leg
3 garlic cloves
1 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon distilled white vinegar
5 whole black peppercorns
3 whole cloves
2 Turkish bay leaves or 1 California
16 to 24 corn tortillas
crumbled queso fresco
thinly sliced romaine or iceberg lettuce
chopped white onion
1. Slit chiles lengthwise, then stem and seed (leave veins for heat). Heat a dry large heavy skillet (not nonstick) over medium heat until hot, then toast chiles in batches, opened flat, turning and pressing with tongs, until more pliable and slightly changed in color, about 30 seconds per batch.
2. Transfer chiles to a bowl and soak in hot water until softened, 20 to 30 minutes.
3. Cut a shallow X in bottom of each tomato and blanch in simmering water 20 seconds. Transfer with a slotted spoon to an ice bath to stop cooking. Peel tomatoes. Coarsely chop, reserving juice.
4. Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle.
5. Cut goat at joints to separate into pieces (I had the butcher do this for me) and put in a 3-quart shallow baking dish. Sprinkle all over with 1 1/2 teaspoons salt.
6. Drain chiles, discarding soaking water, and purée in a blender with tomatoes and reserved juice, 3/4 teaspoon salt, and remaining ingredients except tortillas until very smooth, about 1 minute.
7. Pour sauce over meat, turning to coat, then cover dish tightly with a double layer of foil and braise in oven until meat is very tender, 3 to 1/2 hours. Remove from oven and cool meat in liquid, uncovered, 30 minutes.
8. Preheat oven to 350°F.
9. Coarsely shred meat, discarding bones, then mix into braising liquid in dish. Return to oven and cook, covered, until sauce is simmering, about 30 minutes more.
10. Fifteen minutes before goat is done, make 2 stacks of tortillas and wrap each stack in foil, then heat in oven on rack alongside baking dish. Serve goat with warm tortillas and accompaniments.
Goat can be made 3 days ahead and chilled.