Saturday, January 7, 2012

Here are those coot recipes you've been waiting for!

Okay, so maybe you haven't been waiting for these coot recipes, but a few people who will receive this have, so you can consider this an unexpected bonus to start out the new year.  Now, before you delete this out of a bias based on ignorance (which coincidentally is fundamental to most biases), read on:

Coots or mudhens as they are also called, along with their cousins the European coot, common moorhen and purple gallinule are members of the rail family and have long been a dependable food source for humans, first for "primitive people" in both the old and new worlds, and eventually epicureans on both sides of the Atlantic. 

Nonetheless, the mere thought of anyone eating coot is quick to bring a look of disbelief, complete with a slack jaw to the face of the average modern day American duck hunter, a fair number of whom know little about the culinary history or even how to properly care for and prepare the game they pursue.

If you doubt me, try this the next time you are among a gathering of waterfowlers:  "Hey, do any of you guys have a good recipe for coots."

A majority will sneer or pull out a hackneyed line aimed to embarrass you.  "Sure, cook them on a plank at 350 degrees for an hour, throw away the coot and eat the plank."  Asking about a recipe for a spoonie typically brings the same response.  As old and mistaken as it is, this line will be followed by howls of laughter and a doubtful future of acceptance for you. 

The real joke however is on them.  Like most game, or for that matter any food item, coots must be cared for and prepared properly, something the best chefs of the world have done with coot for over 100 years.  During that time, coot has been served at family dinner tables and fine restaurants to rave reviews that are now all but forgotten, as is the recipe developed in the late 1800's by the chef at the world famous Hotel del Coronado where coot became a most popular menu selection.

But enough about a history forgotten and unappreciated by most. 

Although I had the benefit of eating more than my fair share of wild game by the time I was 40, I'd never eaten coot and held the same ignorant and uninformed opinions as my peers until about 25 years ago when I met a man who was to become a dear friend and hunting companion.

At the time, Jerome Lipetzky was a teacher at El Capitan High School and founding partner of a duck club near the Salton Sea I was invited to join.  It was there on a Friday night that I sampled for the first time a concoction of his making - Tacootos.  Simply described, these are tacos that feature coot in a complex mixture that constitutes the meat filling.  As Jerry told the story, he earlier had been a member of the Pickett Road Duck Club and an absence of pintail scuttled plans for a duck dinner.  An inventive and creative type, Jerome conjured up a recipe that stands to this day for many of us, and I am happy to share it with you.

TACOOTOS FOR TWO FROM CHEF JEROME OF NILAND

Ingredients

4 skinless coot breasts
1 small yellow onion diced
1 small green bell pepper diced
3 tomatoes diced
2 avocados diced
iceberg lettuce sliced
1/4 pound Monterrey jack cheese shredded
1 package slivered almonds
1 small can chopped black olives
corn tortillas
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried thyme
La Victoria Salsa Ranchera (hot)
La Victoria Salsa Brava
garlic salt
black pepper
Canola oil

Boil coot breasts until cooked through.  Rinse, cool, remove from bone and shred by hand.  Chop in blender to a finely shredded consistency.  Add a small amount of oil to heavy pan and saute onion until translucent.  Add coot and stir in for a few minutes.  Add bell pepper and half of the diced tomatoes and stir for several more minutes before adding 1/2 cup of Ranchera sauce, slivered almonds and continue to stir for several minutes more.  Add  1 tsp each of oregano and thyme along with garlic powder and black pepper to taste. Set aside covered to keep warm.

Fry corn tortillas in oil and fold, providing both stiffos (crispy) and limpos (soft).  Spoon meat filling into tortilla shells and garnish with remaining tomatoes, diced black olives, lettuce, shredded jack cheese and Salsa Brava.

Upon filling of our taco shells, it is our custom to reach across the table to touch our tacootos together, stomp our feet and yell "OOOOOOOOOOOOOOO" in a high pitched yodel as our toast and salute to the almighty coot.

I've yet to meet anyone, including the biggest of skeptics who did not proclaim that tacootos were not as good if not better than the best tacos they have ever had.

Again, credit for this recipe goes solely to our friend Jerome Lipetzky who we lost to pulmonary fibrosis in 2010 and is greatly missed, so our "Tacooto Salute" is to him as well.

While Tacootos were a creation inspired by the desperation of hunger, Sicilian Coot is an old established recipe shared by another departed and dearly missed friend, Sal DiMercurio of Pittsburg, California.  Sal grew up on and around the San Francisco Bay and the Delta, fishing and hunting with great passion and success for over 50 years until succumbing to cancer in 2011.  Here is Sal's favorite coot recipe:

SICILIAN COOT

Clean the coot by separating and saving only the breasts, thighs and legs with all skin and fat removed.  Rinse, place in a bowl and cover with milk to which a shot of brandy and a shot glass full of fresh chopped garlic have been added.  Cover and allow to soak overnight in the refrigerator.  Remove from refrigerator, drain and allow to come to room temperature.  Roll in seasoned flour and fry until lightly browned.  Place pieces in baking dish and sprinkle with fresh chopped garlic and rosemary bake covered for 1.5 hours and serve.

These are just two of many great recipes for coot, thanks to the generosity of a couple of great friends.  More can be found with a little research and experimentation.

7 comments:

  1. Thank you for posting this Jim- I went duck hunting for the first time last week and shot 13 coot. As i have been researching recipes, I've been getting discouraged. I will try what you have laid out for me. Thanks!
    -Ben

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I hope you tried the tacos first, there are never any leftovers when I use this recipe.

      Delete
  2. Good for you for publishing this!! The bottom line of some folks' bias is really pride, and, as you say, ignorance. There is an elitist mentality in about every facet of life and it rips people off of good stuff like coot tacos and more importantly, people who are really pretty cool.

    Way to go!!

    ReplyDelete
  3. How do you keep the coot from time of hunt until you prepare for eating? i tried a recipe last year and they tasted horrible, almost like what i would imagine rotting chicken would taste like. any help on how to properly prepare the bird so that it doesnt go bad before i cook it would be appreciated. thank you.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Anthony, as a general comment, I treat it like the flesh of any other game. I clean it after the hunt and then separate the breast from the remainder of the bird, and put it on ice until I get home. Once home, there are two choices: one is tovacuum seal and freeze the breasts and the other is to begin the process of boiling the meat off the bones, shredding it and then vacuum sealing it until you are ready for your tacootos. We have served tacootos to many people, some of whom were not aware of what they were eating and many of whom were adamantly opposed to eating the tacootos, but were willing to try it. All were amazed at how good they were. Please try it and let me know!

    ReplyDelete
  5. I found this article to be very enlightening as to prejudices with nothing to back them up. I spent eight years in Japan and was very surprised when I discovered that in that country the carp is more highly prized than the trout. I have eaten many a bowl of carp, cabbage, and miso soup and enjoyed every one of them. Grilled eel, often eschewed by Americans, is one of my favorite foods.

    I can't wait to try a coot taco! Thanks for the recipes.

    ReplyDelete