Thursday, January 31, 2013

Crocodile Striploin Appetizers

Our unusual meat Christmas meal (I've previously posted on the roast peacock and grilled water buffalo steak) was rounded out by some wonderful appetizers using Australian crocodile
striploin meat. 
The striploin meat comes from the tail of the crocodile and it looks and tastes very similar to alligator sirloin that I've cooked previously.  For a twist, I grilled some red, yellow and orange peppers, some Poblano peppers and some Anaheim chilies. Then I spread on a nice helping of spreadable garlic and herb boursin cheese. 
Then I sliced the crocodile meat into smaller pieces so that it would grill more evenly, 
put on some olive oil, salt and pepper, and grilled the meat on our outdoor gas grill. I learned from the alligator meat that it should not be over-cooked as it gets very tough. It is delicious fresh off the grill and has a flavor and consistency similar to lobster. 
Then I put a piece of crocodile on each portion of grilled pepper and cheese. 
These were a hit. Many family members thought that these were the best part of our meal. 
Several days later, we were invited over to some friends house for an actual Christmas Day dinner with their extended family. So I cooked some more peppers, grilled up the rest of our crocodile and took a large platter of the appetizers over for dinner (I also put some peacock pieces on some of them). 
It turned out to be a very colorful, tasty and fun to talk-about appetizer. 

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Grilled Water Buffalo Steak

As an appetizer for our Christmas dinner, waiting for the peacock and other food to be ready, I had a one pound water buffalo rib eye steak.
The wild water buffalo is an endangered species that is found in Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Bhutan and Thailand. However, the domestic water buffalo, 
which this meat came from, is very common in other areas of the world (98% are found in Asia, but they are also found in South America, southern Europe, the Middle East and northern Africa). As with other wild meat I've tried, I wanted to preserve the natural taste, so the only preparation I made was to put on a little olive oil, seasoned it with salt and pepper 
and put it on our outdoor gas grill. Because it is much more lean than our normal beef, I wanted to avoid over-cooking it. I put it on a very hot grill for about 8 or 9 minutes on one side and then turned it over and cooked it for another 5 minutes on the other side. It looked over-done on the outside, 
but inside was beautifully pink and moist. 
It was very tender, had a flavor much like regular beef, but a tad bit stronger, and was a perfect primer for the rest of the meal. 

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Roast Peacock

We have a tradition of eating unusual meats for our family Christmas dinner. Although we celebrated Christmas several days early this year, because of other commitments family members had, we managed to keep the unusual meats tradition alive. One of our main entrees was roasted peacock. The picture of the peacock, below, is from Wikipedia.
Bereft of its beautiful feathers, the peacock, or at least the one we had, really looks like the emperor without clothes. 
It was on the small side, 3.8 pounds, and it looked scrawny and lean. 
I was a little concerned how it would taste. 
I looked up peacock recipes and all said that peacock is lean, needs to be cooked slowly, and needs to be kept moist. To keep the bird moist, I first rubbed the outer skin with butter. Then I stuffed it lightly with home made stuffing. The stuffing consisted of bread, torn into small pieces, mixed with sauteed wild pig sausage, a large chopped onion, rosemary, peacock heart and liver and chicken stock. The stuffing that would not go into the bird went into a separate container to be cooked separately. Then I liberally sprinkled the outer skin of the peacock with salt, pepper and cayenne pepper. To ensure it would stay moist, I draped cured bacon slices over the entire bird 
and then placed the bird in an oven bag, after first sprinkling the inside of the bag with flour and layering the bottom with chopped celery to make sure the bag would not stick to the bird. After sealing the bird in the bag, I made four or five holes in the bag to allow it to vent. I cooked it in the oven at 350 for a little over two hours. 
Then I removed the bag and bacon
and put the peacock back in the oven for about ten minutes. 
For such a small, scrawny bird, I was amazed at how much meat we got and at how good and moist it was. I figured the wings would be burnt to a crisp, but they were moist and one of my favorite parts of the bird. 
There is a lot of dark meat and it tasted amazingly like turkey. It was a very fun and tasty addition to our Christmas meal and gave us a lot of fun conversation as we both prepared and ate it. 

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Great Blue Heron

I have seen many great blue herons over the years, 
Great Blue Heron
but never so many and never so close as those we saw in Everglades National Park along the Anhinga Trail. 
As a result, I saw colors in their plumage I'd never noticed before. 
The slaty blue flight feathers, the white face, the black plumes running from above the eye to the back of the head, and the plume-like feathers on the neck are what I think of when I see them in my mind's eye. 
However, when I saw one cautiously staring down a passing alligator (I include pictures even though they are poorly focused), 
Great Blue Heron and passing alligator
I noticed  reddish-brown  on its thighs and legs and thought it was bleeding, perhaps because it had been attacked by an alligator. 
I wasn't totally sure it wasn't injured until getting home and finding that those colors are indeed part of their plumage. I was also surprised to see reddish brown feathers on the front of the neck and a black stripe, along with the reddish brown, on the flanks. 
As I get home and can look at my pictures, I see evidence of those different colors, but they are generally covered up by other plumage. It may have taken the alligator to proverbially rough up the heron's feathers,  before those colors were really made visible to me.  Finally, I took some pictures of one particular heron that I've not been able to identify. At first I thought it might be a reddish egret, but ruled that out. I've finally determined it must be an immature great blue heron, although it was very large. Immature great blues are duller in color, with a dull blackish-gray crown, a flank pattern only weakly defined, no plumes and a bill that is dull gray-yellow.
Immature great blue heron
This bird does have the crown, although more brown than blackish-gray, it is certainly more dull than the slaty blue mature great blues, it does have a very small reddish patch on the flank and it is missing the dark flank patter and has not plumes.

Updated: February 2014

I visited Sanibel Island, Florida in January and got some more fun photos of great blue herons, one standing high in a tree, and another in a small lagoon.
Great blue heron with American white ibis in the background. This gives a great view of the reddish-brown thighs and splotches on its wing.
Lengthening its stride.
Room with a view.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

American Alligator - Florida

Three years ago I did a post on the alligator based on a trip to the Louisiana swamps in 2004. I recently visited the Everglades and the Saint Augustine Alligator Farm in Florida and had a different kind of alligator experience. In Louisiana, we primarily saw the alligators from swamp tour boats and our sight of them was fleeting. Even the views of the alligator that lived next to our rented cabin were limited as we only saw parts of its head pushing up through the swamp muck. In the Everglades, we were able to see the alligators unmediated by boats, tour operators and muck. We visited the Anhinga Trail three different times, two late afternoons and one morning, and saw many alligators in many different ways. My favorite alligator experience involved a mother alligator and her babies. We spotted them just off the main road, right before the turn-off to the Anhinga Trail. She was submerged in water in a small pond near a culvert. Thirty or more babies were behind her, primarily mixed in among the swamp grass. 
Mother alligator and babies
From a distance the babies had the appearance of squirming caterpillars as they moved about en mass, climbing up and over each other. 
Baby alligators
As we got closer and watched for awhile, we were able to single out various babies 
and watch their movements 
and hear their cute little grunts and squeaks. 
As we left the Everglades for the last time, we stopped for one last look, perhaps the fourth time we'd stopped to watch this same drama, and found momma gator out of the water, the first time we'd seen much more of her than her head. 
Just about thirty yards away, another slow-paced drama unfolded. The setting was another, slightly larger pond, just off the main road. The star was a larger, solitary gator, who never moved while we watched him. 
He was the first alligator we saw in the park. What was fun was that he was out of the water and we could get quite close and examine him from different angles. The protruding knobs on the back, arranged in parallel rows, contrast with the squared, or diamond shaped scales on the arms and legs 
and the rounded scales on the sides of the belly and lower jaw.
We never saw him move during the four times we stopped to look at him, but he was always in a slightly different spot each time, so we know he did move. The last time we stopped he was in the water for the first time, while just thirty yards away, momma gator (described above) was out of the water for the first time. I love the changing shape of the alligator as it varies in contrast to the setting. Often you will see just the eyes, 
or the top of the head and the snout, 
as they lie motionless, mostly beneath the water. At other times they look segmented as select portions of their body emerge above the water line, 
or like one long continuous, thin, knobby line.
The rippling of the water, 
the glint of the sun, 
and the merged and submerged portions of the alligator 
all provide wonderful viewing contrasts.  When the alligator swims, it tucks its arms and legs next to its body and wriggles through the water, much like a swimming salamander. I love the patterns that are emphasized by the water covering. The view below reminds me of the dinosaur fossils found in the mountainside near Vernal, Utah. Click on the picture and give it a close view. 
The morning we visited, we were greeted by beautiful January sunshine which illuminated the green plant surroundings and provided a beautiful setting for the starring gators.
It also caused the many of the alligators to leave the water and congregate on shore for some prime time basking. The view from one overlook nearly took my breath away as we found about 18 alligators all congregated in a very small area. 
The scene was not much different than the large alligator pond I'd seen in the Saint Augustine Alligator Farm a few days earlier, except that this was occurring naturally in the wild.  We even got some drama as alligators approached birds 
and we saw the birds cautiously move away. 
We did see feathers which provided evidence that the birds are not always so fortunate. Finally, I went to the Saint Augustine Alligator Farm on a whim and was so happy that I did. There I heard a chorus of what sounded like large African lions growling. There, in their large alligator enclosure, numerous alligators were raising their heads, raising their tails, 
and pushing air out of their mouths 
in a series of grunts that sound amazingly like a roar. It was very loud, very deep, very throaty and very fun. This You Tube video catches a series of these grunts and is worth listening to. Can you imagine being alone in the swamp on a dark night and not absolutely being terrified by that sound? I gained a new appreciation and love for alligators. I would love to go back and spend some more time in the Everglades.

Updated: February 2014

I did make it back to Florida and managed to see some more gators. I visited Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge near the Kennedy Space Center and saw lots of alligators along some canals. The alligators were either on the side or on little islands in the water, sunning themselves, and there were some very large gators.
From the Black Point Wildlife Drive in Merritt Island NWR. This large alligator is sunning on a small island in the canal.
A close-up of the same alligator above.
Another alligator in the same canal.
An alligator off the canal on Biolab Road in Merritt Island NWR.
Close-up of the same alligator above. Another big one.
I visited Shark Valley in Everglades National Park. I saw lots and lots of alligators, more than anywhere else I've visited, by far. But the tram I took was not ideal for taking photos. I did get a few pictures when I walked part of the way back down the tram road. 
This smaller alligator is partly submerged. I love how the water distorts the view.
This was an unusual view, perhaps the only time I saw an alligator with its mouth open. They do have impressive teeth.