In my hands I hold a frozen rattlesnake, neatly arranged in a skinned pink coil, a couple of hundred cream-colored ribs clearly visible through the frosted shrink-wrap. It's a Saturday morning, and I'm standing in Jungle Jim's International Market in front of a precariously stacked wall of frozen exotic meats. Bricks of wild boar and antelope sit alongside quail and muscovy ducks, tubs of pork brains and turtle meat. I wonder aloud to myself why anyone would even bother to eat chicken anymore.
Chicken. Predictable, pedestrian, proletarian chicken. Why eat chicken when you can eat rattlesnake? I look at the price tag. And then I quickly wonder aloud to myself why anyone would pay $115 for a frozen rattlesnake. Very carefully, gingerly even, I return it to the freezer, placing it next to the elk steaks.
And then I stop wondering aloud to myself -- an elderly couple is eyeing me suspiciously from over by the frozen goat meat chunks. I select a couple of bricks of exotic meat, throw them in my basket and, almost as an afterthought, grab a bag of alligator sirloin before making my way to the checkout.
· · ·
My adventure dining odyssey begins later that day when I remove a 10-ounce buffalo meat New York strip steak from its packaging and throw it on a grill. I douse it liberally with Worcestershire sauce, cover it with onions and leave it to cook. It's a thick slab of meat, maybe two-and-a-half inches thick. Its juices sizzle noisily on the grill and fill the kitchen with a thick, woody smell.
With a side of mashed sweet potatoes and gravy, it is a delicious cut of meat, sweet and smoky and intensely flavorful. It's much tastier than beef, which is something that I've resolved not to eat for the remainder of the week.
· · ·
Removing long pale-pink strips of alligator sirloin from their bag, I take note of the occasional piece of mottled, dark green alligator skin still attached to the meat. Nervously, I pick at one. And then at another. I pull a little piece of skin off, and it sticks to my fingertip; I remove it, with a finger and thumb shaped like a pincer, and it sticks to that finger; so I scrape at it with my thumb, and it sticks to my thumbnail
Alligator meat most closely resembles pork, accompanied by a vaguely fishy smell. It's not a pleasant combination. After searching online for alligator recipes, I have decided on alligator balls, which means I rejected alligator chili, grilled alligator tail and crocked alligator ribs. I finely chop a pound of alligator meat, place it in a large mixing bowl, and add two teaspoons each of shallot, onion, red pepper, celery and parsley. To that colorful mixture, I add a half cup of bread crumbs, an egg and some lemon pepper. After mixing the ingredients by hand, I shape inch-wide balls from the mixture and leave them to set.
An hour later, I dredge them in flour and fry them until golden brown. Served with dipping sauces, they are very good, encased in a fried exterior, with a tasty, fluffy center. I wonder if I've just managed to mask the taste of alligator with shallots, onion, pepper, celery, parsley, breadcrumbs, egg, lemon pepper and dipping sauces.
Next time, I think, I'll try crocked alligator ribs.
· · ·
It's an otherwise average Tuesday evening and, as the rain falls outside, I rinse a disquieting amount of kangaroo blood down my kitchen sink. After slicing open the packaging of my kangaroo medallions and removing four palm-sized pieces of dark red meat, I conclude that the kangaroo did not go quietly. No, brothers and sisters, there was a struggle. The evidence is now swirling thickly around my sink. I look out my kitchen window for a moment and then back down to the gurgling kangaroo blood. I feel as if I'm doing something illicit. Down goes the blood; down, down it goes, bright red against the porcelain for an instant before meeting with tap water and fading, first to pink and then to nothing at all.
Illicit or otherwise, tonight I'm eating kangaroo fajitas.
Refried beans, stir-fried vegetables and kangaroo meat, on an oven-warmed tortilla, topped with sour cream and shredded cheese. Kangaroo meat is indistinguishable from beef in almost every way -- except for its price and the reaction your coworkers give you when you tell them you're eating kangaroo meat.
For the record: Kangaroos are not cute. A Google search for "kangaroo attacks," yields news stories with headlines like "Australia on Angry Kangaroo Alert" (BBC News, World Edition, July 7, 2004) and "Kangaroo Attacks Girl in Grafton, Prompting Warning" (New South Wales Department of Environment and Conservation media release, November 2005).
Personally, I don't feel conflicted eating something that "reportedly followed Monto resident Doug Lawson into his house and attacked him and his wife Pauline before it was chased away with a broom and a hose" (Australia Broadcasting Corporation, June 28, 2003).
They sound vicious. And they get man-sized. With long, curved claws. I look outside again. This time I'm checking for kangaroos. I prepare another fajita.
This one's for Pauline.
· · ·
It's Friday night and I'm pan frying two ostrich mignons. In fact, I'm pan frying two mignons of something the packet describes as, "Ostrich Thigh Meat Formed with Beef Fibrin," which sounds a lot less appetizing than plain old ostrich meat. Elsewhere on the packet I learn that "Fibrin is Fibrinogen and Thrombin Plasma Protein." Mmmmm. Around this time, I throw the packet away.
Circular, almost impossibly so, and each about a half-inch thick, my mignons look like two hockey pucks. Two hockey pucks, sitting in a frying pan. Ten minutes later, they still look like two hockey pucks. Two hockey pucks, in hamburger buns. But they taste like liver. Like two tough brown, livery hockey pucks.
· · ·
I purchase my frog legs from Cincinnati Asia Market, in Evendale. Seven pairs of legs, neatly arranged in shrink-wrap, each pair crossed at its bony ankles, like seven little pink pairs of pants.
I find an Emeril Lagasse recipe for sautéed frog legs with tomato garlic butter online. As instructed, I line my frog legs up on my cutting board like infantrymen and cut each pair in half, removing leg from leg, disassembling pairs into singles, deconstructing frog.
Every once in a while, as the urge builds, I shout, "Bam!"
My cat does not enjoy this recipe.
I season the legs with Emeril's creole mix, dredge them in seasoned flour, and sauté them in garlic butter for about three minutes on each side. The meat whitens quickly, then browns. I add shallots, fresh garlic and peeled tomatoes to the pan for three minutes more.
If alligator meat tastes like fishy pork, frog legs taste like fishy chicken. It has a consistency somewhere between cod and chicken. The delicate meat comes away from the bone easily, and the creole seasoning and garlic butter invade the meat without overpowering it. Undoubtedly, it's a delicious and colorful froth of flavor, but I probably expend more calories teasing cooked calf muscles away from leg bones carefully with my teeth than I gain in the eating.
Finally, I'm done. I sit before an untidy little stack of bones. And I'm still hungry. Maybe it's time for pizza.
I pick up the phone.