IT TASTES JUST LIKE CHICKEN
By Carolyn Bahm
The classic fallback description of an unfamiliar food is “tastes like chicken,” but three of the five game foods taste-tested at Woody’s in Tupelo escape that label. All are worth an entrŽe-scale sampling. (If you’re really feeling chicken, ask if game food appetizer portions are available.)
– Kangaroo: The most flavorful dish on the table, this tender red meat tastes like a fine beef cut marinated in soy sauce. The taste is deceptive; all that flavor comes from the meat itself. Others have compared it to a ribeye’s texture with flavor somewhere between beef and venison; that’s true, but it’s closer to beef. It’s also so much leaner than beef that it cooks to perfection in just three minutes.
The kangaroo is excellent paired with mouthfuls of the accompanying garlic-sautŽed mushrooms. No wonder it’s been a food staple for year’s from “down under.” (Available from an Australian supplier.)
– Buffalo: This is the closest to the cow-and-bull genre; it’s indistinguishable from a well-marbled cut of beef in flavor and melt-in-the-mouth tenderness, but you’ll notice it doesn’t have the fat drippings typical of a beef serving. (It has so little fat that hardly any juices run off during the cooking process.) It’s full-flavored but not gamy or “wild” tasting. The London broil cut assures that the buffalo meat will pull apart easily. (Wyoming supplier.)
– Ostrich: The grilled tenderloin cut looks like rare beef slices served up steaming hot, when it’s actually medium-rare ostrich meat, tender and tasty. Ostrich meat is an alternative red meat, not the white chicken-like meat that most people expect to see. It also has multiple grains running in different directions, so the meat doesn’t cut or pull apart exactly the way a beef steak does. Basically, it is fork-and-butter-knife tender when cooked correctly, and it’s left medium-rare to preserve the best texture and flavor. (The meat is so low in fat that it toughens quickly when overcooked; it requires experienced handling to remain this supple.) It must be pan-seared and cooked away from the grill’s center for the best texture. This one is another staple of Australian cuisine.
Ostrich evokes the flavor of prime rib with a slightly different texture; some diners have compared it to filet mignon. When tasting ostrich meat, tasters also may notice the faintest undertone of fowl in the unexplainably rich “beefy” taste. It’s a pleasant combination. The taster keeps wondering, “How did the cook give this steak this interesting new subtle flavor, and just what cut of beef is this, anyway?” (California supplier.)
– Alligator: This one really does look like chicken. The taste is definitely wilder and somewhat fattier (flavored more like chicken’s dark meat), but it’s good. You’re left wondering just what the cook used to flavor this tangy, peppery “chicken” steak and whether you can get the recipe to spice up your usual Sunday bird.
Served chicken-fried with the traditional side helping of spicy New Orleans-style crawfish etouffŽe, it’s a not-to-be-missed meal. (New Orleans supplier.)
– Pheasant: This looks like a tiny chicken and tastes like the fairest fowl you’ll ever attack with a fork. Think “tender” and “juicy.” The usual menu offering at Woody’s has a substantial baby pheasant stuffed with a mixture of wild rice pilaf, lingonberries (mountain cranberries) and pecans; the version for the taste test used a subtle cinnamon-pineapple glaze with vegetables on the side. It’s earned the nickname as the “Cadillac of game birds.” (Colorado supplier.)