Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Grilled Whole Raccoon

We have developed a tradition within a tradition, over the last few years, of having some unusual foods along with our traditional Thanksgiving and Christmas meals. This year for Christmas, along with prime rib, I grilled a whole raccoon. We had Dave and Bonnie Kenison visiting and they are always good sports and willing to try anything. The raccoon turned out to be a lot of work and a little traumatic for most everyone, because, ironically, it looked a little bit too much like a raccoon. I enjoyed it for that very reason, but was getting quite a bit of resistance and ultimately had to cut off the tail, head and feet in order to make it look more edible. It was a good lesson in presentation and how it can dramatically impact the desirability of food.

I ordered the raccoon off the internet and got it in a big frozen solid blob. It was not until it was thawing that I realized it still had the head, paws and tail.
The most shocking aspect of it was the tremendous amount of fat
on the back and hind legs. I pulled out some kitchen shears and began to snip and trim away most of the fat.
There was a prodigious amount.
The raccoon sans much of its fat: 
It sort of looked like a small dog.
Then I put it in boiling water for about 30 minutes. Because I did not have anything large enough to submerge it in, I put it in a large roasting pan,
first on one side for about 15 minutes, then on the other side for 15 minutes.That helped remove more of the fat and partially cooked the meat.
After boiling, I let it cool down, then rubbed the entire outside and inside with kosher salt.
I was able to cut off the head with a combination of scissors and a knife,
but those tools were not sufficient for the leg bones which were too thick to cut through. We did not have a saw with a small enough blade, but I finally thought of our tree trimmer which easily cut through the bones to detach the four feet and tail. I put the raccoon on our outside gas grill with the two outside burners on medium and the two inside burners turned off.
The raccoon was thus only getting indirect heat. Because of prime rib and other items cooking at the same time, I did not have access to a meat thermometer and had to guess when the raccoon was ready.
When it was finished, I let it sit for awhile before carving it. Going back to the preparation stage, several raccoon recipes I reviewed  provided for stuffing. I made a stuffing which included bread crumbs, onions and garlic, but found that I was not able to sew up the gut sufficiently to put all of the stuffing in and keep it there. From the picture below, you can see that I was able to fit in and retain some stuffing and it actually tasted quite good (there was plenty of fat to moisten it up in the gut).
The meat was all dark.
With the head and limbs removed and the meat cooked, family members started to come around a bit. I started to snitch pieces as I carved and was surprised out how unique the flavor was.
Perhaps more than anything I've ever eaten, it did not taste like anything else I've tried. It certainly did not taste like the proverbial chicken, or beaver, javelina or rabbit for that matter. The taste was quite strong,  particularly pieces with a little bit of fat, but it was not  livery, and it did not have the type of gaminess you typically get with venison, yet it had it's own unique after-taste. I enjoyed it quite a bit, as did Dave Kenison, but most everyone else was traumatized enough by the preparation that they only sampled small pieces. However, I think everyone did try at least a small piece. Below, raccoon meat on my plate (to the right) next to some prime rib (to the left).
Andrew photo-shopped a Norman Rockwell picture of a family being served a turkey dinner. He replaced the turkey with a raccoon and my head and Judy's head for the parents in the picture. We sent it around to the family by email and had a fun reaction to it. A picture of the raccoon, in preparation, also made it onto Facebook and got some strong reactions, as you would imagine. To say it was an unusual Christmas dinner would be a vast understatement.
I think this was my most unusual cooking experience. I really enjoyed it, except to the extent that it impacted the desire of others to try it. So much of the eating experience is mental. I would certainly eat raccoon again given the opportunity, but I don't think I'll be ordering it off the internet again.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Diamond Palace Chinese Seafood

I went with Wing Lau for lunch today at a wonderful Chinese restaurant in Diamond Bar: Diamond Palace Chinese Seafood located at 225 South Gentle Springs Lane, Diamond Bar, CA 91765 (phone: 909-860-6339).
I have been with him to this restaurant a number of times previously and I have taken my family there several times, but it has been a number of years since I was last there. The food is very good and it is relatively cheap. I don't have a copy of the menu and I don't find it on-line so the descriptions are mine. We were given egg drop soup, probably my favorite oriental soup.
They put bacon in theirs, an item I don't recall being put in at other restaurants. We ordered lobster cooked with scallions and ginger
and the lobster was cooked perfectly. I recently had some lobster at a Mexican restaurant and I find that they way overcook it. I generally don't crave lobster, because it is usually cooked so poorly, but this lobster was moist and flavorful and when it is like this, it is a wonderful item.
We had squab (baby pigeon), a very dark meat,
complete with head
and arranged as though it was flying.
I don't find the squab to be particularly great, it is mainly a novelty dish for me. It was relatively moist, but not particularly flavorful. The Peking duck was wonderful. Rather than a crepe, like Lotus Garden, they serve it with dumplings
which I think I like better. One plate, with the outer skin, fat and scallions and hoison sauce,
was primarily for the dumplings. The other plate was the rest of the duck.
The duck was moist, fatty and flavorful. I do absolutely love Peking duck, one of my very favorite dishes. Wing also ordered shrimp and eggs with scallions
and a hot chilie sauce on the side. The egg was very moist and this is also one of my favorite Chinese dishes. Finally, we had a fried rice with various added ingredients. It was okay, not my favorite. I only ate a little of it. It was not particularly flavorable.
If Diamond Palace was nearby, I would eat there regularly. I love Chinese food and they do a great job and the prices are tough to beat.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Grilled Leg of Goat

I was buying a leg of lamb at Ranch Market for a pre-Christmas get together and discovered a small leg of goat, about 3 1/2 pounds.
I couldn't pass it up. I've had some wonderful goat in restaurants before, particularly currey goat in several Indian restaurants. However, my one previous attempt to cook goat, blackened, was horrible. Then I found an incredible looking recipe on the internet at forkable and had to try it out. It took me forever to prepare it, and the result was good, but not great (it was a little over-cooked). However, I had a blast and I'm going to do it again. Next time it will go faster and it will be much better at it.

The forkable recipe indicated that goat is lean and tough, something I found on my first attempt. To tenderize the meat, forkable used rum and lime juice as a marinade. Forkable also found that goat tends to turn an unappetizing gray color, so forkable used beets to give the meat a reddish color. Very interesting ideas to address the issues.

I would have liked a little more meat than the 3 1/2 pounds. Forkable was suggesting a leg weighing 4 to 5 pounds. Forkable suggested trimming off the hard white surface tissue
and also any extra fat deposits which get used later.  
She did it the night before and I did not get started until the day of. Next time, I'll give it the extra time. It takes a fair amount of time to do the trimming.
I cut a large papaya in half and used half the seeds, placing them in a bowl.
I smashed the seeds with the back of a spoon, then mixed it with two tablspoons of kosher salt. 
The papaya seeds act as a binder. My papaya was not fully ripe. I suspect that the seeds of a fully ripe papaya will crush more easily than mine did. I rubbed the salt over the meat,
placed it in plastic wrap and put it in the fridge while I then made marinade.
 For a marinade, I juiced 20 limes,
which did not seem fully ripe, so I added some additional key lime. I also added a cup of rum, a cup of white wine, 2 cups of olive oil and a quarter cup of brown sugar. I put the goat leg in the marinade and then put three sliced beets on and around the goat to provide some color.
I was supposed to let the goat marinade overnight. However, due to time limitations, I only let it marinade about 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
I removed the goat from the marinade, then made quite a few deep incisions into the leg, inserting in each incision a garlic clove, a slice of ginger root and a piece of trimmed fat from the goat (forkable called it a "lardoon"). In retrospect, the garlic did not cook long enough to get soft. I would either leave it out, or more likely, cook it a little bit before-hand. Then I made the dry rub, including smashed up seeds from the other half of the papaya, 1/4 cup of kosher salt, 1/4 cup of brown sugar, and 2 tablespoons of dry ginger.
Forkable also suggested 2 tablespoons of cumin, 1 tablespoon of coriander and 1 tablespoon of sumac. Then I rubbed the dry rub all over the goat leg,
put it in plastic wrap and put it in the fridge. Forkable suggested letting the leg sit for about 3 hours with the dry rub on it. Again, because of time constraints, I only gave it about 1 1/2 hours.

Forkable suggested searing in the juices on a bbq on high heat, 10 minutes on each side, about 20 minutes overall. I put my four burner outdoor gas grill on high on each burner and did the prescribed time. Forkable then suggested putting the leg in the oven at 325 degrees until the internal temperature of the leg reaches 130 degrees, which was after 90 minutes for her. Then tent it and let it sit for another 20 minutes and it will continue to cook and get up to about 140 degrees for nice medium rare meat. I left it on the outdoor grill, but turned the two middle burners off so it was getting indirect heat. The thermometer I was using started at 140 degrees and I did not get it off the grill until it had gone a little past 140 degrees. Unfortunately, it was a little overcooked.
We were waiting for Rachael and Nate to arrive and so it sat about 45 minutes or so before I carved it. Some of the meat was way too overcooked, some was just about right.
I think it would be amazing if it was cooked only as long as suggested. The flavor was off the charts. It was salty, sweet and tangy. I can't wait to try it again and give the various processes the full time and cook it a little less.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Grilled Whole Rabbit

A number of years ago I was asked to head up the food for a Redlands Stake Youth Conference held at Camp Emerson in the San Jacinto Mountains. For one meal, we decided to try and give the youth a variety of foods most would have not tasted before. We had sampling of grilled rainbow trout, marinated and grilled wild duck breast, lamb stew and most impressive, whole grilled rabbit. My brother, Matt, below, assisted me with the rabbit and I was thrilled with the presentation.
The rabbit torso and four limbs were still connected
which let the youth know that this was not their usual fare. So much of our food now days is modified to make it look unlike what it originally looked like, that many people forget they are eating something that was once alive.
It was a great experience. Many of the youth tried the foods and many commented that they liked it. I'm always thrilled when people will get a bit out of their comfort zone to try a food they've not previously eaten. It also gave me a chance to wear my skunk skin cap which was perfect for the occasion.