Most of us simply keep on driving when we see a splattered ’possum on the side of the highway, but a peculiar few ask, “Why let all that free meat go to waste?”
CLEAR AND PHEASANT DANGER
One day in the 1950s, a 15-year-old British kid named Arthur Boyt found a dead pheasant on the ground while bicycling through a park near Windsor Castle. The creature piqued his curiosity, and he brought it home to show his mother. Mrs. Boyt responded in a way that might prompt a visit from a social worker today: She cooked the bird and told Arthur to eat it— not to teach him a lesson about the dangers of bringing home dead things, but because pheasants are game birds and good to eat.
Young Arthur happily ate the bird. Now in his seventies, he remembers the experience fondly. Boyt never lost his sense of wonder regarding the natural world: He became an entomologist, someone who studies bugs. And he never lost his taste for eating dead critters hit by cars, either. As he grew older and became philosophically opposed to hunting (cruel) and farm-raised meats (cruel and unhealthy), he obtained more and more of his meat on the road. The last time he purchased a piece of store-bought meat: 1976. All the creatures he’s eaten since then— more than 5,000 animals in all— have been roadkill. Roast deer, spaghetti in hedgehog sauce, breast of barn owl, pheasant stew, pigeon pot pie, badger sandwiches (his favorite), you name it— if a car can hit it, Boyt has probably eaten it. He even eats rats, which he insists are delicious stewed. “People say rats carry disease, but I’d sooner eat a country rat than any raw meat you get served in restaurants,” he told The Times of London in 2003.
IN THE STATES
Boyt isn’t alone. In the United States, more than a dozen states allow the collecting of roadkill for food, and the number is growing. In 2011, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn vetoed a bill legalizing the collecting of roadkill from the state’s highways, fearing that people might themselves become roadkill while trying to drag critters off the asphalt. But the bill was so popular that the state legislature voted 87– 28 to override the veto, and the bill is now law.
The rules regarding collecting roadkill vary. In some states, a permit is required; in others, carcasses may be collected only during hunting season. Reason: Officials want to discourage “bumper hunting”— deliberately running down game animals at times of the year when shooting them would be illegal. In Alaska, food banks, homeless shelters, and other charities get first dibs on meat from the more than 800 moose killed by cars and trains each year. (One adult moose yields as much as 700 pounds of meat.)
KIDS, DON’T FRY THIS AT HOME
If you’re thinking about taking the plunge, it’s important to know that handling and eating roadkill can kill you if you don’t know what you’re doing. Just because that tasty-looking raccoon died when it was hit by a car doesn’t mean it didn’t have rabies. If you’re not experienced at handling wild game meat, it’s not worth the risk. That being said, here are some safety tips from the pros:
• Know the animal and the parasites and diseases it suffers from. Know the visible signs of these maladies, so that you can distinguish healthy animals from sick ones.
• Wear goggles and thick rubber gloves when handling roadkill and preparing the meat for cooking. This is necessary to prevent blood (which may be disease-infected) from getting into your eyes and cuts in your skin. After working with the animal, thoroughly wash your hands and any blood-stained clothing immediately.
• Best time to look for roadkill: early in the morning. Many nocturnal animals are hit by cars when they come out at night, and road crews are unlikely to pick them up until the next day. Cooler temperatures after dark help prevent the meat from spoiling.
• Refrigerate raw meat immediately. Be sure to cook the meat to an internal temperature of at least 170 ° to kill bacteria.
• Only undamaged meat is edible, so look for animals killed by “clean hits,” i.e., critters that were struck once, thrown to the side of the road by the impact, and not hit again. Animals that have been run over and squashed flat (“ road pizza”) are inedible.
• Select only “fresh” roadkill— animals that have been hit by cars very recently. Evaluate them like fresh fish at the market. Is the animal’s nose still moist? Are its eyes full and clear? Does it bleed bright red blood freely when you cut into its skin? These are signs of freshness. If it smells bad or rigor mortis has set in, leave it be.
• That’s one school of thought, anyway. “I have consumed meat that was blown up, like horses on the Western Front (World War I),” Arthur Boyt told The Times. “If bodies are swollen, gasified, and green, they do taste different, but if you cook them thoroughly, you can still eat them. I have done it and had no repercussions.”
So what do roadkill animals taste like? Here’s a sampling:
Fox: Mild and salty, with little or no fat and a nice texture. (But it can make you burp.)
Buffalo: High in protein, low in cholesterol, and half the calories and fat of beef, with a similar taste. Use in any beef recipe.
Swan: Unpleasant and muddy-tasting.
Ostrich: Tastes like venison and should be prepared as such. Best sautéed or grilled medium-rare.
Pheasant: A rich flavor similar to chicken, which is improved if the bird is refrigerated, unplucked, for three days.
Rat: A salty taste like ham or pork. Good in stir-fries.
Frog: Flavor and texture similar to chicken. Also good stir-fried.
Bear: A strong taste that can be improved by refrigerating the meat for 24 hours. Good in pot roasts and stews; prepare like beef.
Goose: Dark meat that tastes like roast beef.
Pigeon: Meat that’s “dark, rich, tender, and succulent,” and good roasted, broiled, braised (fried, then stewed), grilled or sautéed. Serve medium-rare, or the meat will taste like liver.
Hedgehog: Fatty, with an unpleasant taste. Boar: Flavor ranges from mild to pungent, depending on the boar’s age, diet, and the season of the year that it was hit by the car.
Here are a few mouth-watering recipes for you to try.
Find, skin, and gut a fresh, dead raccoon. Remove and discard any fat or damaged meat. Rinse the good meat in water and cut into eight to ten pieces. Rub with salt and pepper to taste, then roll in flour. Heat 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil in a skillet and brown meat on all sides. Add 2 cups of chicken broth. Cover, then simmer for two hours. Serves about eight, depending on the size of the raccoon and how badly it was damaged when hit by the car.
Find, skin, and gut a fresh, dead squirrel. Remove and discard damaged meat, then rinse the rest of the squirrel in water. Lay the carcass on a large sheet of foil, sprinkle with salt, pepper, garlic salt, and onion salt to taste. Combine ¾ cup of chopped onion, 2 stalks of chopped celery, and 1 teaspoon of dried parsley. Stuff the mixture into the squirrel and place the extra around the outside. Tightly roll the squirrel in the foil like a burrito and place on a baking sheet. Bake at 350 ° for 35 to 45 minutes. Serves one.
Find a fresh, dead rattlesnake. If the head hasn’t already been run over, cut it off about four inches behind the head. (Wear heavy gloves, and dispose of the head carefully in a sealed container! A newly dead, still-venomous head can continue to deliver venom for an hour or more.) Hang the body of the snake by the rattles and allow the blood to drain out. Using a knife, make a cut down the length of the belly, then peel skin off starting at the head end. Discard skin (or tan it to use as a hatband). Discard internal organs and damaged meat. Rinse the good meat in fresh water and cut into pieces four inches long. Set aside. Beat 1 egg in a bowl and combine with ½ cup of milk; set aside. In a bowl, mix ¾ cup of flour with ½ teaspoon of salt and ¼ teaspoon of pepper. Dip snake pieces into the egg/ milk mixture, then dredge them in the flour mixture and deep-fry until golden brown. Serves one.
(Image credit: Flickr user sgodt chumbucket)
Find, skin, and gut a fresh, dead opossum and set the liver aside. Remove damaged meat. Rinse the rest of the carcass in cold water, then boil in a large pot for 20 to 30 minutes. Remove from water, pat dry. Rub the opossum with salt and pepper; set aside. Brown one chopped onion in 1 tablespoon vegetable oil, then add the liver. Cook until tender. Combine with 1 cup bread crumbs, ¼ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce, 1 chopped hard-boiled egg, and 1 teaspoon salted water. Stuff mixture into the opossum, then place the opossum in a roasting pan. Pour a can of cream of mushroom soup over it, and lay eight to ten strips of bacon over the soup. Pour a cup of red wine over the bacon. Bake, covered, in a preheated oven at 350 ° until done and an instant-read thermometer reads at least 170 °. Cooking time: 2– 3 hours, depending on the size of the opossum.
Find a place where a beaver is likely to cross a road and look for a fresh, dead beaver there. Skin and gut the beaver; remove meat from the carcass. Discard damaged meat, then rinse and grind the good meat in a meat grinder. Combine 4– 5 cups of the ground meat with 1 chopped onion, ½ cup of tomato paste, 2 beaten eggs, ½ cup of corn flakes, and 2 teaspoons of soy sauce. Add salt, pepper, and garlic salt to taste. Shape into a loaf, place in a greased loaf pan, and bake at 350 ° until an instant-read thermometer reads at least 170 ° (about 2 hours).
Find, skin, and gut a fresh, dead bear. (Make sure the bear really is dead before you try to skin it.) Remove and discard any damaged meat. Cut four pounds of good meat from the bear and then cut it into strips across the grain. (Refrigerate or freeze the remaining 200– 1,000 pounds of good meat.) Fill a large bowl with 1 quart water, ¼ cup curing salt, ½ cup brown sugar, and black pepper and garlic powder to taste. Marinate the bear strips in the refrigerator for 8– 10 hours. Remove the meat, pat dry, and allow to air-dry for one hour. Dry in a smoker (preferably) or in an oven at a temperature between 150 ° and 200 °. Check for doneness after three hours. Refrigerate or freeze the jerky if you don’t eat it right away.
Find, skin, and gut a fresh, dead moose. Remove meat from carcass; discard damaged meat. Rinse good meat in fresh water. Cut one pound of the good meat into one-inch cubes. (Refrigerate or freeze the rest of it.) Add 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil to a skillet and cook meat until well done. Drain excess fat, then add 1 can cream of mushroom soup, 1 package brown gravy mix, and 1 package French onion soup mix to the skillet. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 30 minutes. Serve over noodles.
DOE SLOPPY JOES
Find, skin, and gut a fresh, dead doe (or buck). Remove and discard any damaged meat; rinse the good meat in water. Grind two pounds of the good meat in a meat grinder and refrigerate or freeze the rest. Add 2 tablespoons of cooking oil to a skillet. Brown the ground deer meat along with one large onion, chopped. Drain skillet if needed, then add 1 tablespoon of yellow mustard, three tablespoons of ketchup, ¾ cup of brown sugar, ½ cup of barbecue sauce, and hot sauce to taste. Simmer for 20 minutes. Serve on hamburger buns.
The article above is reprinted with permission from Uncle John’s Perpetually Pleasing Bathroom Reader. The 26th annual edition of Uncle John’s wildly successful series is all-new and jam-packed with the BRI’s patented mix of fun and information. Open up to any page and you may find an interesting origin (like the origin of the snowglobe) or a piece of obscure history (like the true story of the man who tried to repeal the law of gravity).
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