Pity the poor ostrich. Not the prettiest of old birds to begin with, let’s be honest. The only beautiful thing about you is your feathers, and they pluck them off you to sell to rich Frenchwomen, drag queens, Rio carnival dancers and Lady Gaga.
To a human kid, you’re a horse with feathers. You think ‘those kids are biltong’ but mommy and daddy are watching, so you make it look less obvious that you’re trying to throw them off.
You think, oh ***k it, and stick your head in the sand, and what do they do? They poke fun at you. They make you a laughing stock. There is just no winning for an ostrich.
You finally find some solace in the demand there is in Europe for your diet-friendly, low-fat organic meat, and then your cousin Gawie gets avian flu and what happens? You’re vilified. Banned, if you please. Ostrich non grata. Your flesh, even your dead flesh, may not enter Europe. Oh, the shame.
Making matters worse is the bald fact that the H5N2 strain, which is what Gawie caught, does not make an ostrich’s meat inedible and cannot be transferred to humans. Even so, those uppity continentals throw up their hands in horror and say a resounding non, nada and nein to your pleas for them to see sense.
Then it’s announcd that ostrich meat may again be sold to Europe and what happens? Hermaans over on the next farm falls fowl to the flu. And down the curtain comes again.
So there it is: eat ostrich, guys. If Europe won’t eat our ostrich meat, we’re going to have to do it ourselves. These farmers need our help. If you’re in the Oudshoorn region, visit those farms. They need your business because they’re suffering and so are their staff. There’s a labour force that cannot feed its children.
Ostrich meat is safe to eat. You can still buy it at all good South African supermarkets. So make it your mission to put ostrich on the family menu at least once a week, maybe make Tuesday ostrich day, whatever, and do your bit to help these guys out of a hole that no ostrich wants to put its head in. If you fancy some biltong, make it ostrich and buy a big bag of it. If you’re vegetarian, chuck the habit one day a week to save an industry and loads of jobs. You never know.
Ostrich meat is excellent, and if you’re not in the habit of eating it because you imagine it to be gamey, which puts some people off, well, it just isn’t gamey at all. Think of it more as very lean beef, because the flesh of these birds is much more like that of a cow than any other bird. It’s compact, dense meat, a deep red in colour and very moist. It lends itself to being cooked in a frying pan, as you would a beef fillet or hunk of sirloin, but it can be roasted too or cooked in a stew, in which case include something sweetish and make it spicy. You can make sausages, meat loaves, kebabs and ragout. Cuts of ostrich have uncommon names apart from the rump. There’s moon steak, oyster, oyster fillet, flat drum and big drum, tenderloin, tournedos and any number of cuts suitable for goulash.
In the spirit of doing my bit for the struggling inustry, I bought ostrich fillet and made a simple dinner of ostrich fillet with baby corn and cranberries, using Szechaun pepper and verjuice as flavouring agents. Verjuice (green juice) is the unfermented juice of less-than-ripe red and green grapes and is used as a condiment, pretty much as you would use lemon juice or wine in marinades, dressings or sauces. And yes, I’m still on the Szechuan pepper jag at the moment, so do substitute any other spice of your choice if you like. You’ll need:
1 x 200g ostrich fillet per person
100g dried cranberries
4 or 5 baby corn per person, cut in half lengthwise
2 bird’s eye chillies
1 red onion, finely sliced
1 small tomato per person
2T olive oil
2T ghee or butter
Salt and pepper
2T Szechuan peppercorns, crushed
Blanche corn in boilng water for a minute or so, refresh under cold water and drain. Reduce verjuice in a saucepan until a third of its content, add the cranberries and simmer gently, covered, for a few minutes. Reserve.
Sauté onion in olive oil until soft, add the peppercorns and simmer for five minutes, stirring, reduced sauce, stir and cover and keep warm.
In a griddle pan or frying pan over a moderately high heat, melt ghee or butter and fry steaks for a few minutes on each side, preferably rare or medium rare, then wrap in foil and keep warm. They cook very quickly. Return the onions to the pan, fry halved small tomatoes on each side, and fry the baby corn gently on both sides until golden brown.
This would be good with mash or polenta, but I kept it simple and served it as is, while drinking a toast to the success of our lage feathered friends and the industry we make of them, or try to.
First published in Weekend Argus October 2011