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Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Rat Meat

     My favorite food guru Andrew Zimmern says he's eaten a lot of rats and they are “pretty darn tasty.” Of course I've seen Mr. Zimmern eating stuff he has described as having a “poopy” taste and he thought it was delicious, too. 
     Zimmern says that the United States (and probably a lot of other countries) is obsessed with the belief that rat meat is bad, diseased and unclean. He adds that in the US (and probably a lot of other countries) that’s mostly true, but it's not the case in some parts of the world. For example, the 20-pound forest rat in the jungles of South America feed mostly on fallen date palms and other fruit and have the succulent sweet flavor that that tastes like pork. Read more...
     In the book Unmentionable Cuisine author Calvin W. Schwabe says that North Americans should be using many forms of protein which are routinely consumed in other parts of the world. He says, "Brown rats and roof rats were eaten openly on a large scale in Paris when the city was under siege during the Franco-Prussian War. Observers likened their taste to both partridges and pork.” Supposedly in France rats inhabiting wine cellars were skinned and eviscerated, brushed with a thick sauce of olive oil and crushed shallots, and grilled over a fire of broken wine barrels. Schwabe also adds that in West Africa the cane rat, the common house mouse and other species of rats and mice are all eaten. 
     According to a United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization report, rats now comprise of over 50 percent of the locally produced meat eaten in some parts of Ghana. Between December 1968 and June 1970, 258,206 pounds of cane-rat meat alone were sold in one market in Accra. 

Here are a couple of recipes: 

Stewed Cane Rat 
Skin and eviscerate the rat and split it lengthwise. Fry until brown in a mixture of butter and peanut oil. Cover with water, add tomatoes or tomato purée, hot red peppers, and salt. Simmer the rat until tender and serve with rice. 
Roasted Field Mice (Raton de campo asado) 
Skin and eviscerate field mice. Skewer them and roast over an open fire or coals. These are great as hors d'oeuvres with margaritas or "salty dogs."

Or, if you want to get really snooty: 
Mice in Cream (Souris à la crème) 
Skin, gut and wash some fat mice without removing their heads. Cover them in a pot with ethyl alcohol and marinate 2 hours. Cut a piece of salt pork or sowbelly into small dice and cook it slowly to extract the fat. Drain the mice, dredge them thoroughly in a mixture of flour, pepper, and salt, and fry slowly in the rendered fat for about 5 minutes. Add a cup of alcohol and 6 to 8 cloves, cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Prepare a cream sauce, transfer the sautéed mice to it, and warm them in it for about 10 minutes before serving. 

     One Internet story claimed that in China the Ministry of Public Security announced that the police had arrested 63 traders accused of buying rat, fox, and mink meat and then selling the meat as mutton. Apparently, the crime ring had been mixing the meat with gelatin, red dye, and nitrates before selling it in Shanghai and neighboring Jiangsu province. 
     According to North Carolina-based artist Laura Ginn, who once put together a rat-themed five-course dinner in New York rat tastes delicious when brushed with a glaze and barbecued. Smoked rat jerky served on brioche French toast is pretty good, too.  She adds that rats are most commonly eaten in Asia because of the rice crop. In areas where rats feed off rice paddies rather than garbage, they are considered safe to eat. Not so of the sewer-dwelling, garbage-eating rats. Rats are disease carriers, so when she organized her meal she ordered the rats from a company that supplies specially raised, grain-fed rodents to zoos. Here are some hints on how to know if what you are eating might be rat meat:

1. It smells like rat. Rats secrete an oil onto their skin that gives them an odor that makes them smell, well, like rats. Something like a warm tortilla...I will probably have to get that out of my head next time I have one of my favorites...Mexican food! Other people said rat meat smells like urine. Apparently, even after skinning and cooking, the smell never completely goes away. 
2. It tastes like rat. The oil rats secrete gives them a distinctive taste...pungent and gamey… somewhat akin to raccoon or rabbit. That's why it's sometimes blended with other meats. 
3. It looks like lamb. When it’s raw rat looks very much like lamb...kind of pinkish red. But, when ground up with other meat it just looks like generic ground meat. When cooked, a big rat looks sort of like a like rabbit. 
I am not sure where in the US you can actually purchase rats suitable for cooking, but if you do find a place this site has some recipes:  Gourmet Rat Recipes

Also, if you are interested in exotic meats, then there is a place called Exotic Meat Markets in California (where else?!) that sells everything from alligator and alpaca meat to zebra meat. Happy dining!

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