ALL ABOUT FOOD:Ostrich and buffalo come to the table

A man pulls into the Husky Boy in North Laguna, steps up to the window and orders. "Gimmee the special cheeseburger with pastrami, fries and two ostrich burgers or maybe just one ostrich burger and one buffalo burger."

No, this is not the set-up for a joke, or some scenario from the world of the future! It actually happened the other day — in fact, Terry had her first ostrich burger and thought it was really good. She also had several bites of a buffalo burger and would have eaten more but she was already stuffed.

With your eyes closed, you probably could not tell the difference between hamburger, buffalo and ostrich because they are so similar in flavor. Even with your eyes open, you probably couldn't tell because they look the same.

Terry thought that the ostrich was the best — meaty and juicy like hamburgers used to taste, which is amazing since it is unusually low in fat. Oh, the sacrifices we make in the interests of research.

This column might well be titled "The New Red Meats." It was prompted by an interesting article sent to us by one of our readers concerning the Cheyenne River Sioux tribe and its attempt to restore buffalo to their tribal lands and bring back environmental and economic prosperity to the Lakota people form the sale of the meat. They recently acquired 20,000 more acres for this project.

So, why have these new meats recently appeared at Husky Boy? When asked, Jay Carpelo, president of the company, said that his customers had been asking for some healthier choices. After a great deal of research, he decided to feature buffalo and ostrich burgers and switch to frying oil without trans-fats.

We did some research on our own, in addition to eating burgers, and discovered that indeed both of these are much healthier than beef.

Three ounces of lean beef has 240 calories, 15 grams of fat and 77 mg. of cholesterol. Compare this to skinless chicken breast at 140 calories, 3 grams of fat and 73 mg. of cholesterol; ostrich has 97 calories, 2 grams of fat and 58 mg. of cholesterol and buffalo has only 85 calories, 2 grams of fat and 49 mg. of cholesterol.

Furthermore, ostrich is high in iron and protein and due to its ideal pH balance, the meat does not attract harmful bacteria like E. coli or salmonella, making it safe to eat rare or even raw, and it tastes remarkably similar to prime beef. Ostrich meat is also naturally tender and is red in color.

For a while, ostrich was being touted as the next big thing because it is so much healthier and tastes like really good beef. For a while it appeared on many high-end restaurant menus and there was a rush to start ostrich farms. Unfortunately, ostriches have a high mortality rate when farmed.

They have a long growing period — nine months to a year — and the amount of meat harvested is low, relative to the weight of the bird. On the other hand, they hatch 80 to 100 chicks per growing season, about half of which reach marketing age. There is difficulty in managing the young chicks, but some progress is being made.

Despite its great potential, ostrich has received little attention from scientists, and if ostrich is to be one of the meats of the future, a scientific approach is the only way forward. For all these reasons, the price remains quite high in comparison to beef. Ostrich meat is not widely available, and we could find no source in Laguna except Husky Boy, but it can be ordered online or bought at Gelson's.

On the other hand, buffalo meat — while slightly more expensive than the cheapest ground beef — is still half the price of ostrich and is readily available in town at Ralph's, Wild Oats and Trader Joe's. Ralph's is the only place that has it fresh, not frozen. It is also available online and if you are interested in supporting the Cheyenne River Sioux tribe, they can be reached at (605) 733-2547 or (605) 964-7812 for meat orders.

Buffalo might well be called the "real American meat" because it was the primary meat source for the Plains Indians until millions were slaughtered back in the late 1800s. when they nearly became extinct. But the buffalo are making a comeback, and they are up to about a quarter of a million at this time.

Buffalo are raised on open grassland and graze on natural grass. The flavor of buffalo is "beefier" than most beef these days, but it doesn't leave a greasy feel in your mouth because it is so low in fat. It absolutely does not have the wild gamey taste that many people expect, and the meat comes in the same cuts as beef, so you can find porterhouse, rib eye, brisket, etc.

In fact, when Terry cooked some herself for the first time, she thought it was so good, she decided never to buy ground beef again.

Because they are indigenous, these hearty animals are suited to the extreme climate changes of the plains.

In addition, they have a productive life almost twice that of cattle. Buffalo cows usually have their first calf at three years of age and will deliver a calf every year thereafter while living for as many as 30-35 years.

Both of these new red meats cook more quickly than beef because they have a lower fat content. Any beef recipe can be used and you can cook it to the degree of doneness you prefer.


  • ELLE HARROW AND TERRY MARKOWITZ owned A La Carte for 20 years. They can be reached for comments or questions at themarkos755@yahoo.com
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