Is Chicken losing its status as “King of Poultry?” Some say it has become commonplace and boring. Chicken may have ruled the roost in the past, but exotic poultry such as Squab, Pigeon, Guinea Fowl and Quail is the latest trend and flying onto menus around the world.
In the past, the availability of exotic poultry was limited and found only on bill of fares in fine-dining establishments. Since most Americans were not raised on such delicacies, high-priced menu items like Pheasant, Duck and Partridge appealed only to the upper class. While this flock of birds has been around for years, today exotic poultry is going through a bit of a revolution. As the population becomes more health-conscious and adventurous; it is fast becoming a tasty, nutritious and most importantly, affordable alternative to chicken and turkey. Gobbling up exotic poultry provides a major source of protein; it’s low in cholesterol and easier to digest in comparison to beef.
I spoke with a few chefs around Las Vegas to get their opinions on this latest trend. Chuck Becker, the in-house Corporate Chef for Outwest Meats; the largest meat company in Las Vegas said, “Requests for exotic poultry come from chefs who want to see it on his or her menu, or it’s a special request from one of their guests and then run as a special. Chefs are looking to offer their guests something different on the menu; another form of poultry besides chicken, and foods like Ostrich, Quail and Squab are perfect especially for the health-conscious since these types of meats are low in fat and calories”.
According to Executive Chef Carols Guia, “I often run exotic poultry entrees such as Quail and Squab as seasonal specials, and I get many requests for Ostrich. During the Christmas season, I offer a rich and delicious pot pie of Ostrich with Fois Gras and Black Truffles. I also offer these specials as appetizers so my guests don’t have to commit to an entrée.” Chef Carlos attributes the popularity of exotic poultry as “breaking the norm” from chicken and turkey, and he said it’s not difficult to get his patrons to try this type of cuisine. “Our servers are very good at introducing these dishes, especially to our vacation and convention clients who want to try something new, and when they return, they want to have these entrees available”.
Exotic poultry adds a diverse dimension and an enigmatic flair to a dish. According to Executive Chef, Paul Elliott, from Dragon Ridge Country Club, exotic poultry has “more savory flavor than chicken and turkey and the flavor is certainly worth the experience and the extra expense.” With exposure to a culinary resource such as televised cooking shows with world-famous chefs, and new and unique restaurants on the rise, the dining public has learned that they no longer have to settle for a simple chicken entrée or traditional turkey. Exotic poultry can turn an ordinary meal into a mouth-watering feast. Chef Paul suggests Duck Confit “because it’s moist, and you can use the fat from the Confit on other dishes to add flavor.” Chef Paul believes that exotic poultry is not difficult to work with compared to chicken and turkey. “The only difference is that some fowl is smaller. Exotic poultry lends itself to a variety of preparations from appetizers and soups to the main course; and it pairs well with almost any accompaniment, and has a unique ability to absorb a variety of spices and seasonings”.
From the conservative to the curious, diners have become more demanding and sophisticated, and willing to tempt their taste buds for that ultimate dining experience of exotic food they might not make at home. Exotic poultry is not just for the holidays and special occasions. “Most of the poultry found in restaurants today are farmed-raised in the US and available all year long”, said Chef Becker. This is good news for chefs and restaurateurs who want to increase their bottom line with unique menu items, and their calorie-conscious clientele looking for new, healthy choices.
We live in a world of cultural diversity with a growing demand for cultivated foods. The future of the food industry lies in large part with chefs who must attract customers and keep them coming back by staying up to date with the latest trends. The versatility, adaptability and healthful appeal of exotic poultry make it a popular choice for chefs who like to experiment with the unusual, dazzle their audience with the unexpected, and challenge their culinary creativity by finding innovative ways to turn this emerging trend of chicken “look-a-likes” into affordable crowd pleasers while maintaining a sense of the familiar.
Duck is more mainstream than most of its exotic counterparts. The dark-red meat is rich, sweet and juicy and best prepared medium-rare. Cornish Game Hens have a light savory flavor; slightly stronger than the flavor of chicken. Partridge is best roasted. This plump-breasted bird has a tender white meat with a slightly gamy flavor.
Quail, a member of the Partridge family, is the smallest of game birds (weighing approximately 5-8 ounces). A sturdy meat with a delicate taste. Squab is a young pigeon. The meat is exceptionally tender with a juicy delicate flavor.
Poussin is a young chicken that weighs about 8-16 ounces. The meat is tender and sweet. Goose, with its rich dark fatty meat, is traditional holiday fare in many European countries.
Ostrich is a blood-red meat that is tender, lean, rich and moist.
Grouse is similar to quail, with lean red meat and a gamy flavor.
Pheasant, weighs approximately 2-3 pounds, and is similar to grouse, but its meat is light, juicy and tender in comparison.
Guinea Fowl, often called an African pheasant or Guinea hen, has a rich succulent favor and half the fat of chicken.
Silkie (Bantam Chicken) black-boned with lean dark meat and is ideal for soups and stews. Petit Poulet, a baby chicken with slightly sweet meat.
Pigeon; dark and tender meat, and should be eaten when young.
Emu is a juicy, low fat meat.