Prior to this impromptu Argentine feast, none of us had tried goat, much less heard of chivito, but we’ve all longed for it ever since. The memories intensified as I began to read articles proclaiming goat the hot new meat—it’s lean (less fat than chicken), low in cholesterol, and the animals are easy to raise; they’ll eat almost anything that grows and can graze on rocky hills and scrappy pastureland, making them a sustainable option in areas seemingly worthless for raising livestock. Many developing nations adore goat—especially in sub-Saharan Africa, the Caribbean, and on the Indian subcontinent—but we Americans are only beginning to wrap our heads around the idea of it as a legitimate protein. Ranchers like Bill Niman—founder of California’s venerable Niman Ranch, who has since struck out on his own—have started responsibly raising a variety of goat better suited to American palates (more tender, less musty), and chefs are taking notice.
David Schuttenberg is the executive chef of Cabrito in New York City, a restaurant named for the baby goat that’s become its specialty. (Cabrito is, more or less, a synonym for chivito.) As I watched him butcher a 20-pound goat kid with a dull cleaver, he explained that he’d love to be able to imitate the a la parrilla style of cooking I’d witnessed in Argentina, but it wasn’t always feasible to fire-roast a whole goat. Instead his inspiration comes from Mexican peasant cooking: marinate for a day, then braise for hours. Mature goat meat has a (deserved) reputation for toughness that is obviated when using kids. But any size goat lacks a barrier layer of fat under the skin and benefits from slow cooking at low heat, as well as marinating.
Cabrito’s namesake dish is the priciest thing on the menu; at $26, it’s nearly as much as the entire bill in Argentina—but it’s also damn good. As good as the original? A tiebreaking trip to La Palmera might be in order. Now to find that map.
CABRITO 101: Recipe by chef David Schuttenberg
Marinate a hind leg for 24 hours in a pureed rub of white onion, garlic, salt, serrano chiles, Seville orange juice (or half lime, half OJ), and a wet, spicy salsa. Before cooking, season with salt and place in a roasting pan on a bed of chopped onion, pineapple, halved garlic heads, and serrano chiles. Add the remaining marinade and enough chicken stock to cover the veggies. Cook at 225°F for about five hours or until fork tender. Then cool, pick the meat from the bone, and sear the chunks over high heat in a sauté pan to add a caramelized crispness.