Thursday, May 27, 2010

WHAT's for Dinner??

I decided I wanted to try rabbit.

"If you're going to cook rabbit," said safety agent Seabrook, "then you should really make a stew. That's the best way to cook rabbit. But don't bring in any for me, please."

"Have you ever had rabbit?" I took an informal poll of my co-workers, and came up empty.

I put it out there on Facebook and got a comment from an old southern friend and we had a back-and-forth about rabbit and brunswick stew and how if your drunk uncles made it in the big vat in the backyard then it probably had rabbit in it, and maybe even squirrel. "My father told me that my grandmother used to say eating squirrel was low-rent," I wrote, and he agreed.

My friend Kate's husband Bubb hunts and cooks squirrel. He said the best way to make it is into burgers. "Yeah, yum, squirrel burgers," said their teenaged son Ethan when he overheard the conversation. "But it does take a lot of squirrels," specified Bubb, "and squirrel meat can be kind of tough, so after you skin them, it's better to boil them a little bit first, so you can pull the meat right off the bones. The you can ground 'em up, put in a little filler, throw 'em on the grill...don't let anybody tell ya that ain't good eatin'."

After I recovered from the visual image of ten to fifteen hairless squirrels boiling together in a big pot I turned to Kate. "Are you going to tell me that's 'good eatin'?"

She shrugged. "I tried it once. I didn't die."

I don't think that's for me. Squirrel is just a little too extreme. I mean, c'mon, that's a rodent. Though, of course, it's all in your point of view. Bubb would probably say eating sashimi was "extreme," and if he did, he'd be no less right than I am.

But for some reason, I got it in my head I wanted to try rabbit. Let me cut to the chase and tell you that I haven't done it yet. I got as far as picking up a shrink-wrapped package of it at the local Stew Leonard's. It was placed kind of close to the chicken,though they didn't place it in the most obvious, easy-to-find spot, near the boneless breasts or the wings. It was sort of up and off to the side with the less popular items--the chicken hearts, gizzards, chicken feet for making soup. I once went with an old southern (why is it always southern?) roommate to visit her widowed country dad, and was met with a big pot boiling on the stove with eight or ten chicken feet, claws and all, sticking out of the top. Which was, by the way, hours later when it was finally done, some of the best soup I'd ever had.

I saw the chicken feet and allowed myself a minute or so's reverie and then snapped back to the task at hand. Rabbit. I looked at the package in my hand. It looked as innocuous as the chicken. It was cut into quarters. If I gave in to my imagination just a little bit, I could have almost been holding a package of chicken. And they say rabbit tastes like chicken. I know, I know...they say everything "tastes like chicken," but I googled this on several websites, and had become convinced that in the case of rabbit, it was actually true.

I pondered on the rabbit. Though I am a very courteous shopper, I made extra certain to move my shopping cart well out of the way of the flow of traffic--and if you have ever been to a Stew's you know that 'flow of traffic' is what it's all about--because I knew I was going to take a while. I wasn't going to be able to toss the prepackaged rabbit into my cart like a thigh/drumstick combo or a pound of ground round.

It didn't look like "a rabbit." It didn't look like anything more than any other chopped apart and processed type of meat did in that big long meat department. It looked no more like a rabbit than a pork chop looked like a pig. It looked less like a rabbit than a whole chicken looked like a...well...chicken. It looked like something you were supposed to pick up and marinate or stew or grill or do whatever you wanted to do to it for dinner that night. Case closed.

And as it turned out, I wasn't able to toss it in my cart at all that day.

Oh well, next time. I don't give up that easily. "And you know what?" I consoled myself. "Everett was the only one who said she'd be willing to eat rabbit with me, so I may as well just wait until she's home again, that makes the most sense." Everettwill be brave with me.

I find it interesting that while I've had a bit of a hurdle with turning our furry rabbit friend into an evening meal, I had no trouble sampling alligator.

Yep, alligator. At the New York State Fair a few years ago. I put Zack in the car and took the drive up to Syracuse, a good four hours away, for a two night stay. He must have been nine or ten. He wasn't as impressed as I was with the giant butter statue, nor was he intrigued by the dental exhibit with the giant tooth and the giant toothbrush you could actually pick up and brush it with. The cooking demonstration with the miracle non-stick pots held his attention less than a nano-second, and I could not arouse any enthusiasm from him to see Sha-Na-Na that first evening.

Day two was going about as well, and Zack really started to rumble as I steered him toward an exhibit of prize-winning quilts. But after the quilts, we bypassed the watermelon judging and went into one of the halls...the "New York State Agriculture" Hall, or maybe it was the Hall of "Stuff You Almost Never See Outside of a State Fair." We might have been back with the butter statue.

"Look, Mom! Alligator!"

Not an alligator. Fried Alligator. You could get a plate with coleslaw and french fries for $5.99, or if you just wanted to sample an "Alligator McNugget" it was only a dollar. Actually, they didn't call it an Alligator McNugget...could you imagine the lawsuits if they had??

"I wonder what it tastes like," said Zack.

"Do you want to try a piece?" I asked him.

"Nooo, no," he said. Zack has never been mister adventurous. If you give him a bowl of jello any other color than red, he starts to get shaky.

"Oh, c'mon, Zack. You'll never know if you like something until you try..." It was pointless, really. Zack had always had Peter's genes as far as eating went. "You're so hard to cook for," I'd used to complain to Peter. "No, I'm actually easy to cook for," he would always respond. "I like four or five things? How easy is that?" I guess when I said "hard," I actually meant "boring."

"No, try it." Zack said.

"If I try it, will you try it?" We moms never pass up a chance to teach a little self-righteous lesson.

"No," said Zack. Ya gotta give the kid points for honesty.

But by now I was intrigued and figured it could still be a lesson, if only a successful lesson when looked back upon sometime in the future. You never know. We moms take what we can get. "Well, OK," I said. "I want to try it anyway. I think it looks interesting. I think it looks delicious!"

Well, OK, I was about to eat a reptile. "I've had some sort of reptile before, haven't I?" I wondered as I approached the not-too-long line at the alligator stand. "I must have. I'm forgetting something really obvious. Have I had frog legs? No. Fish aren't reptiles, are they? No, of course not." I was getting a little ditzy with the anticipation now. The anticipation of eating my first-ever piece of reptile.

Reptile. Yig.

I handed over my dollar and was given an unceremonious little paper plate atop which sat a brown crunchy nugget with a toothpick stuck in it. The toothpick didn't even have that cute little colored cellophane decoration on the end.

Do they skin alligators, or does this nugget have that black scaly rubbery surface that alligators have? Are there alligator fillets? Alligator steaks? Alligator burgers? Perhaps I have to educate myself a bit more before I go tearing into this nugget....

"Eat it Mom! Eat it!"

I looked at Zack as I held the end of the unadorned toothpick with the overcooked nugget on the end. He was having the best time he'd had since we'd gotten up there.

So I played it up for him. I scrunched up my face, took it to my nose back and forth a couple of times, closed my eyes....wait, was I playing it up for Zack, or was I going to do this?

I popped it in my mouth.

I crunched down. It was very crunchy. In all honesty, there didn't seem to be much meat inside, just a little. ("Is it meat? Is it black rubbery skin? Don't think about it, don't think about it.") It was very greasy. Very greasy. Of course, we were at a state fair, where grease is a major food group; fried dough, fried sausages, deep-fried Snicker Bars. I had stayed for five days at the New York State fair as a teenager with the 4-H organization, had eaten all that fair food, and it had taken weeks for my digestion to get back to normal. But the alligator...was it greasy because alligator was greasy, or was it greasy because the state fair was greasy? Whatever, it was too late to worry about it now.

I chewed, I swallowed. I made an appropriate face and made Zack laugh and made his whole trip worthwhile.

And all told, it tasted a bit like chicken.

I tried it once, and I didn't die.

Maybe Zack will one day try something once and not die.

Hey, maybe it will be rabbit.

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