Lion and tiger and bear (meat), oh my! What can I do with it?
December 4, 2010 6:40 PM   Subscribe

A local gourmet grocery carries some exotic meats. I would love to try some out, but I don't have a clue how. What are your best recipes for weird (for your average American) meats?

I have an awesome local store that carries a bunch of specialty meats. We're talking bear and venison on the "normal" side, and stuff like iguana, python, turtle, lion, and ostrich on the not-so-normal side.

I would just give them a shot with some randomly googled recipes, but the problem is that while I'm comfortable trying new things in the kitchen, I grew up in (and learned to cook in) a family who will only eat meat that is well done. That means that I only recently realized I do actually like a lot of meats I previously hated when it was overcooked, and it also means I don't have a lot of intuition for how to cook different meats without overcooking.

So. Given that:

(1) I'm only usually cooking for 1,
(2) I have an oven, stove, and small George Foreman grill, but no actual outdoor grill,
(3) I still have a lot of problems judging and timing the done-ness of meat when I'm cooking it;
(4) I like beef, pork, dark meat poultry, bison, and kangaroo. I tried crocodile and it was okay -- tasted like chicken. I am not a fan of the taste of lamb and can only occasionally handle venison;

...for the above cuts and types of animal, any suggestions of the best possible way to try cooking them for the first time? What are your "starter" recipes, or beginner tips specific to these types of meats?
posted by olinerd to Food & Drink (21 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: And I guess I should point out, in case anyone brings it up, that the main reason I'm unwilling to just do some trial-and-error on these is that they tend to run pretty expensive.
posted by olinerd at 6:43 PM on December 4, 2010

This is kind of a cop out, but I would talk to the guys at the shop- I'm sure they have tried this stuff and will have good recipes/ways to cook the meat.

You are giving us a HUGE range to work with, can you try narrowing it down a little? Do you want to try meats to braise/saute/roast?

With an oven and a stove, you can pretty much cook any way you want, you don't need a grill at all.
posted by TheBones at 6:49 PM on December 4, 2010

I don't have any specific recipes to offer, but if you're not great at judging done-ness, I would suggesting taking a look at braises and stews. These are not as temperature/time sensitive as roasting. If you do want to roast, perhaps go low-heat roasting (harder to overcook), and definitely invest in a probe or instant-read thermometer that you can leave inside the meat as it cooks in your oven.

Also, bison and venison (most game meats, actually) tend to be leaner than 'domestic' meat, so they can dry out faster if using dry-heat methods (like roasting). Either adjust the time/temp accordingly, or do something like draping bacon over the roast, to put some fat back in. (Slow cooking lean meats [like in a braise] can have mixed results, since usually fattier pieces are used for tenderness/flavour.) Duck and geese, however, you can just roast, since they have tonnes of fat.
posted by miss_kitty_fantastico at 6:59 PM on December 4, 2010

Marinating and larding (bacon, as miss_kitty_fantastico suggests, is great for larding) are really necessary for most wild meats; wild animals run around a lot, so their flesh isn't as fatty as the leanest range-fed beef.

The exception are meats like turtle, which is loaded with fat (to keep the turtles warm in the water, I guess?)--turtle is to, say, beef as goose is to a really dry chicken.

Agree that asking the folks in the store if they have recipes to share or cookbooks to recommend is probably the way to go.
posted by Sidhedevil at 7:17 PM on December 4, 2010

Best answer: Something that I love, and is an unusual meat for Americans, is rabbit. Your store looks like it sells quality rabbit meat too.

Rabbit is common in Spain, and that was where I developed a taste for it. There is a famous spanish dish, Conejo al Ajo (Rabbit in Garlic Sauce), that is one of my most favorites.

I have cooked it many times myself. And I am no great chef either. It is an easy recipe. You can easily find the recipe on line, like here and here. Personally, I use more spices than just salt and pepper to roll into the meat. And I mix the spices into flour too, and roll the meat in the spiced flour, like the second version of the recipe suggests. (The flour give the meat a nice little coating, and it makes the sauce thicker, which I like - so I am pretty generous with the flour.) I also like the sauce to be more white wine, less olive oil. And you have to use really good, extra virgin olive oil.

Serve with roast potatos. And serve it with bagette (italian) bread too, to sop up the sauce. And strong red wine - a Spanish Rioja.

Plus, once this is cooked - it stores and re-heats easily. The rabbit, potatos, and sauce can just all go into the same pot, and be re-heated like a stew.

No that is a meal. A famous, centuries old recipe, of kings and conquistadors. You should try it. Seriously, you will love it.
posted by Flood at 7:21 PM on December 4, 2010 [4 favorites]

Oh wow, I don't know how I missed the part where you actually named the kinds of meat you were looking at. Sorry about that! I know the Chinese like to eat turtle and snake in soup (the brothy kind). I've had Ostrich before in a simple stirfry... sliced thinly then tossed in a hot wok with the typical kind of veg (celery, carrot, snap peas... sorry, it was ages ago!).
posted by miss_kitty_fantastico at 7:25 PM on December 4, 2010

I was just there today! I bought duck breast (and beef) so I can't advise on the odder stuff, but I'll definitely watch this thread for suggestions.
posted by nev at 7:33 PM on December 4, 2010

Buy a meat thermometer. It doesn't have to be digital, fancy, or expensive. A basic one will do. This is a valuable tool and people don't use them often enough.

Meat also continues to cook once it's off the heat, so plan on removing it from the head a few minutes before it's at your desired doneness and allow it to rest (tented with foil if you can) before slicing.
posted by cmgonzalez at 7:36 PM on December 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

Make an ostrich burger. I'm sure you can get your ostrich ground. Ostrich burgers are so yummy, and it's not conceptually foreign, just the type of meat used.
posted by shinyshiny at 8:27 PM on December 4, 2010

First and foremost, talk to the people that run the store, if they don't know what to do with the meat, they can probably get onto their suppliers and ask them.

For Iguana, python and turtle, You should be looking through South American and Chinese/SE Asian cookbooks. I would guess that you could treat all these meats much like croc, use the cookbooks as inspiration for recipes that don't weird you out to much.

Ostrich, should have about a billion recipes and cookbooks about it after it's farming fad. If you can't find anything you like, look at recipes for emus, I see no reason that they should be particularly different in terms of cooking times.

Lion, welp either African cookbooks or go back to the Romans, I'm guessing it's going to be gamey as hell and quite possibly tough. Possibly Chinese/SE Asian recipes that use cat? If you can find them, and if you can trust them.

In general, given that you are cooking for one and aren't particularly confident about done-ness, I would recommend making a small stir-fry of any of the animals that you want to try, don't heavily season and taste the meat, if you like it, move to steaks and stews. As you gain confidence with these move to roasts etc.

If you need to learn how to judge done-ness, cook cheap steaks, use the poke test, then cut the meat to check, do this a lot, you will quickly learn to be able to judge done-ness.
posted by fido~depravo at 8:29 PM on December 4, 2010

Best answer: My copy of the Larousse Gastronomique says:

Lion meat, though edible, is seldom used in cookery. It is rather tasteless and must be steeped in an aromatic marinade before cooking.

All recipes for beef are suitable for lion.

That is the entire entry.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 8:46 PM on December 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Apropos lamb, I have a couple of suggestions that may give you a renewed interest in it:
- do not serve ice water, or other cold drinks, with lamb. Lamb fat is solid at quite a high temperature. The American habit of drinking cold drinks with meals means you can get a fatty coating on the inside of your mouth which is an unpleasant sensation for some people.
- for me lamb is probably best marinated with lemon juice or white wine + garlic + fresh oregano/rosemary/thyme and grilled over charcoal.
- failing that, casseroles where the meat is marinated first in wine and then braised in the marinade with tomatoes etc.
- the lamb sold in the US tends to be older and stronger flavoured. Keep an eye out for younger lamb (ie tiny little cuts or meat that is advertised as coming from spring lambs)
- Frying lamb in oil produces the most offensive cooking smells and tastes for lamb haters.

Apropos game, I would not ever eat wild game rare, for fear of parasites, so that means marinades for tenderness, or ground meat and sausage. Farmed venison makes awesome carpaccio though.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 8:55 PM on December 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

Seconding talking with the folks behind the meat counter. Chat them up about a specialty meat you're interested in. Find out who knows what they're talking about (or at least sounds credible!) Remember their name and ask for them next time. If they're really serious about selling these specialty meats (and their web page makes it look that way) it's in their best interest to educate their customers (you!) about how to prepare it. Have fun!
posted by exphysicist345 at 9:01 PM on December 4, 2010

Call me old fashioned, but I would just cook some of the exotic meat up on a forman or a grill and eat it with just a little salt and pepper. Part of the reason I would want to try those kinds of meat would be to see what it tastes like on it own.

You can't say, "Wow honey, your stew tastes like Bear" without knowing what bear tastes like, minus rubs and sauces :)
posted by darkgroove at 9:08 PM on December 4, 2010 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Checking out the list of game meats available, a lot of them are fairly standard meats in Cajun recipes. I would definitely check out Cajun cuisine, at least for recipe inspiration. I'd especially recommend John Besh's My New Orleans, as well as John Folse's After the Hunt and Hooks, Lies, and Alibis.

Here is my understanding about some of the game meats I've eaten:

Venison is a lot like beef. It's leaner, and gamier, but usually you can use venison anywhere you'd use beef. My stepfather hunts deer, and he usually has it processed into ground meat to be combined with a little beef for fattiness - this can be used virtually anywhere beef would be used (burgers, meatballs, spaghetti bolongese, etc). He also will sometimes have a little of it made into tamales, which are to die for. Tamales are very labor intensive for such expensive meat, though, if you're going to be buying it from a butcher by the pound.

Ostrich and bison are similar - beefy. They have different applications, but in the most basic terms you can think of them sort of like you'd think of beef. Antelope is similar to venison, to the best of my knowledge.

Wild boar = pork, basically.

Rabbit, squirrel, and other small game mammals are more like poultry. Alligator is a little more fishy, but if often used the same way. It's especially popular in restaurants deep fried the same way you'd do chicken fingers or crab cakes.

A caveat: a lot of these meats aren't actually that tasty. Many of them are frequently used in sausage, because they're considered marginal and not really deserving of the treatment that a great cut of more traditional meat would get. My grandmother had to eat snake and squirrel as a girl during the Depression, because hunting for small game was the only way they could afford meat. It's not really considered a delicacy, and in my opinion it's sort of silly that some butcher in Boston has decided they can make a pile of cash convincing Yankees it's high cuisine.
posted by Sara C. at 9:54 PM on December 4, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks guys. I will try to talk to the butchers, but they're not always there in the evening hours when I usually shop, so I'll have to try to catch them one weekend morning or something.

Flood's answer is awesome, and is pretty much exactly the kind of response I was hoping for. If anyone has other similar "you must try THIS recipe for this meat" suggestions I would love to hear them!

Tons of good cooking tips in here; sorry I'm not best-ing them all. Apparently I'm going larding-bacon-shopping...
posted by olinerd at 6:40 AM on December 5, 2010

I made some great chili from some bear sausage my sis sent me from Montana once, way too strong straight, but just great in chili.
posted by sammyo at 9:52 AM on December 5, 2010

The wild boar that they sell looks like what we hunt here in Texas. The flavor on a feral hog is pumped up pork. If you like pork, try wild boar. The meat is dark and really so much more flavorful than the pork you buy in the store. The "white meat" of commercial pork is not natural.

Wild boar will probably be lean, so try it in braising type recipes. We get it cheap (the cost of a bullet - brought home 50 pounds last weekend) so we use it in recipes like tamales and meatloaf, but you can use it in pork recipes that do not depend on fat. You can also wrap in bacon and cook if some fat is needed, but don't depend on this method for recipes that need high heat for a long time, for instance, because the fat content just isn't enough.
posted by Addlepated at 10:52 AM on December 5, 2010

I don't have a recipe and have never made it, but think snapper (turtle) soup is pretty good. I just had a sample at a Cajun stand in the market recently that was really delicious, but since I haven't otherwise had it in years I couldn't tell if it was much different from the usual Philly/ mid-atlantic snapper soup.
posted by sepviva at 3:40 PM on December 5, 2010

Best answer: Turtle soup is pretty common in Louisiana; the bottom recipe at this link is pretty close to the one I use.

I like tossing venison meat in a crock pot, to get rid of that "toughness." Cook it like it's a pot roast, or grill it after you marinate the hell out of it. Or turn it into sauerbraten. Rabbit can be adapted pretty well to most chicken recipes that include cream/fat (since it has barely any of its own), but here's my favorite:

Preheat the oven to 375 F. Quarter a good-sized rabbits (4 lb worth) and rub them with salt, pepper, and a Cajun spice blend like Tony's. Coarsely chop a large yellow onion (or two large handfuls of pearl onions, but that shit's expensive) and three stalks of celery (you want half-inch to inch wide chunks). Melt half a stick of butter (or at least 1/3 stick stick butter) in large iron skillet/dutch oven and brown the rabbit in it, flipping so both sides are browned. Toss your celery and onion in, and roast that for 30 minutes uncovered. Then cover it for another 20.

Chop up some fresh parsley (a handful). Set the Dutch oven back on the stove (turn it to medium-high), and remove the rabbit. Keep them covered and toasty. Deglaze the vegetables with 1 1/2 cups of dry white wine or vermouth, stirring to loosen any browned bits. Toss in a bay leaf and a little dry sage. Simmer 8 minutes, and stir in 3 tablespoons of Creole or Dijon mustard, the parsley from earlier, and a cup of creme fraiche. Reduce the heat to low and cook, stirring from time to time, and add salt and pepper as needed. Spoon it over the rabbit and eat it.

I think that's it. I roast carrots to go with it and stick the sauce over them, too. Bread is also good for spooning up the sauce.
posted by honeydew at 7:36 PM on December 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm surprised they don't list squab. From the looks of the place, I'm sure all their game is farm-raised; just ask. If so, re-think bison and elk. Both taste the way you'd wish beef did.
I agree ostrich burgers are great. Magret duck breasts are a treat (tons of recipes on line).
TheBones is right, ask shop personnel for recipes/ways to cook your purchase.
posted by JABof72 at 1:06 AM on December 6, 2010

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