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The only problem with ostrich and emu is that both are becoming hard to find. For a while both birds offered up an answer to our hunger for low-cholesterol red meat, but in the past few years both have been harder and harder to get as more and more ostrich or emu farms have gone out of business.
In Portland, OR, where I often dine, several upscale restaurants say they would serve and promote these game birds more, but they are having trouble getting product consistently. Emu is valued for its oil— which is good nutritionally as well as topically—for pain and stress. But they are relatively expensive to raise, especially when people need to be coerced and prodded into buying this non-poultry-looking red meat.
While almost all game meats are lower in fats and cholesterol than more traditional meats, cooking (especially grilling) can be tricky if not done right. The lack of fat on one hand is good, but fat is what adds moisture to meat when it’s cooking. Take away the fat and you must cook smarter, otherwise your steaks, ribs and chops will taste and look like old shoe leather.
I highly recommend that you never cook elk, venison, moose, caribou, reindeer, musk ox, yak, or bison past medium rare. If you do you will not like the dry, tasteless result. Cook the meat over high heat to sear in the juices, then move it to an indirect side of the grill and finish cooking until you reach the medium rare temperature inside.
Canada goose looks remarkably like a beef tenderloin, ostrich fillets can easily be mistaken for filet mignon, and pulled pork from a wild boar (properly flavored and cooked) is an identical twin to a sandwich made from domestic pork, despite one pig living on a ranch where it's pampered, and the other porcine literally having to fight and scrape for every morsel of food.
You can, of course, stew, brine or marinate these meats to add moisture, or wrap them in bacon to add both fat and moisture. But that (especially the bacon trick) adds in fat loaded with cholesterol. A simpler answer is just to cook it right.
For those who want to try it all, Brentwood Trading Group offers their “Exotic Meat of the Month Club” where you receive a different selection each month for a year. At $799 it is perhaps a bit pricey, but for the guy who has everything and loves to cook…
Caveat emptor (buyer beware)—a hidden (at least initially) cost of ordering game meats online hits you right in the pocket when you go to check out. Since all game meats are perishable, and since shipping regulations require a minimum of two-day shipping, costs for those antelope steaks and buffalo burgers can be shockingly high.
But since you’re probably not going to be ordering exotic meat every week, or even every month, the higher costs can be tolerated. And several of the online companies are working at getting two-day UPS service at a reduced rate for food items. Your best bet is to check with the company you’re buying from before you click that final “Purchase Products” button on your computer.
Bison appears to be the meat of the future; ranchers and web sites can’t keep up with the demand, selling as much as they produce, and they could easily sell double the current numbers. The public appears to be demanding buffalo meat, and it's possible to find cuts of bison in upscale store chains like Whole Foods.
From a low point of just 1,000 animals to today when there are approximately 400,000 animals on ranches and farms in North America, the mighty bison appears to have come back in force and may just be the leading force in a new wave of healthy barbecue.
For my money, there is nothing like a bone-in rib-eye buffalo steak. It has all the taste of the finest aged prime beef with less than 1/3 the fat, is loaded with vitamin B12, selenium, zinc and phosphorus, low in sodium, and when properly cooked is incredibly tender and juicy. And they call this an exotic meat?
One thing to remember is that wild game is absolutely organic. No tenderizers, antibiotics, vitamins, steroids or flavor-enhancers are in your moose burger or venison roast. Try saying that about the pre-packaged, colored, water-infused, chemically saturated meats you buy in your local supermarket.
That's the meat we should be terrified of.
SOME OF THE GAME AND GAME BIRDS AVAILABLE ONLINE:
Wild Scottish blue hare