Students of the University of California at Santa Cruz may expand their gastronomic horizons by sampling birria, a spicy Mexican goat stew, in the dining hall.
It introduces them to a meat popular around the world, if only just starting to win fans in the U.S. Some creative chefs tout goat as a lighter, leaner and more distinctively flavored alternative to familiar red meats, especially for global dishes.
“We try to be as authentic with our food as possible,” says Dwight Collins, executive chef of UC Santa Cruz Dining.
The birria is served on a build-your-own taco bar alongside chicken, pork and a vegan protein option, plus tortillas, guacamole, sour cream, onion and cilantro.
Goat tastes “kind of like a sweet cross between pork and beef,” says Collins. In birria, it absorbs the flavors of a marinade made with guajillo chile, garlic, cumin and vinegar.
“There is a sweetness and sourness,” Collins says. “It is almost like the barbacoa or carne al pastor in Mexican restaurants.”
The goat is steamed inside a lidded roasting pan with a little water. The edges of the lid and pan are sealed with a rope of masa dough to hold the steam. After about three hours, the tender meat is removed from the pan and the bones and gristle are removed. It is brushed with chili paste and returned to the oven to glaze. Ultimately it is sliced, panned for the taco bar and moistened with some of the defatted cooking liquid.
It helps to have cooks with a knack for birria. “We have a mostly Hispanic staff that really knows how to prepare it,” says Collins. “So it is very authentic and delicious.”
Menu Sampler: UC Santa Cruz Dining
- Spicy Tempeh with Garlic & Basil
- Cuban Spiced Chicken Thighs with Chorizo and Rice
- Roast Pork Loin with Parsley and Shallot Sauce