Saturday, August 11, 2018

Around the World in 80 Dishes: Guyana

My next personal culinary challenge takes me to South America, but, for an experience unlike any of my prior challenges on the continent.  To date, my challenges have involved making a main course from Ecuador, Paraguay and Uruguay. All of these challenges involved dishes that, for some reason, I associate with South America, whether it is the Ceviche de Corvina (Black Sea Bass Ceviche) from Ecuador, or the indigenous Guarani dish of So'o-Yosopy (Beef Soup) from Paraguay or, one of my all-time favorites, the Chivitos al Pan of Uruguay.  This challenge is different from my prior ones, because it involves preparing a main course from the country of Guyana.  And, Guyana is far different than most of South America, walking to its own ... calypso beat.

That different beat plays primarily because of history.  The present day Co-operative Republic of Guyana was previously known as British Guiana.  The years of colonization left its mark on the country and its people.  The largest segment of the Guyanese population are the Indo-Guyanese (also known as East Indians).  These individuals descend from the indentured servants brought by the British Empire from the Indian subcontinent to work the plantations of Guyana. The Indo-Guyanese make up forty-three percent (43%) of the population, which is substantially more than the next largest group, the Afro-Guyanese, who make up thirty percent (30%) of the population.  Like the Indo-Guyanese, the Afro-Guyanese trace their lineage to African slaves who were brought to the country.  Guyanese of mixed heritage are approximately sixteen (16%) of the population, while the natives (first nations) are slightly more than nine percent (9%) of the population .

The large segments of Indian and Africa descendants, as well as the history of Guyana as a colony of the British Empire, has had its effect on the cuisine of the country.  Guyanese curries are very popular, as are rotis, dal and rice.  These dishes and meals speak to the Indian influence on the cuisine (an influence that is similarly shared amongst former British colonies in the Caribbean). This influence served as the inspiration for my personal culinary challenge.  The main dish would be one that reflected the cuisine of a plurality of modern-day Guyanese.


The Indian influence means that the main course will be a curry.  However, it is not just any curry.  As it turns out, my beautiful Angel bought me nearly fifteen (15) pounds of goat meat.  As I perused goat recipes on the Internet, I found a few recipes for a goat curry from Guyana.  The recipes followed a similar path as curry recipes from India.  There were the spices -- toasted whole spices such as coriander, cloves, and black peppercorns -- that were ground together with turmeric.  The ground spices were then incorporated into a paste of onions and garlic, and then sauteed before the protein is added. The curry then cooks for a couple of hours, until that meat is fork tender and ready to be spooned into a bowl with rice.   While there are an abundance of curry dishes in Guyana, using the entire range of proteins, it was the goat curry recipes that both captured my attention and were the most useful.  After all, I had 15 pounds of goat meat.

The main course, Goat Curry, not only reflects the food of a significant portion of the Guyanese people, but also underscores some important notes about the role of agriculture in the Guyanese economy.  The agricultural sector accounts for 50% of the foreign exchange earnings and about 40% of the workforce.   While sugar represents the largest crop, rice accounts for 18% of the agricultural sector and livestock accounts for 16% of that sector, both of which are significant amounts. (All of these stats are courtesy of the South American Commission for the Fight against Foot and Mouth Disease.) With respect to the livestock, there are approximately 82,000 goats in Guyana. While 82,000 goats would place Guyana somewhere around the 126th country when it comes to goat production, those 82,000 goats, taken together, are significant to Guyana.

In the end, this is a dish that draws from various aspects of Guyana, its people and its economy.  It also reflects the common bonds that the Guyanese share with the Caribbean, especially the English-speaking islands, such as Trinidad and Tobago.  For these reasons, the challenge is to make a main course of Guyanese Goat Curry.

Recipe from The Nasty Bits
Serves 4-6

2 1/2 pounds goat meat for stewing
1 lemon
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
2 teaspoons fenugreek
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
2 teaspoons coriander seeds
1/2 teaspoon cloves
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 onion 
A few cloves of garlic
A few tablespoons of oil

1. Prepare the goat meat.  Rinse the goat meat under cold running water and place in a pot or large bowl. Squeeze the juice of one lemon into the pot, toss in the lemon rind and fill the vessel with water so that all of the goat meat is covered.  Let sit for 30 minutes.  

2. Prepare the spices.  Place all of the spices except the ground turmeric into a heavy skillet.  Over medium heat, toast the spices, moving the seeds around so that the surface comes into contact evenly with the heat.  The spices will be done when the mustard seeds begin to pop and the cumin seeds are a shade darker, about 2 to 3 minutes.  Immediately remove the pan from the turmeric powder to the pan.  Stir around.  Place all of the spices into a spice grinder and process until finely ground. 

3.  Prepare the spice paste.  In a food processor or blender, puree the onions and garlic with just enough water to create a thick paste.  A few tablespoons of water should suffice.  Transfer the paste to a small bowl and add the toasted and ground spices.  Mix thoroughly to make a thick paste. 

4.  Cook the goat meat.  In a medium sized pot, add a few tablespoons of oil as well as the spice paste.  Toast the paste in the oil for 30 seconds to a minute, taking care not to burn the mixture.  Then add the goat meat and stir around, cooking the meat for a minute or so in the fragrant oil.

5.  Continue cooking the goat meat.  Add enough water to cover the meat.  Bring the water to boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 2 1/2 or so hours, until the meat is tender.  Toward the end, de-fat the broth by skimming the surface with a broad spoon.  Alternatively, if you are making the recipe in advance, refrigerate the curry and allow the fat to solidify at the top.  Serve with plenty of rice to sop up the goat broth. 

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This challenge represents my fifth challenge that involves a curry or similar dish (to date, I have made Bhutanese Pig Trotter Curry, Mauritian Duck Curry, Indian Rogan Josh, and Pakistani Karashi Gosht).  This may speak to the ubiquitous nature of curry dishes. It has also helped me to gain experience in making a type of dish that I really like.  (I eat a lot of curries, when I can.)  Overall, the Guyanese Goat Curry was very good, although the curry "sauce" was a little too thin for me.  Still, the flavors were there and the dish was a very good first effort at cooking with goat.  Given that I still have about twelve (12) pounds of goat to cook.  So, this won't be my last effort or, for that matter, my last personal challenge to cook a dish from a country using goat.  Until next time ...


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