by erin thursby
There’s a whole culinary world out there, but it’s understandable if you’re unsure about trying the exotic. After all, we’re wired to eat the stuff we grew up with—maybe because eating an unfamiliar berry in caveman times could end with a painful death.
We try something new mostly when we know someone who has eaten the dish. Even then we ask the question: “What does it taste like?” When that something came from an animal, half the time the answer is “Tastes like chicken.”
And it’s true. Lots of things are comparable to chicken, mainly because of the chemical and genetic composition of the meat. Reptiles such as snake or even gator are comparable to chicken, albeit a wilder, slightly tougher chicken than we’re used to.
The purpose of this list of foods is to get a picky eater to open their culinary horizons by comparing an uncommon food with ones they’ll be familiar with.
When trying game meats, keep in mind that the quality of the meat varies greatly. Each animal has a different diet and lives under different conditions, so try things more than once from different providers. There are worry-free preparations, like long marinating to tenderize the meat, but remember that it’s not like processed, hormone-filled assembly line chicken. If you do want less of a “gamey” taste, go for farmed varieties of the wild meat. Rabbit, for example, is very different wild caught. Farmed rabbit tends to taste much more like…um…chicken.
Buffalo is just a more manly beef. Real men eat buffalo. Many people have trouble tasting the difference between buffalo and beef, particularly if it’s well seasoned. If you’re just sticking your toe in the exotic meat water (so to speak), buffalo is an excellent kiddie pool—with plastic inflatable swimmies. Seriously, it doesn’t get any less hardcore.
Some say it has a hint of sweetness to it, but I’ve also found it to have a more intense flavor than beef, like beef amped up. It’s got a lower fat content than beef and is actually more tender and remains fresher for longer. All the cuts of meat you’ll find on beef, you’ll also find on buffalo.
Sometimes you can find a buffalo burger on a chain menu, but if you want a buffalo steak you’ll have to head to Ted’s. At Ted’s Montana Grill (located in the St. John’s Town Center or in Orange Park near the mall) they don’t heavily season the buffalo meat because they want the slight difference between buffalo and beef to shine through. Besides steaks, they also serve buffalo burgers and regular beef.
Kangaroo meat does not taste like chicken. It’s a lot closer to steak. At the very least it’s an interesting dish to try, though you’re apt to be quite aware that you are not eating anything remotely related to a cow. You can get an order of ‘roo at Clark’s Fish Camp, which actually has a decent menu of exotic meats. While I don’t always agree with the method of prep there, they have a good selection for the adventurous. Because they’re showing off the fact that the meat is exotic, they season very little, and go for as simple a prep as possible. Luckily, they only serve a small plate of most of the meats you can try and they charge under $10 for an exotic meat appetizer.
For the beginner, frog legs are an easy jump. The “tastes like chicken” label does apply here. But a word of caution on that: meats are difficult at times to quantify, so while something might taste somewhat like chicken, it will always have its own particular texture and taste. While frog legs are an easy jump, it’s still a jump. Sometimes they can have a very light “fishy” taste to them, but they primarily taste like chicken.
Frog legs can be prepared in various ways, but the most common and traditional prep reminds of those Italian dressing chicken wings or drum sticks you can prepare using Wishbone dressing. That’s the closest I can come to comparing frog legs to a commonly prepared dish. If you like chicken prepared this way, then you’ll almost certainly dig frog legs. Prep does vary, but this is what I’ve run into most.
You’ll also find them in Thai restaurants (with a totally different preparation) and in local fish camp such as Whitey’s or Florida food places where they’re generally deep fried. The frogs served up in a local flavor restaurant are often caught in a Florida swamp.
Gator, when properly marinated, is actually quite tender. Sometimes you’ll get tough bits, but most places here in Jacksonville know how to prepare gator properly, so that it’s tender. (The same goes, by the way, for turtle). Most of the time gator is deep fried in small bits or strips. It tastes somewhere between dark and light meat in a chicken.
Gator tail can be found at Whitey’s and Clark’s fish camps, at Saltwater Cowboys in St. Augustine and at locally owned restaurants such as Gator’s Dockside and St. Johns Seafood & Steaks.
Check out next month’s Dish section where I’ll cover some exotic fruits and veggies you can try and where you can get them in Jacksonville!