Friday, January 31, 2014

Grilled Zebra Ribeye

One of my very favorite eating experiences ever occurred in Tokyo when my daughter, who lived there, found a restaurant for us that served only horse. The restaurant staff only spoke Japanese and ended up bringing a waiter from another restaurant in the same building (one that only served blowfish) who spoke limited English to serve us. We could not read the menu, but he suggested we order their multi-course horse meal, and for the next hour and a half or so we tried horse soup, horse sashimi, horse tartar, and grilled horse. The combination of the setting, the unusual dishes and the fabulous food made for a meal that we still talk about. I've wondered a number of times since then if zebra, which is closely related to the horse, would be as good to eat as the horse was.
Zebra picture taken from here
My uncle went to Tanganyika (now Tanzania) on a hunting safari in 1958 and over the course of a month had an opportunity to shoot quite a few African big game animals, including zebra. His guide, who he called  "the Great White Hunter," of Pakistani descent, employed something like eight African men as part of his camp, including four "trackers" and two "gun-bearers." I asked my uncle if they ate the game they shot and he replied that that was what they all ate during the month-long hunt. He made a DVD from the 16 mm film that he took on the trip and he sent it to me just recently. In one part of the DVD he mentions that when eating the game, the African men preferred the intestines while he and the Great White Hunter preferred the back strap. 
Zebra shot by my uncle in Africa in 1958. 
I finally got the opportunity to find out how zebra tastes when Anshu Pathak of Exotic Meat Market made some zebra meat available. He provided me with a zebra ribeye and I was surprised by how little fat was in the meat and by how red it was. 
zebra ribeye
I applied a little olive oil to the outside of the ribeye, sprinkled on some salt and put it over indirect heat on a grill. The zebra cooked unevenly and I'm not sure exactly why. Part of it was certainly attributable to the apparent unevenness of the cut, some portions looked thicker than others. It may also have had something to do with placement on the grill, some portions were likely closer to the flame and cooked faster than portions farther away from the flame. The more cooked portions were very stiff and chewy and much of the taste had been cooked out. Other portions were much more rare and as a consequence were more juicy, pliable and tasty. Other portions were nearly raw and were not stiff at all. These portions were the easiest to eat, but I found that I preferred portions that were a little more cooked. 

More cooked piece of zebra.
A more rare piece of zebra.
A virtually raw piece of zebra.
Here is where a sous vide would really be helpful. Cooking it slowly over a long period of time at a low temperature would allow it to cook without robbing it of its tenderness. The zebra was not gamy, but was rather mild. It did not have the lightly sweet taste that horse has. Because of the lack of fat and tendency for it to toughen up quickly with cooking, it virtually necessitates eating it raw, or near to raw, or cooked very slowly over a long period of time sous vide. 

This was really brought home to me several weeks ago when we ate at the restaurant True, a fabulous restaurant, in Montgomery, Alabama. I originally avoided consideration of a pheasant dish they had on the menu because I have had such a bad experience with pheasant being overcooked and tasteless. But our waiter coaxed me into getting the pheasant by raving how marvelous it was. So I changed my order to the pheasant and he was right, it was very, very tender and had great taste. The James Beard nominated chef and owner, Wesley True, visited our table when we were nearly finished and I mentioned to him that the pheasant was by far the best pheasant I've ever eaten and I asked how he cooked it. He responded that it was cooked sous vide at 200 degrees for two hours. I think a sous vide is in my future. 


  1. Looks like adventurous eating runs in the family. I bet you'd jump at the chance to go safariing and eat some of those exotic meats!

  2. Yes, Chris, I think he has plans to make that jump in the next few months, although the only shots he'll be taking are with his camera.

  3. You might be interested in this video:
    As soon as I find a temp controller I am going to try it.

    1. Thanks John, great video. Makes me even more anxious to try it.