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St. Kitts and Nevis: Goat water stew

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Our next stop in our worldwide culinary adventure is St. Kitts and Nevis.  While they are two separate islands, they’re just one country and have only a 2 mi (3km) channel called “The Narrows” separating them.  With only 104 sq mi (261 sq km) of land, these are tiny little islands inhabited by only 55,000 people, but they have rich connection to the other Caribbean (pronounced “ker-i-BEE-an”) countries.  But before we get into that, let’s look at a piece of US history tied to these islands.

Nevis is the birthplace of USA’s own Alexander Hamilton, the Founding Father who, among countless other achievements, established the culinary tradition of having turkey at annual Thanksgiving celebrations.  At the country’s first Thanksgiving established by George Washington on November 26, 1789, Hamilton was so upset when there was no turkey served that he halted the meal and quickly convinced the diners of the first continental congress that turkey is absolutely necessary.  Dinner was sent back to the kitchen and the chefs roasted turkeys with haste.  Together, they drew up and passed the resolution: “No citizen of the United States should refrain from turkey on Thanksgiving Day.” (The Miluakee Sentinel, Nov 30, 1911).  

That was a bit of a stretch to connect turkey to St. Kitts and Nevis, but I thought you might enjoy that tangent as much as I did!  Now on to the food!

Being an island in the tropics, seafood and fresh fruits/produce make up a big part of the diet.  But goat is another common meat to be had.  When you think about it, it makes sense – goats don’t take up much space, provide fresh milk, their dung can be used for fuel, can make clothing from the hair and skin, and they can graze on just about anything.  And it is this humble goat that we’re going to explore more with our Goat Water Stew recipe today.

Goat water stew

Goat water is a common dish on many of the Caribbean islands and is well loved. It is a hearty and filling stew that is meal in a bowl! It is rumored to give men extra, ahem, potency and vitality. Pluto Shervington dedicated a reggae classic to it:

“So I jumped on a minibus….” Sing it!  I have to confess that I kept that song on repeat while making our goat water and succeeded in annoying Jillian while she tried to watch the movie Dune.  I love it!  

Sourcing the ingredients

The key to making a good goat water stew is tender goat meat.  But let’s back-up a second.  “You said goat, right?”  That’s right, we’re making goat today!  “But where am I going to get that?” Glad you asked!  It’s actually not that hard.  Goat meat is one the most consumed meat worldwide, so you’re very likely to find it near you.  To my surprise it was closer than I expected. Free range goat meat from Australia was available in the frozen meat section of the local Wegmans in Collegeville, PA and I would expect it to be in stock at most of their stores.  Many Whole Foods, TESCOs, Carrefours stock it.  Also, remember that goat is a staple of Halal eating and you are bound to have a Halal butcher near you.  You’ll want 4 lbs (1.8kg) to make a big batch that will feed 6-8, but feel free to cut everything in half if you want to serve less as a side dish.  

The other more difficult ingredients to source are green papaya and breadfruit. Asian grocery stores often have green papayas, so you can check there, but because I don’t have one within an hour’s drive, I substituted the red papaya and it worked perfectly fine.  The breadfruit was harder.  It is a big, starchy fruit grown in tropical climates and is related to the jackfruit.  It does indeed have a breadish flavor, but unfortunately, I couldn’t find it for this recipe. Instead, I doubled up on the papaya; if you have breadfruit readily available, by all means, substitute it for half of the papaya we list here.

“Great, so we found some papaya and goat meat, now what about that tender part you mentioned?”  The key to the stew coming out well is making that goat meat tender.  You do that by cooking the hell out of it!  

Pressure cook the hell out of it

No kitchen is complete without a pressure cooker and we’re going to use that today to make your goat fall-off-the-bone tender! First, you brown the goat meat on high heat in batches in the bottom of your pressure cooker with oil.  Make sure you use a fat that can take the heat without smoking.  I used pork fat that I rendered from the cracklins of a heritage breed pig raised locally here in PA.  You could easily extract your own from saving your bacon fat if you wanted.  Otherwise, palm oil or peanut oils are great options.

Once the meat is all browned, add 1.5-2 quarts/liters of chicken or beef stock (preferably homemade).  The originally recipe I researched called for water (hence “goat water”) and Maggi seasoning cubes to get the flavor.  However, homemade stock tastes much better and doesn’t have the additives and MSG that Maggi cubes have. Add 1 teaspoon of salt. Close the pressure cooker and bring it up to pressure for 1 hour.  Don’t have a pressure cooker? No problem!  You can simmer the goat meat in a heavy bottomed Dutch oven for 2 hours instead.

While that is cooking, you can prepare the other ingredients.  We need 1 Tablespoon of gravy browning.  What’s that? I hadn’t heard of it either so I did some poking around.  It turns out browning sauce is essentially a burnt sugar water that is used to give stews and sauces (like gravy) a brown color and a rich taste.  Sounds like a nice thing to supplement your cooking pantry.  But upon looking into it further, it appears that most brands are just caramel color with water.  That wouldn’t add much flavor, though the color would certainly develop.  Thankfully, YouTube came to the rescue with this lovely guide on how to make your own at home:

I find the video to be incredibly charming and thought the tips to use the empty can and chopstick were super helpful to save your pots and pans.  So I used the can from the tomatoes needed for our recipe to make my own gravy browning.  It sure was easy!  But in hindsight, I wonder about the chemicals from the plastic lining of the can leaching into the sugar while it is darkening.  I suspect there is some leaching because the temperatures reach a very hot level, so keep that in mind if you plan on using this technique and decide for yourself.  It might be better to just use a tiny saucepan and use PBW to clean it later (more on PBW below).  Either way, heat 1 Tablespoon of sugar in your container of choice over medium high heat stirring constantly until it is well browned.  Add ¼ cup (60ml) of water carefully.  It will hiss, but keep stirring with the chopstick until they’re incorporated.  Set aside to cool.

Now for the other ingredients. Peel and dice 1.6 lbs (.73kg), about ½ of one papaya into 1” (2.5cm) cubes.  Do the same with 1 large onion. Sauté the papaya and onions in butter over medium heat until they’ve softened.  Set aside.  Make a bouquet garni by grabbing 3-5 pieces of thyme 3-5 sprigs of parsley and 2 bay leaves.  Tie them together and you’re ready to go!   Melissa Clark from the NYT has a great YouTube video demonstrating this:

By now your meat should be about ready.  Quick release the pressure by running cold water over the pressure cooker lid.  Return the open cooker to the stove on low heat.  Check the goat meat with a knife to make sure it’s tender.  Add the papaya, onion, bouquet garni, 6 whole hot Thai chilies, and 14 oz (411g) can of diced tomatoes (I prefer Muir Glenn).

Mix 1.5 Tablespoons of flour with a roughly equal part of cold water until well mixed.  Add 1 Tablespoon of cooled gravy browning.  When well combined, add it to your pot.

Make some quick dumplings (droppers): Mix 2 cups of flour (250g), 1 Tablespoon of baking powder, ½ teaspoon salt, and 4 Tablespoons of butter with a whisk until well incorporated.  Whisk in 2/3 cup (157ml) of buttermilk (or regular milk). Pull off bite-sized pieces, the “dropppers,” about the size of a big grape and drop them directly into the stew.  

Now we just have to finish it by closing the pressure cooker back up and bringing to hi heat for another 20-30 minutes to let the flavors from the last additions get pulled into the stew.  If you’re using a standard Dutch oven, give it 45 minutes to an hour.  Quick release the pressure again and pull out the bouquet garni.  Taste and adjust salt as desired.  Serve the stew with rice or a crusty bread and a Carib Beer, Skol Lager, or Brinley Gold Rum.  Discard the bones as you go – set out a bowl in the middle of the table to be your “graveyard”.  

Tasting and lessons learned

Goat water stew is rich and hearty with a great taste of the islands.  I love how the goat prepared this way is very tender and mild – not at all gamey.  I would have never thought about adding fruits to a stew, but the papaya was a nice addition that brought a pleasant, but restrained sweetness.  The Thai chilies added a great soft heat that cut some of the richness of the goat and made things a lot more interesting.  Next time I make this, I think I’ll add some rum.  I think it’ll add a very interesting oaky and fruity dimension that it doesn’t have otherwise.  This idea is inspired by the Drunken Goat available at Soc Trang Express in Worcester, MA – the very place that gifted me the Thai chilies to start with.  P.T., you’re on to something over there!

On pressure cooking and cleaning

Any type of pressure cooker will work as long as it is big enough to hold the stew – I recommend 8 quarts.  If you need to buy one, I had a cheap aluminum one that I picked up on clearance at Walmart in 2008 for $20, but I have also seen cheap models at local Latin American markets – particularly those that specialize in Brazilian cuisine.  Call your local shop and see what they have.  Of course, you can get anything on Amazon, and this one by Presto looks like a good value entry level cooker to test the waters.  No need to spend a fortune when you might just want to test the waters first.  I use mine all the time – pulled pork takes 11 hours?  Nope!  Pressure cooker will do it in 40 min.  Simmer bones and veggies all day to make delicious stock?  Try 1 hour or less in the pressure cooker.  Homemade crème brûlée or cheesecake?  Pressure cooker is far superior to the oven and will cook in a fraction of the time.  So there are tons of uses for it – I rarely put it away.  And because I was using it so much, I invested in a higher quality model by Fissler.  It really pays off! The heavy bottom makes the heat distribution much better than the thin aluminum walls of cheaper model.  But the best part is clean-up.  Cleaning the polished stainless steel is a breeze when you rinse it out and then soak overnight.  And I learned a trick too – use Powdered Brewery Wash (PBW).  I learned about PBW from Five Star Chemicals from being a homebrewer.  While I brew way less frequently than I used to because of so many good choices on the market, I still have all the knowledge and tricks from those days.  And PBW is the best kept secret in the cooking world. The president of 5 Star, Charlie Talley appeared on a podcast of The Brewing Network back in 2006 and talked about how not only is it completely safe and non-hazardous product perfect for cleaning your brewery, you can use it on your pots and pans and even in the dishwasher.  I tried it once and got completely hooked because it makes clean up a breeze.  Fill your pressure cooker or pot up with water and sprinkle in a teaspoon or two of PBW and soak it overnight.  Two important points: never soak cast iron, and don’t use it with non-stick coatings.  It works best (and faster) with heat, so use hot water.  If you’re in a big rush, throw it on the stove and simmer for an hour or so.  Really stuck on pieces will release easily with a brush after using PBW and your Fissler will stay looking great.

Tried this recipe?  Let us know what you think about it and comment below!

Patrick Jaszewski

Culinary Tyrannosaurus, passport stamp collector, home cook, pilot, strength enthusiast, bilingual, coffee roaster, former homebrewer. Committed to DIY ethic. Minnesota native transplanted in Pennsylvania. Thunderbird MBA Alumni and Golden Gopher. Undyingly positive and open minded. Drives Jill crazy by questioning everything.

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