I always thought that goofy bird puppet that Rod Hull performed with was an ostrich. Dumb me. It was an emu. Rod lived in Australia, so do emus. (The ostrich comes from Africa.) Anyway, both are large meaty birds that people eat. Well, not everybody. Take my brother. He'll eat seal (furry marine animal with flippers), squid (gelatinous thing with tentacles), rabbit (large rodent) or cod tongues (enough said), but when I offered him a meal of grilled ostrich he was repulsed.
OK, "repulsed" is a bit strong but he was very quick to say, "No, I don't think so."
Now you're probably wondering where I managed to buy ostrich meat. It's not as easy as going to the nearest Sobeys, but thanks to a new food club, it's almost as easy. The Jumping Bean Exotic Salumi Club offers members an opportunity, once every month, to purchase cured meats - or "salumi" - like proscuitto, mortadella and soppressata. The club also, occasionally, offers exotic fresh-frozen meats such as wild boar, emu, bison and ostrich. Being the sort who'll try anything once, when I saw ostrich on a recent offering I jumped at the chance to try some.
Ostrich meat is dark and very lean, making it one of the healthiest sources of protein. Because of its ph balance, ostrich meat resists e-coli and salmonella. That makes ostrich one of the safest meats for human consumption.
Earl Norman, co-owner of Coffee Matters coffee shops, was in Africa recently and visited an ostrich farm near Cape Town. I asked him to describe the farm.
"It was very large. They raise over 500 birds at a time. There was a hatching area, another for adolescents and another for adults. We actually stood on pre-hatched eggs in the hatchery. The shells are incredibly strong and one egg will feed six people."
Norman even got to ride one of the 300-pound beasts.
"Someone helps you up on this mounted stepladder. There's no saddle, no control (unless you're an expert.) They put you on and let you go. The bird's natural instinct is to run with the other ostriches, so you end up jam-packed in a herd. ... It was fun to do once but the ostrich wasn't made for riding."
I purchased about five pounds of fresh-frozen ostrich tenderloin. After thawing it in my fridge I decided to prepare three different dishes with the meat. First, I cut off a couple of pieces, oiled it and sprinkled Montreal steak spice all over it. In its raw state it has the texture of raw turkey, except it's dark like beef. After grilling for about four minutes per side to medium, I served the ostrich with tomato salad and oven chips. Perhaps it was the Montreal steak spice combined with the meat's definite beefy texture but it did taste like lean, tender, grilled beef.
Next I prepared the ostrich according to a recipe I received from the salumi club. It called for the ostrich to be sautÉed, sliced and served with a mustard shallot sauce and some wild mushrooms. I had some dried morels in the cupboard so I rehydrated those and fried them.
I enjoyed the dish. The sauce worked well with the ostrich, making a nice balance. There was, however, a great deal of difference between the grilled and the sautÉed ostrich. Having been cooked without heavy spicing I got a fairly unmasked taste of the sautÉed meat. Here's what I thought:
Ostrich looks like beef when it is cooked and has the texture of beef when it is cooked. It feels like beef in your mouth, but it does not have the flavour of beef. Ostrich, for me, has a very strong flavour of cooked dark turkey meat with the mouth-feel of steak. I love dark turkey, so I enjoyed the ostrich, but that flavour married with the texture of beef can take some getting used to.
I had some sautÉed ostrich left in the pan so I wrapped it in plastic and stuck it in the fridge. The next day I decided to make a salad. I bought some mixed greens, one orange pepper, tomatoes, mushrooms and almonds. Then I made a simple vinaigrette with Dijon, white balsamic, extra virgin olive oil and some salt and pepper. Next I simply sliced my leftover cold ostrich tenderloin and tossed the slices in a quarter of the vinaigrette.
After tossing the salad ingredients in the remaining vinaigrette, I topped the whole thing with the sliced ostrich. I had the cold ostrich salad outdoors with a glass of cold, crisp sauvignon blanc.
That, I quickly concluded, was the way I liked ostrich best. It was, if I do say so myself, superb. And that's no yolk.
You can join the Jumping Bean Exotic Salumi Club at no cost. To be placed on the mailing list for the next offering of ostrich or wild boar or who knows what, please e-mail Tom Beckett. His address is: firstname.lastname@example.org
SautÉed Ostrich (or Beef Steak) with Wild Mushrooms in a Mustard Shallot Sauce
Courtesy of Chef Francois de Melogue
Wild Mushroom Ingredients:
2 oz each: cÉpes, morels, wild shiitake, mousseron, and coral mushrooms [or your own mixture]
2 shallots, chopped
One half-tablespoon olive oil
3 cloves of garlic, mashed
Quarter cup dry white wine
2 tsp. fresh thyme, chopped
Wild Mushroom Preparation: SautÉ shallots in olive oil; add wild mushrooms. When the mushrooms are almost done, add garlic and white wine. Reduce until dry.
Mustard Shallot Sauce Ingredients:
Half cup dry white wine
4 shallots, finely chopped
Half a bay leaf
1 tbsp. fresh thyme, chopped
2 tbsp. Dijon mustard
1-cup venison or beef demi glace
Half-cup crÈme fraÎche
Mustard Shallot Sauce Preparation: SautÉ shallots in butter. Deglaze with white wine; add herbs and Dijon. Add demi glace and reduce by half. Whisk in crÈme fraÎche.
Meat Preparation: SautÉ four six-ounce ostrich tenderloins (or beef grilling steak) to desired doneness. Place sautÉed mushrooms in center of a hot plate. Thinly slice ostrich (or beef) and arrange around mushrooms. Ladle sauce over meat.
Serve this delicious meal with mature Syrah such as Hermitage, Cornas or St. Joseph, or with your favourite red wine.