Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Yes, even snake tastes like chicken

It's old news by now for viewers of our fb pictures, but since I'm currently stuck in an airport, maybe I can take my dissertation-writing procrastination to new heights and write a blog post about our tasty snake dinner a few months back. That's right: The first animal processed at the Shire, though it was a happy inhabitant of the barn, was not a chicken, or a pig, or any other domestic barn animal, but rather a creature long and slithery.

The story goes something like this: We bought our small flock of goats even before closing on our house simply because of how good a deal Rosemary had been offered. They boarded for the first week with the family of one of my students, who have goats of their own, while Rosemary learned to milk them. Thus, we had animals in the barn from the very beginning. The barn, like the house, had been vacant for a year or more. I did my best to clean out a few of the stalls, but it seems that I failed to evict certain inhabitants.

Rosemary was the first to catch a glimpse of one as it slithered between two of the overlapping sheets of tin that comprise the roof. The lengthy beast was nonchalant enough, in fact, that when I came out in response to Rosemary's insistent cries at that first sighting, it was still resting with part of its tail hanging out, and I managed to catch the tip with the blade of a hoe before he escaped.

My wife feels pretty much the same about snakes as she does about spiders, so you can imagine how the snake became the talk of the house. We saw enough of it to learn that it was a Rat Snake, which, being non-venomous, would have been relatively harmless if we weren't planning to have chickens. In addition to rats, of course, a Rat Snake might also enjoy the occasional chick for an appetizer or a few eggs for dessert. So the snake had to go, period, even if Cyprian and I suffer from less severe forms of ophidiophobia than certain other residents of the Shire.

My opportunity finally came one day when we were about to leave for somewhere and Rosemary happened to spy the snake slithering through the grass. I grabbed the hoe, performing my manly duty as protector of the household, and then I nailed it to the side of the barn as I had once seen done to a giant snake in Bolivia. I believe the snake ended up measuring 5 feet, 3 or 4 inches.

Cyprian, helping me measure our captured prey. The Rat Snake measured 5'3" or 5'4"

As I gazed upon my catch, it occurred to me that there was quite a bit of meat on it. A little search on the Internet convinced me that a Rat Snake was perfectly safe to eat so long as it hadn't been poisoned and it lived in an area free from industrial chemicals. Rosemary was less than impressed by my idea and left me, Cyprian, and Clement to our own devices. It turned out to be the easiest animal I had ever cleaned. It's simply a matter of slitting the skin down the length of the belly and pulling it off, working from the head to the tail.

Snakes, I found, are comparatively easy to clean.

With my helpers!

I hung the skin up to dry, and though I still have it, it's unfortunately a little stiff since I didn't work enough oil into it. I later read that some people actually soak the skin in a solution of a few different things to make it far more supple than this skin ended up being.

My snakeskin.

Back to the day-of: I hacked the snake up into sections, breaded it with cornmeal, and fried it in coconut oil.

The next time I process a snake, I'll probably cut it in longer sections. I found that while most of the meat is on top along the spine, there is also some in the ribs, which is easiest to eat by bending the spine just a little to create space between the ribs. That's probably more information than most of you want, but I'll tell you what: Even Rosemary said it tasted good--just like chicken!

Of course, I had mentioned inhabitants, not inhabitant. The next snake Rosemary spied was a Rough Green Snake, who, it seems, inhabits a tree in the backyard. These long, slender, beautiful snakes are entirely harmless and, in fact, do a great deal of good in keeping down insect populations.

Our backyard Rough Green Snake. A colleague who knows the woods here in N.C. like the back of his hand told me that this is a remarkable specimen, both for its size and actually for being this far east. It's certainly larger than the (live) Rough Green Snake at Raleigh's Museum of Natural Science.

But there was one more inhabitant of the barn--another Rat Snake and likely the mate of the former, may he (or she?) rest in peace. It didn't help Rosemary's ophidiophobia do find this snake by stepping on him as she cleaned out old pallets in the horse stall that became part of the pig pen. I guess we had eaten enough snake by this point, however, because I chose to dump the second of my victims rather unceremoniously over the back fence. There's more meat that tastes like chicken, after all, on the broilers!

Okay, it might be a little morbid, but, like the heads of traitors displayed on London Bridge, the head of that first snake is still nailed to the barn to warn future snakes to stay away. 

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