Have you been out to dinner lately? Chances are you may have noticed the emergence of game meats – rabbit, elk, ostrich, venison, as well as alternative protein sources such as tripe, sweetbreads, tongue, and bone marrow on the menu. This trend has been slowly growing to the point where it is now mainstream. Why?
People want to know more about where their food is coming from. When I was growing up, my parents purchased a whole cow from the local farm. Packaged and ready for storage, I remember helping my mother pack it into the freezer. To my horror, one of the packages was labeled “tongue.” Looking back, I know this was slipped into one of our family dinners, and I was none the wiser. Fast forward to 2013, where tongue is showing up on top-rated menus across the country, and I think perhaps my mom was on to something.
Buying locally can mean buying whole animals. Instead of wasting purchased goods, restaurants are now scrambling to use the parts of animals that may not have been useful in the past, hence the rise of bone marrow, tongue, tripe, and sweetbreads. Even if a restaurant does not buy the whole animal, bone marrow is still very inexpensive and now wildly popular. As it has a smooth texture that is adaptable to most dishes, you will find it in mashed potatoes, ravioli, or just served in the bone with a small scooping spoon. The most unique adaptation I’ve seen is a bone marrow Parmesan crème brulee.
“Locally made meats, cheeses, fruits, and vegetables will truly taste fresh — because they are,” says Everyday Health, and that is what the restaurant industry is aiming for. What is local depends on what area of the country you live in. In the northeast, what is more local than rabbit served from a farm down the street? Believe it or not, rabbit farms are cropping up all over the country – even in New York City. Rabbits are pretty cheap to farm, take little space and are easy to process. The meat is also lean and cheaper to procure than chicken or duck. Rabbit is more environmentally responsible to produce versus beef, chicken, or farm-raised fish, making it popular with restaurants all over the country.
In the Midwest to Pacific Northwest, elk is a local delicacy and quite popular in independent restaurants and chains alike. Burger chains offer elk, ostrich, and wild boar patties, which have trumped turkey and lamb burgers in sales. It is easy to find recipes for these protein choices on the internet, but finding game meats at your local grocery store is another matter. Most stores do not offer these choices, making restaurants the obvious place to try some of these more exotic meat choices.
With the growing demand for local foods, combined with inflation in mainstream protein prices and a more educated consumer, the popularity of game meats and exotic protein choices is spreading fast across the country. Next time you are dining out, be more adventuresome and give one of these choices a try!
Jennifer Nordwall is a contributor to Everyday Health and its healthy living and nutrition content and tools.