Thursday, April 28, 2011

Cabrito - A Regional Meat Goes National in Brazil

For a number of historical, meteorological and geographical reasons, the foods and gastronomy of Brazil ranges widely from region to region. It's more than 2300 miles as the crow flies from Boa Vista, Brazil's northernmost state capital, to Porto Alegre, its southernmost (and it's much, much longer by road!). That's about the same distance as Minneapolis, MN, to San Jose, Costa Rica. It stands to reason that the traditional ingredients and culinary techniques of Boa Vista will not be much like those of Porto Alegre.

Historically, the northeastern region of Brazil has always been the only part of the country where a significant quantity of a meat called cabrito is consumed. In English we'd call this meat kid, since cabrito refers to meat from a young goat - though, because of the double meaning of kid in English, you're unlikely to hear many people say they roasted a kid last night, or that their favorite sandwich is a kidburger. In northeastern Brazil, however, cabrito is a highly-valued meat, and has always been one of the primary sources of animal protein. Its popularity has been due to at least two factors: historical ties to Portugal, where cabrito has long been consumed, and the hot, dry climate and  poor soil of the northeast, which means that goats are one of the few domesticated animals that can survive the harsh conditions.

Outside of the northeast, Brazilians haven't been known as big eaters of cabrito. This situation is rapidly changing, however, and in the big cities and small towns of southern Brazil, cabrito is enjoying a new wave of popularity. One of the reasons is the fact that regional Brazilian cuisines are increasingly being recognized outside their home base, and creative chefs everywhere in the country are using traditional regional cuisines as inspiration. The other reason is the nutritional qualities of cabrito itself. Goat meat is very low in fat - with a fat content of 2.75%, it's lower in fat than skinless chicken (3.75%) and much lower than beef, which comes in at an average of 17.4%. It's very low in cholesterol, and has high levels of calcium, iron, and valuable omega-3 and omega-6 oils.

If Brazilians outside the northeastern region haven't eaten much cabrito until recently, North Americans and Northern Europeans have eaten even less. The meat has always been popular, though, in traditional cuisines of Southern Europe, Asia, Africa, South America and the Caribbean. With increased immigration from those regions, cabrito (often labelled "goat") is becoming more available in butcher shops and ethnic markets in places like the USA, Canada, England or Germany. If you'd like to try cabrito, check for these shops in your city - you might particularly look for butcher shops that identify themselves as halal, which means meat slaughtered and prepared in the manner prescribed by Islamic law. Most halal butcher shops will have cabrito.

In the next couple of posts here on Flavors of Brazil, we'll provide some recipes for this tasty and very healthy meat. Brazilians in the country's northeast have been cooking cabrito for a long time, so they're very good at it. It's worth giving it a try. You just might like it (especially if you're fond of cabrito's animal cousin, lamb).

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