Friday, March 27, 2015

Nutria or Coypu

The nutria is a large rodent originally native to South America, but now introduced to many areas around the world by fur farmers. It is primarily known as nutria in the U.S. and in Asia, but because in Spanish speaking countries "nutria" refers to an otter, the name coypu was adopted. It is also known as the river rat because it has a large bare tail like a rat. 
Nutria on the bank of the Jordan River.
We were in Jordan recently visiting the traditionally recognized place for the baptism of Jesus on the Jordan River, which is the border for Israel and Jordan. We noticed a large rodent on the Israeli bank of the Jordan which eventually went into the water. It looked like a beaver, with gray whiskers and a rat tail. An internet search later confirmed it as a nutria, introduced to Israel by fur farmers. 

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Hartmann's Mountain Zebra

There are three species of zebra: the plains zebra, the mountain zebra and the Grevy's zebra. On our trip to Africa we saw two of the species, the Grant's zebra, which is a subspecies of the plains zebra, and the Grevy's zebra. On our recent trip to Texas we saw the third species at Fossil Rim Wildlife Center, the Hartmann's mountain zebra, one of two subspecies of the mountain zebra, the other being the cape mountain zebra. One of the differentiating features of the mountain zebra is a dewlap, a small lump on the throat that is more pronounced in the cape mountain than the Hartmann's. 
Note the small dewlap on the throat of this Hartmann's mountain zebra. Also note the buff background color, particularly pronounced on the upper back. 
I like the large black stripes and large white gaps on the rump and the braided look on the backside above the tail.
Like the Grevy's, the Hartmann's does not have stripes on the belly. The background color of the cape mountain zebra is white, but the background color of the Hartmann's mountain zebra is slightly buff. 
I love the profusion of stripes going in different directions with different widths.
There are an estimated 9,000 Hartmann's mountain zebras in the wild. They are found in the transition zones between the Namib Desert and central plateau in Namibia, with some extending into southwestern Angola. 
We were able to get much closer to these zebras than those in Africa.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Crayfish: Steamed and In Butter

Crayfish are also known as crawfish, crawdads, mudbugs or freshwater lobsters. 
Crayfish are brown before being boiled - then they turn red.
My first experience with crayfish was when we visited Louisiana as a family. We were driving through Bayou Country when we spotted a metal shack off the side of the road with a "Crawdads" sign out front. I ventured in to find two men, one of whom looked just like Bubba from the Forrest Gump movie. The Bubba look-alike, who was buying crawdads, showed me how to eat them. You chew on the head, then suck out the juice, then pull of the tail, peel it, and eat the tail meat. I purchased five pounds of crawdads and we started to eat them in the car. The juice was really good. Then I started to notice that the juice I was sucking out was yellowish/green. It started to gross me out as I figured that the yellowish/green substance was probably crawdad waste and I couldn't eat it any more. After that we focused just on the tails. 

Recently we were in a Chinese market and noticed a frozen bag of wild caught "Cajun Cooked Crawfish." The directions directed us to let them thaw 10 to 12 hours, steam them for 2 to 3 minutes and then eat them. 

Steaming crayfish in a pot (the lid was put on the pot to retain the steam).
I twisted the upper body and the tail and then pulled the tail off. The tail is covered with a yellowish substance, the same stuff that grossed me out years earlier. The yellowish substance is known as crawfish "fat" but it is actually only about 30% fat  and comes from an organ that functions like the liver. It serves the same function as the substance in a lobster known as tomalley. It is full of flavor and very edible. I found it easiest to cut the top portion of the shell on the tail and then pull out the tail meat. However, I watched several youtube videos on eating crayfish tails and learned that there are easier ways to do it. 
Crayfish tails on the plate and getting ready to get another tail. Note the yellow on my fingers and on the tail. It is crawfish "fat" and is edible. 
The tail is removed from the rest of the body.
I used kitchen shears to help remove the tail. I learned from some youtube videos that there are easier ways to do it.
The tail removed from the shell.
I collected a big group of tails and then immersed them in melted butter and ate them. Crayfish are a little softer than lobster meat and a little more sweet. They are quite tasty, but a lot of work. But after watching the video, I see that the tail meat could have been obtained much faster. 
A pile of tails ready to eat.
Crayfish tails inserted in melted butter.
A fork-full of buttery crayfish tails. 
Because these were frozen, I did not attempt to suck the juice out. One day I would like to try fresh crawdads again and I think could enjoy eating them the way they do in the south, now that I have a better idea of what the yellowish substance is. 

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Fallow Deer

The fallow deer is a deer I've always associated with petting zoos and small amusement parks. It is hard for me to associate them with being wild. 
Fallow deer
According to the IUCN Red List, it appears that the fallow deer originated in Turkey, southern Italy, Sicily and the southern Balkan peninsula (Albania, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Croatia, Bulgaria, Greece, Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia and Slovenia). Other populations were introduced: to the western Mediterranean by the Phoenicians, to central and northern Europe by the Romans and Normans, and in modern times by many introductions from various sources. Most of the European animals are descended from domestic stock and the color varieties are considered to be a result of domestication. The only animals in Europe not considered to be from domestic stock are those on the Island of Rhodes and in the Duzlercami Game Reserve in Termessos National Park in southern Turkey, both of which are genetically distinct. Their current distribution in Europe is very patchy and most of the populations are fenced and not truly free-ranging. In modern times they have been introduced to countries worldwide, including South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, the U.S., Argentina, Chile, Peru and Uruguay. 

We saw a number of fallow deer at Fossil Rim Wildlife Center in Glen Rose, Texas, but I had a hard time getting too excited about them when we were also seeing exotic African wildlife. Their are four main variants of coat color in the fallow deer. The common color is a chestnut coat with white mottles. The leucistic (not albino) is pure white in adults (fawns are cream-colored) with dark eyes and nose and no spots. 
A leucistic fallow deer.
The melanistic is all-black to a grayish-brown. 
A melanistic fallow deer eating out of Judy's hand. 
And the menil has more distinct spots than the common and no black around the rump or on the tail. 

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Red Deer

The red deer is one of the larger deer species and is found in much of Europe, the Caucasus Mountains between the Black Sea and Caspian Sea, Turkey, northern Iran, Iraq, much of the Stans (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan), northern Afghanistan, northern India and northern Pakistan, Siberia, Mongolia, western and northern China and in the Atlas Mountains in northern Africa between Morocco and Tunisia. They have also been introduced to Australia, New Zealand, Peru, Uruguay, Chile and Argentina.
Red deer at Fossil Rim Wildlife Center.

The American elk or wapiti is a distinct species and is a little larger. The red deer is typically thought of as a distinct species but there are actually separate species and disputes as to how many.
In our recent visit to Fossil Rim Wildlife Center in Glen Rose, Texas, we saw quite a few red deer, which they identified as European red deer, and fed several of them. I was able to stroke one particular red deer's neck and feel its jaw and muzzle. It was a lot of fun and gives me a desire to see them in the wild.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Bobcat Leg - Sous Vide

The bobcat stew meat I had several years ago was some of the best wild game I've eaten. It was very mild, had a nice texture and it took on the flavor that was added to it. So when I called Anshu Pathak of Exotic Meat Market recently and he mentioned that he had bobcat hind leg available, I had to try it. 
Bobcat (from Wikipedia)
Bobcat hind leg
Bobcat hind leg
Bobcat hind leg
I really liked adding cherry balsamic vinegar to the beaver stew meat I had recently and wanted to do something similar. We have some mandarin orange balsamic vinegar from the Stockyards Oil Company we purchased in Fort Worth which has a dark, sweet, citrusy flavor and is marvelous in salads.  I decided to cook the bobcat based on mandarin orange as the base flavor.

I did an internet search for flavors that pair well with mandarin orange in cooking and determined to use fennel and anise seed, which have a slight licorice flavor. Further, in the January 2015 issue of Bonappetit, they had a roasted citrus and avocado salad with baked orange and Meyer lemon slices. The baking caramelizes the sugars in the citrus and adds depth to it. Based on that article, Judy tried baking naval orange and Meyer lemon slices and we found that they massacred the baking sheet and made it very difficult to clean. So I decided to do the same thing, but cook naval orange slices in a frying pan instead of the oven. 
Naval orange slices in oil in a frying pan.
I obtained a naval orange and some mandarin oranges from trees in our backyard (one of the benefits of living in California in February) and cut the naval orange into thin slices and coated the slices with canola oil and a little salt and pepper. The orange slices were added to a hot frying pan with a little canola oil and the orange slices caramelized much faster and better than the ones we'd tried in the oven. They looked really great. I set them aside with some sprigs from the fennel to add to the sous vide packet later. 
Caramelized naval orange slices with fennel springs.
The bobcat leg was coated in canola oil, Himalayan pink sea salt and ground pepper and then placed in the same pan that had cooked the orange slices. It was browned on all sides, including the ends, then set on a plate to cool down before putting it in the sous vide bag. After it had cooled, butter was rubbed over the bobcat leg and it was then placed in the sous vide bag along with slices of the caramelized orange slices, fennel sprigs,  anise seed and a nice dose of mandarin orange balsamic vinegar. 
Browning bobcat leg.

Browned bobcat leg coated with butter.
The sous vide bag was vacuum sealed and placed in the sous vide cooker at a temperature of 60 degrees Centigrade for eight and a half hours. 
Vacuum packed bobcat leg with orange slices, fennel sprigs and mandarin orange balsamic vinegar in the sous vide cooker.
As the time neared to pull the bobcat leg out of the sous vide, a whole yellow onion was diced, along with a whole fennel, and fried on a low heat in some canola oil until it was cooked through. Then mandarin orange slices from four or five mandarin oranges were added to the mix in the frying pan just long enough for them to get hot and mix in the the fennel and onion. 
Fennel, onion and mandarin orange slice mixture.
I noticed that the vacuum pack did not look as tight as normal and discovered when I pulled it out of the bath that a bobcat bone had punched a hole in the bag. However, it did not adversely impact the taste of the meat. 
Bobcat leg out of the sous vide bag.
The bobcat leg cut easily into nice big slices of beautiful meat with just a tinge of pinkness. It was very soft and mild, had the texture of roast beef, and took on just a slight licorice and sweet flavor. The bobcat was served with the fennel/onion, mandarin orange mix. I loved the pop in the mouth of the warm sweet mandarin orange slices as it combined with the meat and fennel for a complex mixture of taste and textures. 
Lots of meat which cut into nice slices.
Bowl of cut bobcat meat.
Bobcat meat with fennel, onion and mandarin orange slice mixture.
Bobcat is wonderful.