Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Whole Armadillo: Sous Vide and Fried

Armadillo is something I've wanted to try eating for a long time. I got an email from Anshu Pathak of Exotic Meat Market on Thursday saying he had just gotten some in - did I want one? I quickly responded, "yes," and it was delivered to my office the next morning. The package created quite a stir in the office, even among people who have seen me get some pretty weird things. It was an entire armadillo, head, shell and all. Sometimes the game I order is already cut-up into steaks or stew meat. That is nice from a convenience standpoint, but I really do enjoy the process of cleaning the entire animal, when possible. It gives me a better idea of how the animal is structured and a better appreciation for how much work it was for people in bygone eras to actually prepare game, instead of just buy it in prepared pieces from a store. 

Armadillo is an exotic looking animal. I've never seen one alive in the wild. I did see one years ago that was dead in the road in Louisiana. I saw an Andrew Zimmern episode where he ate one, I believe somewhere in Mexico or South America and I'm just seeing now that he ate one in 2012 in Central Florida with some "crackers." I haven't seen that episode yet.
A picture of an armadillo from Wikipedia.
There is a great article on armadillo as food here, including some recipes. Armadillo has been known as "possum on the half-shell" and "Hoover hog," a reference to the poor in the South eating them during the Great Depression. The taste is supposed to be "like fine-grained, high-quality pork." The article provided the only instruction I could find on cleaning them: "skin from the underside to split the skin from the neck most the way down to the tail...Peel the animal out as you would a squirrel or rabbit. Remove all fat from under the front and back legs and wash meat thoroughly. After meat is cleaned completely cut into quarters."

As indicated above, the armadillo I got still had the head and shell, as well as the legs and most of the innards. There was a hole in the stomach and at least the intestines were removed. As I cleaned it further I did find the liver, kidneys, heart and lungs were still intact, but I did not keep them. As recommended, I cut the underside from the throat to the existing cut and extended the cut down the rest of the underside. Then I took a long knife and some kitchen shears and cut the shell away from the body until I was able to remove the body completely from the shell. That skinned three-quarters of it and left the belly and legs to deal with. The skin is quite hairy, rough and thick. It took a little bit of work to cut through it and work it and the underlying layer of fat off, particularly from the limbs. Ultimately, I got it down to the torso and four limbs and then cut it into quarters.
I used the Styrofoam shipping container as a base for skinning the armadillo. I did it out on the back lawn to avoid a mess in the kitchen. It took a day and a half to thaw it out.  
The underside of the armadillo. The slit in the belly was already there.
This picture gives a sense of the wrinkled, heavy skin and wiry hair, as well as the sharp digging claws.
The head and floppy ears. 
Here I've slit the chest open from the neck to the back and separated the body from the shell. 
Body and shell separated.
The backside comes clean from the shell, except some excess fat to remove, but the skin has to be removed from the legs and belly. 
Part of the skin removed. You get a sense for how thick it is.
The back after most of the fat has been removed.
The front after all of the skin and unnecessary fat has been removed.
Cut into four pieces.
One recipe suggested soaking the meat overnight in salted water (1 tablespoon of salt to each quart of water). I've found that similar instruction in quite a few wild meat recipes. From what I can find this does a number of things: (1) removes blood from the meat; (2) kills bacteria; (3) reduces the gamy taste; and (4) helps to tenderize the meat. I used three quarts of water and three tablespoons full of salt and you can see from my picture that quite a bit of blood was removed from the meat, and that was after the meat was thoroughly washed and cleaned before it was put in the brine solution. After soaking it in the brine solution, I washed it thoroughly in cold water to remove the salt.
Bloody water after brining overnight.
I have a relatively new sous vide machine that allows me to cook meat at a constant temperature for a long time. Particularly for wild game, this helps to tenderize the meat without drying it out and without over-cooking it. To prepare it for the sous vide process, I coated the four pieces of armadillo with melted butter, added salt and pepper liberally, and then put the four pieces into three vacuum sealed bags (I was running out of bags and had to combine two pieces into one of the bags and it worked out fine). I was not able to find any instructions for temperatures or times for sous vide armadillo, so I went off general recommendations for wild game cooked "medium" and opted to make the water temperature 140 F. (60 C.). A minimum recommended time was 8 to 10 hours. For good cuts of steak from wild game I opt to cook it rare/medium rare (131 F). But with the armadillo, I wanted to make sure it was cooked adequately and felt better about a higher cooking temperature. I put it into the sous vide Sunday morning and pulled it out just over 9 hours later for our late Sunday afternoon linner (lunch/dinner).
Pieces after brining.
Brushed with butter and then sprinkled with salt and pepper.
Vacuum sealed in a plastic bag. I got it into three bags.
The three bags in the sous vide cooker. 
The bag after it has cooked over 9 hours.
Sous vide cooked foods often need some more work in order to be more palatable. In this case I opted to remove the armadillo pieces from the cooking pouches, dabbed them dry with a paper towel, then coated them in flour mixed with salt and pepper and put the coated pieces in a pot including butter and olive oil. I decided also to include the juices from the cooking pouches. I figured that the pieces would not get quite the same crispy coating, but that the juices would add to the flavor. I cooked the pieces for about ten minutes. We had three female LDS missionaries over for Sunday dinner and I did not want the meat to be underdone as I knew that they would already be hesitant to eat armadillo well-cooked.
The contents of the sous vide pouch. I decided to use the liquid and added it to the pot where I fried the meat.
Cooking the flour coated armadillo in a pot.
The final product. Four pieces coated in flour and fried.
It worked out very well. There was a substantial amount of meat on the armadillo. The texture was firm, but moist, and I would best describe the taste as smoked chicken. The meat even had a smoked kind of a tint to it. The breading added some texture and nice salty flavor.
A portion of one of the pieces cut into strips - for those that are a little more squeamish.  I ended up taking my piece and eating it with my hands, like fried chicken. 
The three missionaries were good sports. After pictures for journals and family letters, all tried it and all remarked that it tasted good. I took some to work on Monday and shared it with those that were willing to try it. Four people tasted it and three refused. All who tasted it were surprised at how good it was. One remarked that it was a taste combination of turkey and beef.
The missionaries pose behind the plate of armadillo meat.
For those with an interest in wild game, this is a very fun meat. The armadillo is interesting to skin and it has a very good amount of meat for its size. And I think it is unsurpassed as far as a conversation piece. And best of all, it tastes really good.


  1. Thank you for a beautiful post and understanding for our viewers.

  2. I have to admit that this was one of the better-tasting exotic meats you have cooked. I also agree that on an unusual meat like this one, seeing it in the context of the whole animal is a valuable experience. It gives context to those years when this was a meat eaten mostly by poor people who had no other options.

  3. Who even knew armadillo was edible? Not me! I do appreciate your description of the whole animal to table-ready process. We are so removed from that, aren't we? No doubt those missionaries will remember this meal for a long time.

  4. better than raccoon meat sisters

  5. Leave the poor animals alone....

    1. Are you a permanent resident of Disney Land?

  6. Glad you enjoyed it. I'm not sure I'm the only one with an evolution issue.

  7. The people is free to eating what i want