Spoiler Alert: Vegetarians might be upset by this story.
Actually, omnivores and pescatarians might be offended, too. Especially the ones who only consume animals which moo, oink, cluck or swim.
I started thinking about this after visiting a goat farm near Spokane, Washington, where they raise goats for meat to sell in local markets. It's delicious. More on goats, later. But looking around for local goat farmers, I couldn't find many and I started wondering why.
Around here there's not a lot of demand. People never ate goat. It's not in the store, wrapped up in plastic like other meat. Nevertheless, as of 2010, goat was the most widely consumed meat in the world.
Anyway, I started thinking about other meats that people eat, and the ones that I've tried.
LAMB: A lot of people say they don't like lamb. When they talk about what they ate, it sounds like rank old greasy sheep (the mutton which the Irish say they serve to tourists) not the "Mary-Had-a-Little-" kind that turns into fabulous racks and chops and shanks and legs that humans have been roasting with lots of rosemary and garlic for hundreds (thousands?) of years.
DEER: We're talking venison. I don't see it in stores where I shop, but every now and then a friendly hunter gives us some and we prize it. When I see one hit by the side of the road, I think, "boy, wonder how long it's been there." I hear that if you get it fast, in cold weather, well. . .you know.
ELK: A hunter I knew brought some back from Canada once and it was great, a little muskier-tasting than the deer. The old "Joy of Cooking” instructed us to treat most wild game the same way: soak it for a couple of days in red wine and onions in the refrigerator. Then roast. Add potatoes and carrots as necessary.
BUFFALO: to me, better than beef, lean, tasty.
O'POSSUM: Tried it when I was a kid. Didn't like it much. (My theory is that animals that eat grass taste a lot better than ones that eat other creatures or garbage).
RACCOON: I think I ate some around the opossum time. I'm from Missouri, where they're occasionally sold "over the counter." But, as in many southern states, law demands the 'coon carcasses be wrapped with at least one paw remaining out of four—so they won't be confused with dogs or cats. You think this never happened? Most laws I know of were passed because "something" happened. In certain provinces in China they're just getting around to laws forbidding the eating of pets—excuse me—companion animals.
Also, another tasty tidbit: in the olden days, Americans referred to sausages as "dogs" because they might very well contain a little Fido or Buster. Remember Sweeney Todd (who ground up people in his sausages)? Who would notice Rex or Fluffy with all that fennel and cumin and paprika and garlic and. . . .?
Does the term "hot dog" still remind you of baseball games? Just checking.
OSTRICH: Ate it, not bad; more like beef than chicken. Needed a sauce.
KANGAROO: Venison with great big hind legs. Tastes great. No prob. The Australians are really pushing their population to eat more "roo," which hang around everywhere at sunset grazing like deer. So far, "Skippy" is just a bit too close to home to stuff in the oven. And Joey? Are you kidding?
LLAMA: I'm a gamer. In Argentina, Llama capriccio was on the menu. It was lovely.
BOAR: Had it once in a restaurant—makes pork taste like chicken.
I think this is where my experience with "other" meats ends. I've eaten the brains of cows and lambs. My dad, one of the last of the "hillbilly" Frenchies of southern Missouri, used to buy and sauté brains once in awhile (my mom thought they were decidedly lower class). I adore sweetbreads (thymus or pancreas glands), along with any other organs the French decide to cook. Cheeks, ears, feet, tongue, shoelaces? Well, if the French do it, I'll give it a try.
RABBIT: I almost forgot. Quite good, but it's bony, so you have to mess around with it a lot.
SQUIRREL: Another bony little critter. I can't remember actually ever eating it. An old friend from West Virginia often spoke of "a mess of squirrel." You only want the kind that eats nuts.
BIRDS? I'm down with ducks, pheasant and quail, and I think squab, but I forget what it is.
AMPHIBIANS? Alligator, turtle, frog legs. Snake? Somewhere along the line I had some and just like everybody says, it tasted like chicken.
What's left? Horse. I could write a whole column about what the French call "Chevaline"—too close for most Americans. Antelope, bear, tiger, panther, elephant, zebra, camel. . .monkey, I guess. Many are endangered and they're far away. A few years ago lion burgers and lion tacos were showing up in the great state of Florida, said to be raised on American ranches.
I never saw any recipes for fox, wolves, coyote or dingoes. My guess is that meat-eating mammals don't taste very good but maybe with a lot of red wine and onions. . .
I know for a fact that some people cook woodchucks for spite.
I'm a piker in the exotic game department. I don't want to hunt and kill them or clean them or think about their big green or yellow eyes. And I really don't taste much difference between a red deer and ostrich. It's just that pigs and chickens and cows (or steers) aren't enough choices, if you're going to eat meat.
I don't think you should eat endangered species, but the extra critters on which the rest of the world dines, are okay by me. As people worry about over-processing of meat, and damage to the planet, many turn toward more humanely raised farm animals, wild things, fish, and vegetables. There is an excellent case for vegetarianism: my brother and my sister-in-law, and my son and his wife can tell you chapter and verse. I know they're right and every couple of years I try again to figure out how to cook tofu.
In the meantime, I found, on Restaurant List, an old menu from Chicago's Café Bohemia, at Adams and Clark from the 1930s 'til the 1980s. They offered a selection of game "that would probably terrify most adventurous eaters today."
"Diners could order Broiled Northern Moose Steak, Broiled Western Mountain Sheep, Broiled Western Antelope Steak, Roast Native Beaver, Braised Steak Strips of African Lion (served in a Grand Marnier Sauce!), or Steak Strips of Bengal Tiger." And hippopotamus.
The questions are: Should you get the wet tofu, the dry tofu or the cubed tofu? How do you cut it? How do you drain it? How do you cook it? All about goats, coming soon.