Adventureater: Grilled Kangaroo
Written by Bwog Staff
Bwog’s food editor Jon Hill travels this week to Brooklyn to find a taste of Australia.
Almost everyone these days seems to have a beef with beef.
Cardiologists blame it for clogging arteries, animal rights advocates don’t like the way it’s processed, and environmentalists resent its carbon footprint. Beef has become a bad guy in the culinary world, a symbol of the excesses and failures of the modern diet.
Yet even with red meat getting such a bad rap, U.S. beef consumption has remained fairly steady. Poultry and pork have come on strong, but as far as substitutes go, we Americans have not found a good alternative to the T-bone steak.
Maybe it’s time to widen the search—to Australia.
The continent is home to a large land animal that is one of the planet’s most abundant (and most edible) mammals, the kangaroo. Nearly 30 million of them roam Australia, and they have been part of the traditional Australian diet for more than 400 centuries. Only recently, though, have agriculture experts zeroed in on the kangaroo’s potential to be the next major commodity in international trade.
If beef represents the culinary villain, kangaroo would be the hero. It’s lower in cholesterol, higher in protein, and rich in certain anti-cancer compounds. Kangaroos produce no greenhouse gases and they require no extra food or water from ranchers. Conservationists have even calculated that increased kangaroo consumption could save the world 15 megatons of greenhouse gas emissions by 2020.
But could kangaroo ever compare to USDA prime?
Long Tan restaurant
Considering Qantas ticket prices, I was lucky I only had to travel to Brooklyn to find out. Long Tan, a popular Thai restaurant in the Park Slope neighborhood, serves kangaroo grilled teriyaki-style over salad greens. Seeing this dish’s description excited me with its purist preparation—the kangaroo would be able to strut its stuff free of heavy sauces and aromatic spices that normally accompany Thai cuisine. What I would be tasting would be sure to be the real, unadulterated Australian meat.
When the kangaroo arrived fanned out in strips over my salad, I realized that beef and kangaroo are almost impossible to tell apart at the end of a fork. The meat’s pinkish, raw middle ringed with a darker, well-done caramel color was identical to steak, and its fragrant smell was a dead-ringer for grilled sirloin.
Kangaroo mimics beef’s taste superbly, too. I expected a certain level of gaminess in the meat—especially considering kangaroo is “harvested” from wild herds—but the only note I detected of my dinner’s Outback origin was a slightly more pronounced metallic flavor. The texture, meanwhile, was supple and juicy.
Such similarity works to kangaroo’s disadvantage, though, as I discovered that the meat never took on an identity of its own during the meal. No new or special flavor stood out to recommend itself again for future dinners. Instead, I was just reminded how delicious beef is. Kangaroo is the quintessential impressionist in this sense, always turning in a perfect imitation but never transcending the act.
For what started out to be an adventure in dining, this meal ended up feeling strangely familiar. Beef has strong competition in kangaroo, but only from the more intangible standpoints of ecology and nutrition—tastewise, they’re evenly matched.
And maybe that’s all kangaroo has to do if it hopes to dethrone beef. Diets will not shift rapidly or easily to a different-tasting, exotic meat, no matter how much better for people or the planet that meat may be. Beef’s replacement must be beefy to the utmost degree, and kangaroo fits that bill.
What becomes of the T-bone, we’ll have to see.
WHAT IT IS: Grilled kangaroo
WHERE IT IS: Long Tan, 196 Fifth Avenue, Park Slope, Brooklyn
HOW MUCH IT IS: $16.00, with Asian coleslaw
HOW TO GET THERE: Take the 1 train to Times Square and transfer to the R. Get off at Union Street Station, walking one block east on Union Street. The restaurant is at the north end of the block.