A Freezer Menagerie

The carnivore's life

It began, as these things so often do, with antelope steak.

One fine autumn morning a couple of years ago in Washington, D.C., I was lazing around the house reading O. Henry stories. The rough-and-ready characters in an especially well-crafted tale, “Hostages to Momus,” find themselves deep in a serious discussion about what constitutes a proper breakfast and the best city in which to get one:

“Now, if we was in Muskogee at the St. Lucifer House, I’d show you some breakfast grub. Antelope steaks and fried liver to begin on, and venison cutlets with chili con carne and pineapple fritters, and then some sardines and mixed pickles; and top it off with a can of yellow clings and a bottle of beer. You won’t find a layout like that on the bill of affairs of any of your Eastern restauraws.” [sic]

Why are there no antelope steaks at my supermarket?, I wondered. An innocent beginning to an obsession.

Bird watchers keep a life list of every species they have ever spotted. My life list is of species I have consumed. Both hobbies have the same root: It’s the impulse of a born collector who doesn’t like to have stuff lying around. All that remains is the memory of a flavor, wrapped—as taste memories always are—in the sights, sounds, and smells of the meal, the company, and the conversation.

Since that fateful day, I’ve nibbled on caribou filet, alligator jambalaya, elk medallions, yak dumplings, buffalo burgers, crocodile stir fry, ostrich burgers, emu jerky, and kangaroo loin. These memorable meals have all been interspersed with the merely interesting—frogs, ducks, rabbits, turtles, and deer—and the downright domesticated—cow, pig, and lamb.

I’ve had more than my fair share of eel, as well. Most of it was barbequed at sushi bars, though once I tried ordering it in a dim Russian restaurant in Boston. (They were fresh out of eel that night. Go figure.)

But there’s something different about adventurous seafood eating. It has a different tone, a different timbre to it than eating the flanks of beasts recently on the hoof or paw. It’s more of an effete stunt, less of a primitive exercise in carnivorousness.

A few fish allow meat-level bragging rights. I would like to offer honorary membership in the exotic meats sisterhood to former Congresswoman Helen Chenoweth-Hage, who once held an Endangered Salmon Bake as a fundraiser in her Idaho district. A woman after my own heart, surely.

The New York Times recently ran a trend article about how women have started ordering steaks on dates. The new conventional wisdom is that “ordering a salad displays an unappealing mousiness.” Needless to say, I could destroy these pathetic petit filet eaters—and even their slightly more impressive rib-eye snarfing sisters—with a single swipe of my grease-covered hand.

As luxury goods become staples, and the rare becomes common, thanks to fast transit, wealth, and free time in America, the quest for unique experiences and attendant bragging rights becomes more and more rarified. And bragging rights are certainly central to my exotic meat eating campaign.

But there’s more to it than that. It’s an exercise in enjoying the most notable fruits of globalization. I can have anything I want to eat, anywhere, anytime, with just a bit of effort. A keystroke on my Mac sends a man out to drag a crocodile from its watery wallow, conk it on the head, and send me a filet from its tail, just so that I can have a novel dinner. Such power was once reserved only for the very rich and very powerful. Now, anyone with a strong stomach and a collector’s instincts can have what Louis XIV and his ilk enjoyed exclusively while their subjects ate plain bread day after day.

***

My first real exotic meat encounter was at 2941, a fancy joint in Falls Church, overlooking a lake and an office park. I’d heard tell of kangaroo on the menu, and headed over to investigate. I was crestfallen to discover upon arrival that there was nary a kangaroo loin on the premises. Fortunately, caribou was on offer, and my dining companions and I contented ourselves with flavorful, lean slivers of venison-like flesh.

Once you get started down the exotic meat path, it is hard to stop—opportunities crop up everywhere. I once happened upon a country fair in Virginia. It was one of those places where prizes are given to fat pigs and large melons. But this one featured a revolutionary variant on that theme: Emu was being touted as the Next Big Thing—low-fat, low-cholesterol red meat from birds. Someone had turned them into an especially bold jerky. Many of the farmers in the area were switching to emu, the healthy, efficient red meat of the future, according to a veritable avalanche of emu-related promotional materials on display in barns and at farm stands.

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  • ||

    Deja Vu all over again..

  • ||

    Yes Katherine, the Bible has lots of things to say, and some of them are really stupid. Stoning for adultery or genocide anyone?

  • emmajane||

    Aha! Sounds like you haven't tried cuy! Guinea pig, to us norteamericanos. A popular country dish in Ecuador, it's much like a very fat rabbit in taste. You can get it flattened, fried, and served with the head and feet or without......

  • Rigoberto (Resident Libertaria||

    emmajane, I'll stick with good ol' fashion lechon.

  • ||

    I love animals
    They're delicious

  • Episiarch||

    We need Mister Nice Guy's input on this.

  • ||

    Aha! Sounds like you haven't tried cuy! Guinea pig, to us norteamericanos.

    Or it's relative, the only fur bearing, air breathing, milk producing fish on the planet.

  • ed||

    Is it Groundhog Day again?

  • ||

    When in Dallas, please visit:

    www.yoranchsteakhouse.com/home/home.html

    for some wild boar, or elk.

    It's pretty good!

  • Russ 2000||

    Not ONE mention of horse meat?

  • ||

    Elk.

    Elk is so delicious I was actually motivated to go out and get one my very own self.

  • ||

    If Katherine would like to go on a date with me, she can eat anything she pleases, steak or otherwise.

    Yes, I know she's married. She's not a picky eater, I'm not a picky dater!!

    Good work!

    Bill Walsh

  • MattXIV||

    You need to try mice Katherine. I don't know of any aspect of human cuisine that uses them, but pretty much every small predator eats them, so they can't be that bad.

  • the innominate one||

    if we're not supposed to eat animals, why are they made out of meat?

  • TLB||

    I'm sorry, I started to scroll really, really fast after a few words. Other than the fact that many libertarians are a-holes, what was the point?

  • ||

    MattXIV - clearly you are not familiar with Roman foodstuffs; dormice used to be a delicious appetizer, along with garum, a tasty fermented fish paste.

    I love exoticmeats.com. I ordered the frogs, snapper turtle, kangaroo, and bear burgers and they were magnifico. I actually ordered them to cook my prom dinner, and terrified my date by serving her kangaroo kebabs, frog fricasee, bear burgers, and snapper soup. An alliterative, elusive feast.

  • ||

    Lonewhacko-

    If you're going to troll, might I suggest that you try being funny and/or provocative?

    Just a little hint for ya.

  • thoreau||

    Katherine, I love your culinary writing, and I apologize for being so harsh on you in the past.

  • ||

    Russ 2000,

    "Not ONE mention of horse meat?"

    When I lived in Japan I ate raw horse sashimi along with kujira, whale. I definitely see why the japanese keep ignoring all those animal rights people. They're delicioius!!

  • ||

    One has not lived until they have cut the tenderloins out of a recently deceased whitetail and immediately fried them up to go along side some pancakes with maple syrup.....

    And BTW, cleaning one of dem der snapper turtles is quite an adventure, lemmie tell ya.

  • ||

    Bravo for a great article!

    Momos certainly are delicious. The thrill is even greater when they're filled with beef and consumed illegally in cow-worshiping India's Saffron Belt.

  • ||

    What the hell was that?

  • ||

    Unfortunately, since market hunting is illegal, most, if not all, game meat sold in restaurants is farm raised. That is not necessarily a bad thing, except that deer meat shipped from New Zealand, say, will lack the freshness of something local. Of course, considering that most hunted deermeat ends up being frozen for months, it might not matter at all.

    I'm not sure how exactly the laws on market hunting work exactly. It is legal to give meat you have hunted away and I believe a restaurant can serve game and charge for it as long as it was obtained free of charge.

    Of course if your poor enough to go to a food pantry you can get yourself some venison donated to any one of several programs by hunters who have more than they can handle.

  • BC||

    ".....I actually ordered them to cook my prom dinner, and terrified my date by serving her kangaroo kebabs, frog fricasee, bear burgers, and snapper soup."

    Did you get laid?

  • ||

    absolutely not

  • ||

    "Did you get laid?"

    "absolutely not"

    Then why waste our time with the story?

  • Jumbie||

    I think that, for Randolph, giving her his meat was a lot more important than giving her his meat.

  • ||

    Based on the unfortunate inaccuracy of KM-W's previous culinary reporting (Belgian BBQ Tax remembered!), I pesonally doubt her ability to distinguish kangaroo from discount beef.

    But fiction can be amusing.

  • ||

    I'd say most guys here have tried beaver. But there's a restaurant near Richmond, KY that serves (or once served) big plates of fried turkey testicles. Better enjoyed if your buddies don't tell you what you are eating until after you've gobbled about 1/2 a plate.

  • ||

    "I can only assume that the main reason humanity domesticated cows, and not kangaroos, is that cows are easier to catch in the first place-and happened to be on the appropriate continents-since kangaroo is delicious."

    A good explanation for why some animals were domesticated and some weren't can be found in Jared Diamonds book "Guns, Germs, and Steel". There are six general traits that make a species a good candidate for domestication;

    * Diet - To be a candidate for domestication, a species must be easy to feed. Finicky eaters make poor candidates. Non-finicky omnivores make best candidates.
    * Growth Rate - The animal must grow fast enough to be economically feasible. An elephant farmer, for example, would wait perhaps 12 years for his herd to reach adult size.
    * Problems of Captive Breeding - The species must breed well in captivity. A species having mating rituals prohibiting breeding in a farm-like environment make poor candidates for domestication. These rituals could include the need for privacy or long, protracted mating chases.
    * Nasty Disposition - Some species are too mean and nasty to be good candidates for domestication. The farmer must not be at risk of life or injury every time he enters the animal pen. The zebra is of special note in the book, as it was recognized by local cultures and Europeans alike as extremely valuable and useful to domesticate, but it proved impossible to tame. Horses in Africa proved to be susceptible to disease and attack by a wide variety of animals, while the very characteristics that made the zebra hardy and survivable in the harsh environment of Africa also made them fiercely independent.
    * Tendency to Panic - Species are genetically predisposed to react to danger in different ways. A species that immediately takes flight is a poor candidate for domestication. A species that freezes, or mingles with the herd for cover in the face of danger, is a good candidate. Deer in North America have proven almost impossible to domesticate, and have difficulty breeding in captivity. Horses, however, immediately thrived from the time they were introduced to North America in the 1600s.
    * Social Structure - Species of lone, independent animals make poor candidates. A species that has a strong, well defined social hierarchy is more likely to be domesticated. A species that can imprint on a human as the head of the hierarchy is best. Different social groups must also be tolerant of one another.

  • ||

    For exotic game cooked Churrasco Style, I suggest "The Carnivore" in Nairobi Kenya. I ate what they claimed to be Giraffe and Zebra. This was several years ago as a first stop on a safari with the family. I hope that the it is still there and still great.

  • ||

    I also ate horse meat in Kazakstan. It sucked because it was boiled, maybe one day I'll try it with a better method of cooking. The pepper vodka was good though.

  • jack||

    Wow! Congratulations! You are really something!

    Your passion for long-distance internet cuisine has given me the courage to go out and eat dogs and cats! And humans! Since we humans, cows, pigs, and antelope are all physiologically and neurobiologically almost identical, why not?

    The Bible says we can!

  • ||

    EB, I entered the comment thread intending to mention The Carnivore. I grew up in Nairobi and have plenty of childhood memories of eating Crocodile, Zebra and all sorts of other game. I got a taste for exotic meats early on in life.

    The Carnivore is still around, but I hear that a number of laws now forbid them to serve the game they once did.

  • ||

    Perhaps in a nod to this concern, some ranchers have proposed calling kangaroo "australus" when it appears on a plate, in the same way that we call cows "beef" and pigs "pork."

    There's a downside to this practice. I was in a less than fine dining eatery a while back and ordered the special "Pig Meat". It was mighty tasty. When I walked out, I saw on the small chalkboard that the special of the day was "Pigmy". Sorry, I couldn't resist.

    Internet hunting, using a Webcam and remote-controlled rifle, could soon be a possibility.

    Actually, internet hunting is now banned in most states (I think it's banned in all states).

    My campaign to consume bits of increasingly bizarre animals

    The animals you're eating aren't bizarre, they're normal food in other parts of the nation/world. They're just different fare than is typically served in your area. You want bizarre? Try the road kill stew in Louisiana but don't ask what's in it.

  • Greg||

    Katherine - You might check out The Scavenger's Guide to Haute Cuisine, a book by Steven Rinella. In the course of a year, he hunts or scavenges all the main ingredients for a wild feast, drawing inspiration and recipes from the pages of Escoffier's food bible, La Guide Cuisine.

    With just the right hint of hubris and a fair dose of hilarity, the book becomes truly inspiring with Rinella's characterization of self-procured foodstuffs.

  • ||

    Great article! One correction: foxes are canines, not rodents.

    I agree with your friend that Springbok is one of the best meats I have ever tasted. I had mine on safari this Aug. grilled in the bush right after harvest. Giraffe is also superb when cooked immediately, although it is considerably tougher.

    Among other African species Gemsbok (Oryx), Kudu and Warthog were delicious and mostly unlike any domestic animal's flesh. Warthog is considerably better than its stateside analog the wild boar.

    If you get a chance try Elk - truly the food of the Gods.

  • ||

    This was the best article I've read anywhere this year. You have made me want to go out hunting for something tasty and exotic. Where is my laser mouse? ...click, click.

  • Bob||

    Boring. Why haven't you eaten rat? It's not exactly hard to come by. Or dog for that matter?

  • A.G. Pym||

    Best meat I've eaten is Musk Ox, at the Northern Territories pavilion restaraunt at the 1986 World's Fair in Vancouver, B.C. Better even than Moose or Ostrich.

    There's a good-sounding recipe for rat (as "Millers") in "Lobscouse and Spotted Dog: Which It's a Gastronomic Companion to the Aubrey/Maturin Novels (Patrick O'Brian) by Anne Chotzinoff Grossman, Lisa Grossman Thomas, and Patrick O'Brian.

    --AG

  • ||

    This is not meant to be an exercise in double meanings, so relax. I can recommend beaver as an edible meat, we had a friend of the family who trapped them out of the small creeks they would dam to make lakes for their lodges back in the sixties when I was growing up. Not being one to waste much, he gave the carcasses to my mom who baked them over onions, carrots and potatoes in the old granite pan usually reserved for capons or the occasional large pork roast. The meat was a bit greasy and was actually quite filling. It tasted like a really large rabbit or a bunch of squirrels except the bones were a lot larger.

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