Are we living in a meat mecca?

You could call Southern Appalachia meat-lover’s mecca. That’s because area farmers raise almost everything, from beef to rabbit to turkey, year-round.

It’s also because area chefs are buying local and including innovative meat dishes on their menus. While many of us may prefer to stay in the “safety net” of turkey, chicken or beef, our chefs give all local meats some plate time.

Dave Mullings, executive chef at Simma Down Caribbean Café in Asheville, is a big fan of goat meat. In fact, he prefers it to beef (which you can also find on his menu). “Goat has a taste you cannot compare with anything,” he says. “It’s an awesome meat.”

Mullings likes to serve his curried. “That’s the real authentic Jamaican way to fix goat,” he says. For the home chef new to cooking goat meat, he recommends sautéing it like a quick stir-fry with oil and curry powder, then adding water and simmering until it’s tender. “It is a tough meat,” he notes, adding that transferring it to a pressure cooker for around 30 to 40 minutes can be helpful to ensure the meat reaches the desired tenderness. Although, that’s not a traditional method. “If you’re in Jamaica cooking at home, not everyone has a pressure pot. We use a yellow papaya or yellow mango to help tenderize while cooking on the stove.”

If you do transfer your goat to a pressure cooker, return it back to the stove and simmer it with spices. Mullings suggests pimento seed (also called allspice), fresh thyme leaves, green onions and peppers to bring out the flavor. Serve your curry stew with rice, he says, for an authentic presentation.

Susan Casey, owner of the Purple Onion in Saluda, ventures off the expected path with rabbit. Like Mullings, she favors traditional preparations for the meat (see her recipe for braised rabbit with mustard sauce). But, she’s also open to new approaches, which she discovered last year — the Year of the Rabbit, incidentally. 

“I had only braised it up until then, but James Cole (the owner of Sassafras Ridge farm in Haywood County that supplied their rabbits last year) suggested smoking them,” Casey says. “We included a smoked rabbit tostado on last year’s menu with an ancho chili sauce. Having the smoked rabbit on hand at the restaurant eventually led to a barbecued rabbit with slaw on a bun.”

Casey has since had some difficulty sourcing local rabbit in the volume she needs, but hopes to return the meat to her menu soon. “Although I have used rabbit shipped in frozen in the past, it was not as flavorful or tender as the local, fresh rabbit,” she says. “I really enjoy the relationship that evolves with our producers,” she adds. “Knowing how they feed and care for their animals as well as the issues that arise as they process their product and deliver it to us completes the circle.”

On the Purple Onion’s menu, you’ll find ribeyes and strip steaks from Apple Brandy Beef in North Wilkesboro, and lamb shoulder and shank from East Fork Farm in Marshall. Casey hopes to source local goat meat in the near future.

It’s not just the Purple Onion and Simma Down that are in the meat mood this month. Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project has chosen farm-raised meat for the focus of their Get Local campaign in December. Get Local is a year-round initiative that brings together farmers, chefs and community members around the region to celebrate a single seasonal ingredient.

To find a list of participating restaurants, visit asapconnections.org. There, you’ll also find information about Get Local in area schools, where the focus is all about apples this winter. Visit growing-minds.org for more information.

Pick up local meat at your neighborhood grocery or the farm itself, now that tailgate markets are closed for the winter. To find your favorite meat locally, head over to ASAP’s online Local Food Guide, buyappalachian.org, and search by product. If buyng directly from the farm, be sure to ask the farmers for their favorite recipes — they’ve likely tried all types of techniques. Or, look for recipe links on their websites; many, like East Fork Farm and Carolina Bison, have plenty to share.

Simma Down is located at 42 S. Market Street, 828-252-8169. Find the Purple Onion at 16 E. Main Street in Saluda, 828-749-1179.

— � Maggie Cramer is the communications coordinator at ASAP. Contact her at�maggie@asapconnections.org.

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