Time to expand your horizon with ostrich

Although technically poultry, ostrich meat is cherry red (from its high iron content) with a texture similar to beef, but without any marbled fat. BY JACK CLEMONS
May 25, 2011

Since we enjoyed our duck dinner last week, we decided to expand our horizons into the more exotic poultry offerings at Hickman’s and settled on ostrich. The slender steaks bore little resemblance to their source: a long-legged flightless bird with fluffy feathers. Like their relatives – the emu and rhea – this ancient species is highly adapted to life on land with running speeds greater than some of their four-legged predators.

Ostrich plumage continues to hold a novelty niche in the fashion industry, its skin is tanned into luxury leather goods and just one ostrich egg can feed a dozen people for breakfast (although you may need a hammer to crack the shell). Ostrich meat has become increasingly popular as diners discover it’s extremely lean, with fewer calories and less fat than chicken or turkey.

Although technically poultry, ostrich meat is cherry red (from its high iron content) with a texture similar to beef, but without any marbled fat. The leanness of ostrich demands careful cooking, not to more than medium rare or 145 to 160 degrees on a meat thermometer. You never want to salt ostrich before cooking, as that would draw out the moisture from the dense meat.

When grilling (heating from below) or broiling (heating from above) the cooking times will be shorter than with beef. To grill, cook on the direct high heat for one minute per side, then move off direct heat and cook an additional three or four minutes per side. To broil, move the top rack down one-third from the heating element and cook about eight to ten minutes per side, turning once.

If you prefer your meat well done, try a moist heat cooking method like braising to avoid a tough, dry result. Ground ostrich can replace ground beef in your pasta sauce or chili, the only difference is to add it during the last ten minutes of simmering instead of at the start. Ostrich cubes can upgrade the nutritional content of your favorite vegetable stew, crockpot meal or grilled kebobs.

Another feature of ostrich meat is its ability to absorb spices and marinades more readily than beef. You’ll need less dry spice or herb rub and shorter soaking time in a marinade liquid to avoid overpowering the distinctive taste of the meat. I’ve included two different Balsamic-based marinade recipes, one with Mediterranean spices and the other softened with honey; both emphasize the subtle sweetness of the meat.

For our ostrich dinner, we started with two steaks and marinated them in olive oil, crushed rosemary, orange zest and juice for about 40 minutes. Instead of the barbeque, I cooked them in a cast iron grill pan on a very high heat for almost 5 minutes per side. As you can see in the photo, the iron-rich meat retained its ruddy color. Sautéed mushrooms could have been the start of a sauce, but I didn’t want to blunt our experience of the new flavor, so they were served as a side along with couscous. Since I’d cooked more than we needed, leftovers became ostrich hash for breakfast the next day

While there are many online purveyors of ostrich meat, you might want to visit Hickman’s Meat Market the first time you buy it. Bill will tell you about the ostrich farm in Wisconsin that supplies his shop and he’ll likely give you a few pointers on how best to prepare this unusual bird.

Broiled Ostrich Steaks
4 4-oz ostrich steaks
1/3 C Balsamic vinegar
1/4 C olive oil
2 t minced garlic
1 t crushed rosemary
1 t thyme leaves
1/2 t pepper

Combine all the ingredients in zip-top plastic bag, turning to coat the meat completely. Refrigerate for about 1 hour. Preheat broiler to high. Remove meat from plastic bag and discard marinade. Place meat on a rack in broiler pan at least four inches from heating element. Broil 8 to 10 minutes per side for medium-rare, turning once. Carve at anangle into slices. Yield: 4 servings.

Grilled Ostrich Steaks
4 4-oz ostrich steaks
1/3 C Balsamic vinegar
1/4 C honey
2 T olive oil
1 T lemon juice
1/2 t lemon zest
1/2 t dry mustard
1 t minced basil

Combine all the ingredients in a zip top plastic bag; refrigerate for one hour. Preheat grill to high.
Grill steaks over direct heat for one minute on each side. Move steaks to indirect heat and cook an additional 4 minutes per side, brushing steaks with marinade once or twice during cooking. Yield: 4 servings.

Ostrich Kebobs
1 lb cubed ostrich meat
1/2 C plain yogurt
2 T olive oil
2 t fresh mint
2 T honey
1 crushed garlic clove
1/4 t cinnamon12 bay leaves

Combine the yogurt, oil, mint, honey, garlic and cinnamon in a bowl. Stir in the ostrich cubes and mix to thoroughly coat. Cover and refrigerate for about one hour. Preheat oven to 350F.

Thread the cubes on skewers separated by the bay leaves. Bake for about 10 to 12 minutes, turning once. Yield: 4 servings.