Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Emus: big brown prehistoric birds

and oh, yes, incidentally, we eat them.
(Photos by Lowell Klock of Klockworks.com)
Ann Breen with Baby Emu

I have this kind of block about different and unusual kinds of food animals. Emus, for instance, were not on my radar.  But a couple of weeks ago when I dropped by Roots the Restaurant to sample their new menu of foods and wines, I met Ann Breen, who mentioned that their Emus were “hatching”.  Along the way that evening we had some excellent emu sausage.

In the next few days that verb finally sank in and I remembered that emus were fowl of some sort. Some kind of flightless birds? Like big brown chickens, I guessed, having forgotten whatever I ever knew about them. But when I mentioned to my friend Lowell that the emus were hatching – Lowell loves all these esoteric animals like ostrich and emu, and has been trying unsuccessfully for years to get me to eat ostrich – I could barely keep her on her er, ah, leash. Plus, a trip to Brandon would no doubt include lunch at one of Chef Robert’s Provençal establishments there, something she never forgoes.

I notice I’m talking here about living animals and food as the same thing. That strikes me as wrong, doesn’t it you? But that’s the way we are. Unless it’s dogs and cats and sometimes more esoteric things that we keep as ‘pets’, we expect that if we keep an animal it will do things for us – such as give us milk or eggs or... yes, flesh. It’s a deal we make with them, although they have no decision in it. No doubt they would agree with us that in order to survive for a certain amount of time they would have to agree to die on our schedule. It’s kind of the same deal we’ve made with our own gods and goddesses, I imagine. If we could remember. Perhaps it IS the same. 

Those living beings that don’t benefit us in some way that we recognize we swat or pull out by their roots, or poison, or trap, or simply make it our habit to kill in any way we can, especially if they’re pests. They buzz too loudly, or they bite, or they slither scarily, or they grunt ferociously, or their juice makes us itch, and we find a way to banish them from our environment.

But I do love my little Jersey cows, and big grunting pigs, and sometimes even chickens, and suddenly I was seized with a desire to see baby emus. So, after I’d suitably bribed Lowell, we drove up to the Breens’ Neshobe Farms in Brandon a few days later. Ann Breen came up from the barns holding a baby emu who had gotten tangled in some fishing line, and we were immediately involved in trying to untangle him.

Ann held him and I tried to untangle the line from his three long toes.  Remember, this is my first glimpse of an emu, and the baby is as big as a small turkey, with beautiful striped markings on his fuzzy baby feathers. The adults, who can weigh up to 120 pounds and can look you in the eye, have gorgeous lacy feathers covering their rumps, and sometimes a strikingly curly headdress. Their little faces are triangular with funny round eyes. They get right up to you, but then shy away. The Breens’ emus are dun colored, silvery and black and grays. It really is a prehistoric bird, Australian, very odd and beautiful. Big Bird is the most famous emu, except for his extravagant coloring.

So when this baby emu startled, and his powerful little legs kicked out, I was one startled untangler, I can tell you. But it was good to get up close and personal so quickly, and soon he was untangled and put back into his pen, where he almost got stomped to death by his slightly older siblings when we startled them by stepping into their pen.

There was a lot of startlement going on that day.

Ann showed us their beautiful farm, their emu corrals, the raised garden beds, and the rest of her fowl, among the most beautiful of which was a Muscovy duck and a giant red leghorn rooster rooting and hooting on a pile of compost.

Ann’s husband, Peter, came along and got us some emu steaks and summer sausage from the freezer, and we went back up to the house where Ann fetched us some emu oil. Emus have a nice layer of fat between their skin and their musculature which is touted to be excellent for dry skin and all kinds of eczema, and since it is easily and deeply absorbed it can do some good for arthritis and other aches and pains. It’s even said to lower cholesterol. Huh? It might seem odd to be rubbing chicken grease all over yourself, but come to think of it, Grandma used to rub my chest with goose grease and then wrap it in a flannel cloth when I had a cold. Using fowl grease for healing is nothing new under the sun.  More about emus here.

The meat of the emu is red. It is leaner than most other meats. The steaks should be marinated, Ann told us, and then flash grilled so that the outside is nicely marked and the inside a very dusky pink.

Roots’ Chef Don Billings offers several emu dishes. There is, for instance, an appetizer consisting of a white bean dip, emu sausage, and Blue Ledge Farm Chèvre. The combination is lovely, and the emu sausage very tasty. He also offers an “EELT”, a BLT served with Emu sausage and a fried egg as well as lettuce and tomato. But one of his most popular preparations is ground emu in a patty.

I have to leave soon – I’m writing this yesterday – to pick up my daughter from Albany Airport – Yippee! – and I think tonight I’ll fire up the grill and try that emu steak.

Along with it I think I’ll try a grilled salad. I have a head of romaine from Alchemy Gardens at the Rutland Farmers’ Market. I’ll split that in half and lightly grill it and serve it with a Caesar dressing. I believe Chef Don has the best Caesar dressing I’ve ever had outside my own kitchen, that he serves over his new Grilled Caesar.

The salads on Roots’ new summer menu are outstanding. I believe I talked about the ‘massaged’ kale salad that I had there during Restaurant Week. It’s now a regular on the new menu. I loved the Quinoa Salad, too, consisting of toasted quinoa tossed with grilled mozzarella cheese and tomatoes, with a basil vinaigrette. There’s cumin in that there dressing that kinda sneaks up on you. Delicious. Lots of local ingredients here, including the warmed spinach with mushrooms, bacon and blue cheese that seared scallops are served over in yet another great salad.

Another thing that I might put on the grill is a head of that escarole from Radical Roots that just fell apart like feathers when I cut off the end. Delicious, tender, sweet, with just a slightly bitter edge. It will  need a stand-up dressing – lots of garlic, maybe some plumped raisins, balsamic and olive oil. Oh, and blue cheese. Another green that I’m in love with is some very cute little arugula from Breezy Meadows (a little play on co-owner Meadow Squire’s name?) that I like to scatter all under and over plates of food these days.

At that tasting I spoke about at Roots, we also tasted wines. What absolute fun. I tasted and swirled with the best of them and, if I didn’t spit, I did at least pour quite a bit of wine into a spare glass just so’s I could keep on tasting.

Among my favorites (and keep in mind that I am no expert) was a very grapefruity, citrusy New Zealand New Harbor Sauvignon Blanc, as well as my more customary red – a Norman Classic Zinfandel. I loved that and wrote various forms of BAM and POW over my menu.

If Roots does any more wine and food tastings I would be sure to sign up for them.
Well, I'm off for Albany now::: Remember::: Eat Local!
What? Who said that? Who is that woman. Smile. She's taking your photograph!

1 comment:

Aimee said...

Holy cow! Who knew emu babies were so cute??
nice blog. I came over from Fast grow the weeds. Mine is www.newtofarmlife.blogspot.com