Spring might evoke lamb in the UK, but Dean Timpson tried a more unfamiliar meat on his Easter menu - goat. Tom Vaughan reports on one of the world's staple meats
What's the most widely consumed meat in the world? It's not intensively reared chicken, whatever recent coverage might lead you to believe, and it's not pork, however many bacon sarnies the average builder might plough through. It is, in fact, goat. Yes, goat. Scourge of the farmyard, mascot of the US navy, favoured snack of the troll. Goat.
It's particularly popular in Africa, Asia and the Mediterranean, and is served stewed, roasted, grilled, barbecued or minced. Indeed, Prince Harry returned from Afghanistan last month with a newly found penchant for goat curry. In Greece, local restaurants will fry you up a goat testicle if you ask nicely, and in many Central and South American countries the animals' eyeballs are a juicy addition to the dish caldo de cabeza, or soup of the head, bobbing along the surface, evocative of Indiana Jones's Pankot Palace banquet in the Temple of Doom film.
But in Britain, and across most of the Continent, a taste for the meat has never really caught on. Of course, it's not all bobbing eyeballs and sautéd gonads. Goat, especially young goat, is a very lean meat, lower in cholesterol and saturated fats than most other meats.
Unlike lamb and sheep, goats don't build up fatty deposits - which is the marbling evident in most red meats. For this reason, just over a decade ago, the US Department of Agriculture began to promote goat as a healthy and affordable alternative, and goat husbandry is at present among the fastest growing sectors of the livestock industry in the USA.
Dean Timpson, head chef at his eponymous restaurant in Marlow's Compleat Angler hotel, first used the meat during a spell in Germany 15 years ago, where it is a traditional dish at Easter, and has used it intermittently ever since. After sourcing a supplier in Tours, France, Timpson, for the first time, added it to his own Easter tasting menu. Ideally, he says, he'd have sourced the meat from Britain but, with a cost difference as high as £40 (carcasses from the Continent cost about £45, half the price of British goats), the prices were impossible to make work.
At only three months old, kid goats are small at Easter, no more than about 70cm in length, and are at their tenderest. A milk diet gives their meat a pale look, like a cross between lamb and veal.
Unlike sheep, which is categorised into lamb, hogget and mutton, the term "goat meat" can refer to any age of animal, but it's kid in which Timpson is interested. As with mutton, as the animal gets older the meat becomes richer and tougher, requiring braising to slowly break it down.
Timpson butchers his own carcasses for his tasting menu, with each animal yielding about 10 or 12 dishes. Three out of noisette, leg, shoulder, rillettes of belly, sweetbreads, liver and kidney will, in small portions, constitute the finished dish, served with lemon thyme cabbage, a carrot reduction, carrot purée and bay leaf mash.
The leg has a soft, mild taste and an extremely tender flavour, which unlike lamb will not coat your palate in fat, says Timpson. The noisette, made of fillet and loin wrapped in belly skin, has a deeper, gamier edge to it, while the shoulder is drier and comes dressed at Timpson's with a herb crust.
The butchering process takes about 45 minutes and begins by removing the liver, then the shoulder, the leg and the loin. "Everyone has their favourite bit," Timpson says. "Mine's the belly, as it's by far the most flavoursome."
The legs are taken apart into their various muscular components - the nut, the chump and the false fillet - cooked in a water bath at 62°C for 28 minutes, sliced and served. The rillettes constitute the kidneys, sweetbreads, liver and offcuts of belly and other areas, cooked down in fat to bind them, wrapped in clingfilm, and cooked in a water bath before being flash-fried prior to service. The noisette is cooked in the water bath at 62°C for 10 minutes while the shoulder takes 24 hours at 62°C.
Despite the global appetite for goat, the British can be a stubborn bunch and their reaction to goat was lukewarm, says Timpson. Nevertheless, he is willing to try it again next year. "The trouble is," he says, "people need convincing about different meats. For example, I've tried to push rabbit before. It's tasty, it's lean and it's good value. But when people think of it, they think of Bugs Bunny."
Loin, leg and shoulder of goat with carrot puree and lemon thyme cabbage
Ingredients (Serves 6)
1 kid goat carcass
4 medium shallots
300g carrot, diced
100g celery, diced
5 medium carrots
2 medium potatoes
1/2 head Savoy cabbage
100ml double cream
2 sprigs lemon thyme
1 stick celery, diced
Salt and pepper
Remove shoulder and leg from carcass and tunnel bone. Place shoulder into a Vac Pac bag and cook in a water bath for 24 hours at 62°C.
Break the leg down into individual muscle groups, place into separate Vac Pac bags with diced carrot, celery and diced shallot (reserve one for the cabbage) each. Cook in a water bath for 30 minutes at 62°C.
Remove the loins from the backbone and butterfly them remove the meat from the skin and trim. Roll up loins, cover with caul fat and cook in a water bath for 12 minutes at 62°C.
For the purée, peel and dice three carrots into 1cm pieces and place in Vac Pac bag with 25g butter, salt and pepper. Cook for 45 minutes then purée.
For the reduction, dice and liquidise two carrots. Reduce gently to a coulis, adding butter to taste, season.
Bake the potatoes for 45 minutes to an hour and mash with 50g butter and 100ml double cream. Remove stalks from the cabbage and julienne. Boil in salted water until al dente. Dice remaining shallots and sweat with 25g butter and lemon thyme. Add to cabbage.
To serve, slice the loin and shoulder into six pieces and flash-fry in a little butter until warmed through. Flash-fry the leg muscles in the same way and slice. Arrange one piece of loin, one piece of shoulder and half a sliced leg muscle on the plate with some carrot purée, cabbage, and drizzle with the carrot reduction.
Dean Timpson at the Compleat Angler
After more than seven years as executive chef at Marlow's Compleat Angler hotel, Dean Timpson was last year offered the opportunity of opening a restaurant with his name above the door at the 64-bedroom property.
Although his initial reaction was one of surprise and "reluctance, because I'm a quiet chef who simply likes being in the kitchen cooking", he is now "completely fired up" by his new environment.
In fact, the 36-seat restaurant, which launched last May, broke new ground not only for Timpson but for Macdonald Hotels & Resorts, marking the first time the privately owned group has given one of its chefs such a platform and a share in the success of the restaurant, which operates as a joint venture.
Almost £1m was spent on creating two outlets - fine-dining restaurant Dean Timpson at the Compleat Angler and the hotel's other eaterie, the brasserie-style Bowaters - by dividing the former Riverside restaurant in two.
Timpson explains that cooking for a far smaller number of covers than before, and being able to focus exclusively on the restaurant - which is open for lunch from Wednesday to Saturday and for dinner from Tuesday to Saturday - allows him to significantly raise the level of cooking.
Dean Timpson at the Compleat Angler, Marlow, Buckinghamshire SL7 1RG Tel: 01628 481971