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Texas Cabrito Al Pastor

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We decided to have a barbecue. After all, I had this recipe for Cabrito Al Pastor to try out. We all wanted to see each other. Everyone could bring something. We could, for a moment, recapture a piece of our shared history-the covered-dish supper. Here's how it went. I hadn't been home 20 minutes before my friend from the cradle, John Gililland, stopped by. John always knows when I get home-even if nobody tells him. Part, of the reason is that his parents' house and business is one block from my mother's house. Part of it is ESP. Are we going to test recipes? John asked. You bet your boots, I answered. How'd you like to cook a goat outdoors? Great, he answered. Like his father and grandfather before him, John is the local mortician. He is by turns either swamped with work or idle, depending on whether he "has a body." Fortunately for the recipe testing, John was not busy when I got there. He had gone down to Close's Drug Store to drink an interminable cup of coffee when he ran into Wes Gulley, the district judge and an old South Texas ranch boy. He told Wes our plans, and Wes said he'd help. Wes has dressed out a lot of deer. Good. Now along comes another old boy in town for the class reunion, Jabe Wills, an underwater rescue teacher who lives in Southern California, wearing one of those big waterproof watches still set on California time. He'll help, too. So these three crowd into a telephone booth and call around. They find a goat. John and Jabe pick me up. Judge goes back to court. The three of us head for the country. John's brought along Tecate, and he shows me how to hold the lemon in the crook of my hand, put the salt on top of the can, mix, and drink. We head for the house of the fellow with goats. His name is Pasqual Delgado, and he said he lives in the big house on the south side of the draw. We can tell we are getting close when we spot the big herd of goats. On the way out John says he had asked Pasqual how big his goats were, and Pasqual had answered, thirty dollars. John sighs. Anything for research. Here we are at Delgado's. Flat plain as far as you can see; barbed wire, a lean-to with shoats and a sow, little garden, water hose going, and everywhere children in white, barefoot and twirling on the dusty road, flapping their wings, playing a game and smiling. We shake hands all around. And where is the goat? Delgado gives an expansive wave of the arm. Alla. We give over our thirty dollars and we all head for the herd of goats. We leave the rope in the truck. I have on walking shorts and Birkenstocks. Jabe has on Adidas. John has thought to bring along his morticianās apron. He knows how to keep stuff off his clothes. Over a plowed field. Heat shimmering, step up, step down, step up, step down. Knock the sand out of your shoe. Pick the sticker out of your toe. Don't touch the fence-it's hot. Okay. Over the single strand of wire-gingerly. And now we see the goats maybe two hundred of them. Delgado speaks. You can have your choice. He has one goat that he hadn't thought he'd sell because it is "castrate," but maybe-for forty dollars-he will let it go. No, we say firmly. We'll take the thirty-dollar goat. Delgado's nine-year-old girl is barefoot among all these clods and stickers. He motions to her, then waves his arm in our direction, and we begin to move in on the black kid that he has pointed out. The goats trot along, tense and wary but not really worried. Delgado wants them to go through this trap that leads to the shed, but the lead goat is too smart for him and always veers just at the last moment. By now they are milling around; we are fanned out in a semicircle. We have trotted and run some ourselves, hearts pounding and pumping. This time we get them headed right for the trap. I'm positioned just past the gate to scare them from fading in the stretch, but wily old Billy takes one glance at me with that human-looking yellow eye of his, ducks his head, and runs right past me. They all sweep by, and I am scared to death they'll step on my bare toes. Run, you suckers, I holler, and take off after them. It's hell to be a goat roper with no rope. This sort of milling and trotting goes on until we are all heaving and blowing. Then the lead goat gets real smart and finds a hole in Delgado's fence and leads the entire herd into a pasture holding seven cows and a range bull. Delgado shouts and we all follow. We chase the goats up into these cows who also begin to trot; at one point I see the bull just brush past me. At last Delgado speaks to his nine-year-old. She lunges under one old cow and grabs out chosen goat by the hind foot. Goat obliges her by kicking her right in the teeth. No worry, says Delgado, as he hands us the goat. Back at the truck, we tie up the black kid, throw her in the back, and head for the vet's. Good God, get out the beer. Need I tell you that the vet says that we were all very cruel to run the poor animal down. We put her in a pen for a few hours so that she will be composed for her last moments. John and Jabe and I drive around Hereford for a couple of hours in this pickup, drinking Tecate, looking at the rows of elm trees the founding fathers put here to break up the treeless landscape. We are forever shooing flies. Feed lots ring the town now, and the air is perfumed with the smell of cow manure and the air is polka-dotted with flies. It's been a long time since we dragged Main. Just as the burning sun is about to drop-there is a vapor trail and a bank of clouds in the west all shimmery and magenta, I'd forgotten what a real sunset looks like-we all gather back at the office of the large-animal veterinarian. The judge is here now, wearing his three-hundred-dollar, some rare-kind-of-creature boots and good pants and volunteering to dress the goat. After we bleed the goat, the judge steps up and pulls out his little two-inch, razor-sharp silver penknife; and with his well manicured lawyer's hands he begins to skin and gut the goat. He has the mild manner of a man sure of his power. He never spills a drop of blood on himself. He never gets hair on the meat. He never says a word. It strikes me as funny that the vet and the mortician are hanging back while the lawyer does the job. Standing there holding the offal bag, I am having trouble refraining from laughter. I can see that this is a serious moment, however; so I keep a straight face. Now John and I take the goat back to his house. In the backyard we hose it down for a good half hour to cool the meat. John's wife, Amy, coordinates everything. She goes to the funeral home for folding chairs. She makes suggestions to the twenty invited guests, and pretty soon the menu looks complete. We have calf fries coming, and hot cowboy beans, and corn bread, and even a champagne mousse made by the most popular cheerleader from my high school class. Just as John and I are wrapping the goat in white paper to put it in the refrigerator, his daughter Suzy interrupts, insistent. Day after tomorrow she'll be sixteen, and she wants permission to drive a carload of friends to Amarillo. My God, girl, John says. I just killed a goat. What else do you want? That should be a birthday party fit for a princess. She searches his face. Is he serious? She wavers between laughing and crying. The next morning John calls me to come over to the funeral home. I arrive, marveling at the overwhelming aroma of roses. John straightens up from an ancient ledger in which he is entering figures with an Esterbrook pen. He hands me a long grocery list. He will be done with the books by noon, he says, and will go home to build the fire. John and I have both seen goats cooked outdoors, on a stake. We know how it's supposed to be done. About two o'clock he and I talk it over. He pokes around his workshed and comes up with a 5-foot steel stake that we ram through the goat, placing sticks between the forelegs and between the hind legs, breaking open the breastbone with an ax so that the carcass lays nice and flat the way you see them in the Mexican markets. We rub the kid down with salt, finely milled black pepper, and crushed cloves of garlic. We lard it lightly. The meat is so fresh and young that it is completely odorless. It is a lovely pale veal color. Now we hit a problem. We can't build a fire in John's backyard and ruin the carefully nurtured grass. Then Jabe comes along with a solution. His father, an avid fisherman, had a blacksmith build him this strange steel contraption that looks like a big black fruit box on legs and stands about waist-high. As best we can tell he'd fill this thing with water, and clean all the mountain trout he'd caught near Pagosa Springs in it. Jabe and John use it to cool beer and have named it the Doctor Wills Memorial-Fish Cleaner-and-Beer-Cooler. It must weigh two hundred pounds. Anyway, we clean it out, put a little sand on the bottom, make a good fire of mesquite and oak, throwing in some charcoal for good measure. We let the fire burn down, lay the staked goat a good 8 inches over the hot coals, and begin. We turn the meat every 30 minutes, holding on to the rod-kind of a giant shish kebab. We make a foil tent over the top to encourage smoke and to discourage the ubiquitous flies. When we notice that the thin ribs are beginning to char, we make little foil booties for them. At the end of 2 hours, we take it off. We know it is done because when we press the flesh, it gives nicely. Now it is a splendid glistening caramel color. It smells so good you could faint. - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - NOTES : Now in my mind this story is what REAL BBQ is all about. It is an adventure, a happening, and a get-together and sharing with family and old friends. It brings back some fond memories of growing up in Texas.

Yield: 1 serving

Preparation Time: 0:00


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