It takes a lot to please us these days. No longer are we content with only one iPhone being released in a year. We demand more. So obsessed are we with what’s new and shiny that the traditional is now tiresome, and this is just as true in the world of food as anywhere else. Chefs are innovating in ever more weird and wonderful ways, repurposing old ingredients and introducing new ones. Arguably, some of the most exciting changes are taking place in our meat.
Exotic butcheries are ever more popular as niche meats push their way to the forefront of cooks’ thinking. Everything from an ostrich sausage to crocodile meat is now on the menu. Not only do they offer something unusual and exciting, but exotic meats can be healthier and tastier than their more common counterparts. With the unfamiliar more readily available than ever before, we decided to take a look at the marketplace to see what’s available and where adventurous foodies should look to get a great taste of the unknown.
Before diving in, it’s important to understand the difference between ethically and irresponsibly sourced exotic meats. With such a wealth of untapped potential available to shoppers, figuring out what is and isn’t environmentally friendly is a key step to starting your exotic cookery journey. As a general rule, anything labelled "bushmeat" should be avoided. Sourced from wild game, the majority of bushmeat is a product of poaching - one of the gravest threats facing the environment today. Anyone wishing to cook with exotic meats should only buy from responsible farmers. As the trade becomes more profitable, such suppliers are increasingly easy to find, meaning that you should never need to turn to a disreputable source.
When it comes to unusual meats, there is definitely a scale of weirdness. Towards the relatively commonplace end of the spectrum are the game meats, including animals such as quail, elk and venison. Game meats are typically notable for their leanness and strength of flavour. Some, like the more mild rabbit, are packed with protein and essential minerals and, as an added bonus, contain next to no fat. While cooking something this cute and fluffy might be off-putting, the results are undeniably delicious (with apologies to bunny lovers everywhere). When working with game, just be sure not to overcook and dry out your dinner - this is the most common problem with this particular meat and can leave a bad taste in the mouth. Proceed with care, and the results will wow you.
Moving on to the slightly more obscure, yet still readily available, we have meats such as ostrich, kangaroo and antelope. Let’s refer to them as the "bouncy" animals. Of these, ostrich is probably the most widespread and well known (and also the least bouncy). Although it might look like a giant mutant chicken, ostrich’s taste is much more akin to beef than poultry. With approximately half the calories of beef and a fraction of the cholesterol, ostrich is a great choice for the more health conscious. Likewise, the less popular but equally delicious antelope and kangaroo offer a deep, rich flavour that won’t worry your waistline. Kangaroo has been a particular favourite in Australia for a while and is increasingly finding its feet overseas. All that bouncing clearly makes for added tastiness.
At the more extreme end of the spectrum lies the truly whacky stuff. Depending on your location, some of these meats may be slightly more challenging to get hold of. However, they’re definitely worth persevering with when you do eventually find someone mad enough to farm them. These range from crocodile to zebra and encompass most other levels of the food chain. Because of the variety out there, there is a huge range of different textures and tastes available for experimenting. Crocodile meat, for instance, is likened to a hybrid of pork, chicken and monkfish. Crocodile is currently enjoying a surge in popularity as farms become relatively commonplace across the globe. The sector in Africa is now growing at 22 per cent per year as the meat becomes a new staple in the Asian food market. The most prized cut is the tail, which is typically presented as a muscular circular medallion.
Crocodiles are not the only reptile on the menu, with python cropping up with increasing regularity. Unsurprisingly, the best bit of a snake is also the tail. Due to the comparative rarity of meats such as python, they may be more pricy than a standard chicken breast, but don’t let that put you off. For the adventurous palate, their inclusion can provide a welcome twist on a number of traditional dishes.
Before splurging your weekly shopping budget on as much alpaca as you can carry, it’s worth reiterating the importance of checking who you’re buying from. The idea of cooking with as many crazy ingredients as possible is appealing to every chef, but should not come at the expense of the environment. However, if you can be sure of the source, exotic meat is a great way of giving your more mundane mealtimes a much-needed twist.