Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Greek-style baby goat soup

(Editor's Note: Ok, this article is too late for Super Bowl, but it's a great story!)

  • Chef Spiro Megalis holds a finished dish of goat soup Wednesday in Niles.
Chef Spiro Megalis holds a finished dish of goat soup Wednesday in Niles. (Abel Uribe, Chicago Tribune)
By John Kass
Chicago tribune
Most Super Bowl feasts are nothing but hate crimes against your taste buds. Those bland Buffalo wings, that bleh cheese dip, the boring little sliders. Do you really want a Betty Crocker empanada?
Of course not. What Super Bowl feasters really want is this:
A man-size bowlful of Greek-style baby goat soup (tasty with the head or without), a hunk of fresh crusty bread, some good feta cheese drizzled with virgin olive oil and dusted with fresh mountain oregano, and a glass of good red wine.
One spoonful is like a vacation to sunny Greece, to the village of Achladokambos, where the famous soup was born. And if you don't believe me, and you want to make some yourself, just click on the Tribune video at

Goat broth, oregano, lemon, goat meat, salt and pepper are elemental. Eventually, they'll put it on the Food Network and fancy food writers will give it a fancy name. It will be all the rage. But I want my readers ahead of the foodie curve.

"How many heads? One or two?" asked Christ Dimitropoulos, legendary butcher at the Halsted Packing House. The two sisters who run the place, Kalle and Cookie Davos, told me to use a baby goat. Christ cut my goat into pieces, then chopped the head with the cleaver, then added another head. "Goat soup is the best!"
Years ago, you would have freaked if someone told you to insert an open can of beer into a chicken before roasting. Now you know how tasty Kass' Beer Can Chicken can be. So when I say it's time for Super Bowl Greek-style baby goat soup, it's time.
"Not in my kitchen," said Betty. "No heads."
Aw, honey, it's journalism.
"I don't want goat heads floating around," she said. "And I don't have a pot big enough for heads."
So I called Ari Megalis, a young barbecue master who is always ready for a food adventure. Ari's dad owns the Chateau Ritz Banquet Halls in Niles. And my brother married Ari's sister.
"Betty says the heads are the issue?" said Ari.
Yes. She doesn't want the heads.
"OK, we'll do it here," said Ari. "Bring the goat over. Let's do it."
In the immaculate kitchen of Chateau Ritz, Ari had assembled a worthy crew: His father, Nick Megalis, his Uncle Spiros and executive chef Argyris Panou, plus yours truly and my colleague Shooter. And an entire staff of kitchen workers. More than a dozen hungry people were eager for the soup.
Dimitrios Tziforos stopped by, the only one of us born in Achladokambos. The villagers' expertise in making goat soup is unquestioned. In Chicago, the Achladokambites host a great picnic each year and cook their soup outdoors. They use whole, older goats, and it takes much longer to cook.
Nick Megalis and all the guys said it was best that we use a baby goat for the mild flavor. Whenever I have a food question, I ask Nick. He knows where the best honey can be found on which mountain, the importance of using royal jelly to fight colds, the virtues of Irish steel cut oatmeal, the proper use of dill in a salad. And the cleanliness of goats.
"People don't know this, but the goat is the cleanest animal," said Nick. "The chicken eats from the ground. They're not the cleanest. The pigs eat from the ground also. The pigs put their face in the dirt when they eat. But the goat eats only the fresh clean leaves from the new growth of the bushes. And this one is perfect."
Argyris turned on the giant industrial stockpot, we put all the meat inside, he filled it with water to cover.
"Let's put the heads in there too," he said. Dimitrios nodded.
It simmered for more than three hours, until the meat all but fell off the bone. About halfway through, we added salt to taste. As it bubbled, we talked of goats and the old country, of olive trees, the sun, the taste of mulberries and fresh yogurt, and the old wars, the terrible journey of immigrants. I can imagine Italians doing the same, and Jamaicans, Poles, Mexicans, Indians, Chinese, Nigerians, Assyrians, Turks and Americans from the country, living in the city. Guys hanging around a kitchen, going old school, using ancient recipes to fly their souls home.
We used a large spoon to skim the fat as it bubbled, and later we added potatoes and carrots and celery. We could have left it as a broth, or made a separate pot of rice and added a serving spoon of rice in each bowl. You can do this easily at home and you don't need the heads. Just five or six pounds of baby goat meat in a stockpot, water, skim the surface during simmering, add salt and pepper to taste, and wait until the meat falls away.
To serve: Portion meat in a soup bowl, add vegetables, ladle the broth. Squeeze fresh lemon, pepper, salt to taste, press dry oregano in your palm to release the fragrance.
Ari set a table in the dining room. We all sat down, raised our glasses, picked up our spoons and smiled.
Greek-style baby goat soup. A taste of home.
Ah. Ah. Ah. Mmm.
That's a true Super Bowl.

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