THE MOST spectacular one-upmanship came at dinner one evening from a visiting Oregonian who had spent a good deal of time in Alaska.
"It's delicious," he remarked between juicy mouthfuls. "It tastes like American elk."
What he was eating was not some exotic game indigenous to northern regions of the North American continent, but goat -- the meat of which is known as chevon.
Pat Carson, secretary of the Maryland Dairy Goat Association, has found that among the members she knows who sell small amounts of chevon in the D.C. area, most do business with non-ethnic groups. The bulk of the large-lot sales, however, still go to ethnic groups.
Nancy Hymphries, who, besides owning a substantial dairy herd, is also possibly the biggest purveyor of chevon in this area, selling upwards of 500 head a year, says, "With all the embassies around here, my business seems to grow every year." She says she finds it difficult to keep up with the demand.
Like Linda Campbell of Luray, Va., who has a herd of more than 100 dairy goats, Humphries asks her customers to come to the farm to slaughter and butcher the animals there. Both goat breeders feel that processing the meat on the farm is easier for them than taking it to an outside slaughterhouse where state or federal regulations would apply. Campbell will also custom-feed kids.
"Some people prefer them milk-fed, so it comes out like veal," Campbell explained, "while others like them grain-fed."
Chevon is a byproduct of dairying. In order to get milk from the goats, they have to be bred annually, much like dairy cows. Most goats will twin, and there's usually a 50-50 chance of getting buck kids.
While the females, or does, will go on to become milk-producing stock, only a very small percentage of the males are kept as breed animals, so there usually are a good many unwanted male kids. Many of the smaller breeders in the area -- those who have a half dozen dairy goats -- have ahard time getting rid of their excess goats.
There is no established market for chevon here. Many of the local breeders sell their young male kids at auction. Most of these auction-sold animals then find their way into ethnic grocery stores and restaurants. Most Greek, Lebanese and Middle Eastern grocery stores have chevon available, some year-round. At this time of the year, it will be easy to come by, because of Greek Easter.
While chevon is available by the cut at retail outlets, it has to be purchased whole from individual farms. Young kids -- weighing up to 50 pounds live weight (about 25 pounds slaughtered) -- are excellent if left whole and barbecued on a spit. A Lebanese friend just douses the carcass with lemon juice and olive oil and grills it over charcoal until the meat is pink. Herd owners sell by the head or by the pound, usually depending on the size of the animal -- the smaller ones are likely to be by the pound. The average price from farms runs about $1 a pound live weight, so you can figure on about $2 a pound for the meat you actually eat. Prices, however, do vary widely.
Finding locally raised chevon may prove to be somewhat difficult. Calling area dairy goat clubs is probably the best way (a listing follows). If you're out driving in the country and you spot a herd of goat, it may pay to stop and ask if there are any available for sale. While large-crop dealers like Campbell and Humphries ask that the animals be slaughtered and butchered by the customers, don't be put off by this. Many of the small-herd owners will make arrangements to custom-cut the meat at a slaughter-house if it's ordered ahead of time.
Young animals -- weighing up to about 60 pounds and aged about four to six months -- are the most in demand. At this stage, the meat is a light pink, not unlike good lamb; the flavor is similar. An older animal will have darker meat, almost like venison, with a similar flavor.
Like any lean meat, chevon has to be treated differently from the heavily marbled beef and port that's commercially available. Marinating the chevon in an oily marinade or larding it before cooking will make it juicier and more flavorful. If a sauce is used to baste during roasting, the same effect will be achieved.
While chevon is gaining increasing popularity as an ingredient for European and even North American recipes, most of the really delectable dishes come out of Islands, Middle Eastern and Mexican cookbooks. Many of these cookbooks call for pork and lamb, but chevon can be substituted for more authentic flavor and texture.
Chevon can be used in dishes as ordinary as stew. The meat is excellent in curry. A roast leg of chevon vies with lamb as a party dish. eThe liver adds a marvelous dimension to a pate de campagne. The hocks and knuckle bones make stock that rivals veal stock.
For information onwhere to purchase chevon from area farms: Maryland Dairy Goat Association; Pat Carson, secretary (301) 831-5540. Capitol Dairy Goat Coop; Cynthia Dawson, president (703) 361-4413. Virginia State Dairy Goat Association; Patricia Schaffer, secretary (703) 544-7515. ROAST LEG OF KID WITH SPRING ONIONS (8 to 12 servings) Marinade: 2 tablespoons sesame seeds 2 parts olive oil to 1 part sherry or wine 2 legs of young goat, unboned, about 3 pounds* for cooking: Salt and pepper to taste 7 tablespoons butter 1 pound spring onions 1/2 cup white wine 1/2 cup water 1/2 cup concentrated veal or goat stock 20 fresh tarragon leaves or 1 teaspoon dry tarragon
To prepare marinade, combine sesame seeds, olive oil and sherry or wine. Marinate the goat legs for 2 to 6 hours. Drain, reserving marinade.
Season the legs with salt and pepper. Melt half of the butter in a pan and brown leg evenly on all sides. Place meat in a roasting pan and pour marinade over it. Roast in a 300-degree oven, allowing 25 minutes to the pound.
Quarter spring onions 30 minutes before the meat is done, covering and surrounding it.
When the meat is done, strain the roasting juices into a pan and return the meat to the turned-off oven to keep warm. Add the white wine to the juices and deglaze over high heat. When wine is almost evaporated, add the water and the stock. Reduce for 10 minutes or until only about 1/2 cup of the sauce remains. Stir in the remaining butter, cut in tiny pieces, to form a liason. Add the tarragon and taste for seasoning.
To serve, slice the meat very thin, surround with the spring onions and top with the sauce.
*Note: Older goat, about 4 pounds, can also be used nicely in this recipe.
Adapted from "The Nouvelle Cuisine of Jean & Pierre Troigros." MARY FINES BARBECUED CHEVON (16 servings) Western Sauce: 1-pound can tomatoes 2 cups water 6-ounce can tomato paste 2 dried cayenne peppers* 1/2 cup ketchup 2 tablespoons sugar 2 tablespoons worcestershire sauce 2 teaspoons chili powder Juice of 2 lemons 1/4 cup wine vinegar 2 1/2 teaspoon salt 1/4 teaspoon hot pepper sauce 2 teaspoons black pepper 1 large onion, chopped 1 clove garlic, crushed 2 bay leaves 2 sticks butter 2 teaspoons dry mustard meat: 2 legs or shoulders of chevon (goat meat), approximately 10 pounds Salt and pepper
To prepare sauce, combine all ingredients and simmer gently for 30 minutes, covered. (Sauce will keep in th refrigerator for several weeks.)
To prepare meat, cover it loosely with foil and roast slowly in a 300-degree oven, basting generously with sauce until meat is well-done, about 25 minutes per pound. Remove meat from bones and chop or shred, adding sauce as needed. Serve on sandwich rolls topped with cole slaw.
*Note: The sauce is quite hot; if desired, leave out the cayenne peppers.
Western Sauce from "Sunset Barbecue Cookbook," Lane Books. TEX-MEX KID (4 to 6 servings) Marinade: 1 cup olive oil 1/3 cup white wine or lemon juice Dash hot pepper sauce 1 tablespoon sesame seeds (optional) Shoulder or leg of young goat For cooking: 2 cloves garlic, cut in thirds Oil for deep-frying 2 tomatoes, chopped 1 onion, chopped 1 gren pepper, chopped Gauacamole
To prepare marinade, combine all ingredients and marinate meat for 2 to 6 hours before cooking.
Cut 6 slashes in meat and insert garlic. Place meat in 300-degree oven and cook until done, about 25 minutes per pound.
In skillet or large pot, heat enough oil to reach halfway up the roasted goat. Brown goat on all sides until a crisp, golden crust has formed.
Slice and serve with chopped tomatoes, onion, green pepper and guacamole.