/ Chris Metzler / 9 am Mon, Apr 29 2013
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  • Meat from a 20-lb swamp rat: taste test

    Meat from a 20-lb swamp rat: taste test

    Rodents of Unusual Size do exist. We know because we just ate one. Here's how it happened.

    Jeff Springer, Quinn Costello, and I are making a documentary, Rodents of Unusual Size, about the legions of 20 pound swamp rats that are eating away the fragile coastal wetlands of Louisiana. These giant rodents, known as nutria, were imported from Argentina in the 1930’s for their fur by the guy who invented Tabasco sauce, among many others. But after a series of unfortunate events the nutria escaped into the wild and the nutria population exploded.

    Since nutria are vegetarians at heart they have proceeded to feast on the roots of wetland plants and have transformed much of the Bayou into high salinity wastelands. These "dead zones" no longer provide a functional buffer against hurricanes and also threaten the biodiversity that supports migratory bird and plant life.

    To do battle with this invasive species the Louisiana Dept. of Wildlife and Fisheries has encouraged folks to do their part by eating these free-range rodents. Let’s say that, even with famed Louisiana chefs like Paul Prudhomme taking a stab at swamp rat sausages, tamales, jerky and other creations, people have been reluctant to embrace nutria for human consumption.

    But while on location filming we kept hearing stories about the nutria’s delicious, low fat, high protein meat and coastal residents who celebrated the nutria as tasting “better than steak.” So we thought, gators like to snack on nutria, why not us?

    After-all we are offering artisanally prepared nutria meat as one of the rewards as part of our Kickstarter fundraising campaign and we couldn’t unleash it onto the world without giving it a try.

    The anticipation was huge. Would it be “better than steak” as one of our interviewees swore it would? Would it taste like a swamp rabbit? Would it even be edible?

    You can check out our thoughts and impressions in our video review.

    Some hearty hunters bagged 8 nutrias for us and we had them processed by a butcher who was legendary for his skills at making nutria not only palatable, but delectable.

    Three ways to prepare the meat did battle in our scientifically rigorous taste test: Snack Stix, sausage on a bun (with a touch of Tabasco sauce) and nutria jambalaya.

    Nutria Snack Stix - This curious item runs about 6” to 7” in length. They are basically like a thicker Slim Jim minus the snap. Overall, what you're going to notice on the first bite is a strong smoky natural meat flavor, but one that is well countered by the Cajun seasonings and a moderate amount of heat that builds up with each chew.

    They have a fresh pepperoni like kick with an oily surface feel. The stix have some flexibility to them and don’t easily crack open with any amount of bending. Chewing was easy and there isn’t a high degree of saltiness.

    We decided that the mixture of the flavors helped to make the nutria meat palatable but the addition of the spices seemed to be hiding the actual flavor of the meat. Our findings were inconclusive.

    Nutria Cajun Sausage - These chunky links tasted wild and exotic. The slight garlic and cayenne flavors percolated on the tongue, but were quickly overwhelmed by a taste we have to describe as the flavor of the “swamp”. One of us thought it tasted like a morgue, while another tasted a hint of walnuts. You’re definitely in unique flavor country here as the true taste of the nutria meat really came out, for a perplexing culinary experience.

    This item provides a nice real meat flavor for a medium grind sausage that can work well on the grill if its tended carefully, but given the meat’s natural leaness you have to watch that it doesn’t get too dry. If we were to try it again we’d choose to boil it in water or an Abita beer, bratwurst style.

    Nutria Jambalaya - Like a film crew, the nutria meat seems to work best in collaboration. It really shined in this dish as it easily took on all of the spices & flavors associated with Louisiana cooking. The long simmer and slow cooking time resulted in a soft, moist meat and a jambalaya with a light tanginess and a smoky background in each bite.

    We’re not convinced eating nutria meat will ever go mainstream, as heck look at those big orange teeth and long rat like tail. Nonetheless, nutria can be quite tasty. It truly is the other OTHER white meat.

    If you are interested in scoring some nutria meat for yourself or checking out some clips from the film, you can visit the ongoing Kickstarter campaign for Rodents of Unusual Size here:

    / / COMMENTS


    1. So, you didn’t have any Nutria steaks? These are all highly processed dishes with lots of seasonings. Until you throw a cutlet or a chop into a pan or onto the grill and eat it seasoned with only salt and pepper and maybe a little butter and/or a squeeze of lemon, you don’t really know what this meat tastes like. Please do so, and I eagerly await the results.

    2. There was a similar story a few years back about Chinese Mitten Crabs invading the Thames in London after being brought in in ballast tanks. They dig destructive burrows and outcompete the native crabs. They are edible, but may contain toxins from the Thames water. But various experts have said they are fine in moderation. http://www.nhm.ac.uk/about-us/news/2009/february/thames-alien-crab-safe-to-eat27526.html
      I saw a TV show where a guy took a load of locally-caught mitten crabs to the local seafood stockists, and they weren’t keen, despite the traditional love of crab, whelks, eels and so on.

    3. We used to eat Nutria and Muskrat in Belgium but I think health & safety regulations no longer permit it. The critters would be euphemistically on the menu as “waterkonijn” or “water rabbit.”

    4. Everything I saw in the film suggested that nutria was low fat, and unless some was added to the sausage during processing or in the cooking process, it was bound to be dry.  They further dried it out on the BBQ by placing the meat too close to the heat source.  We still have no idea what Nutria tastes like.

    5. Or… work with me… we could put a funny hat on them and give them swords and make them stars of a Pixar movie…?

        1. Oh I think we should still eat our movie rats when we’re done using them for the film. We don’t want them getting all uppity like big movie stars and going Lohan on us.

    6. I’m curious why they aren’t being marketed for pet foods instead of trying to convince people that huge rats you see everywhere (in the ponds, lakes, bayous, drainage ditches and even golf course water traps of LA and TX) are actually really tasty. Cat food seems a natural fit, cats eat rodents already and require a high protein diet. If the goal is to generate an industry to catch & consume and thereby reduce their numbers in the wild, cat food seems like an easier sell than sausage with a hint of morgue…

      1. Great question.  I love the idea of cat food.  But there is a company, Marsh Dog, already making dog biscuits out of nutria and doing really nice work with it – http://www.marshdog.com/MarshDog/Home.html.

    7. I will totally eat that.  How do I order the Rat Stix?  Seems like they should travel reasonably well.

    8. We’ve got these guys in Oregon, but I don’t think they’re as much as an environmental problem. At least, since coyotes learned how to steal canoes and whack the nutria on the head with a paddle.

      1. I was at the 2013 Nutria Management Conference for the Pacific Northwest. You have them, they’re a problem, and in some counties you’re allowed to rent traps.

    9. “Wesley, what about the ROUSs?”
      “ROUS problem?  Like global warming, I don’t think they exist.”

    10. One thing about nutria is that as a feral invasive you can hunt them year round in most states. If we really want nutria to be hunted more , we need to promote wearing nutria fur. When fur prices are high in Russia, hunters in the US can get up to $4 per animal.

      They are cute critters, but I’ve seen the damage they can do. I suppose I should buy a nutria fur coat.

    11. When I was working in Los Angeles as an Earthquake Claims reviewer, we had a lot of guys from Texas and Louisiana handling claims for us. Their boss was from Louisiana. He had a constant flow of 10 lb bags of nutria ‘jerky’ shipped in. It came in spicy or just highly seasoned and was chewy, but not at all dry. It was excellent! Best jerky I’ve ever had. 

      1.  This must have been when nutria were four bucks a kill because of the demand for fur in Russia. Plenty of nutria meat on the market back then. Plenty of nutria meat products on the market back then.

        I don’t normally support wearing fur, but I think it’s time for celebrities to start wearing “invasive wild killed” nutria coats.

        I support hunting nutria. My avatar is an aquatic plant threatened by nutria.

    12. During a bike tour along the German Spree river we came across a small group of wild Nutrias. A man was feeding them some apples. They seemed like very intelligent and friendly animals.

      It makes me sick that stupid greedy humans brought suffering on them in the first place and now people want to make them suffer some more in a desperate attempt to fix that.

      1. In Europe they’re a pest because they’re not native to our ecosystem. They’re trapped and killed in Belgium, I’d be surprised if Germany didn’t do the same thing.

    13. I remember nutria hot-dogs in Poland during the 80s state of emergency, when meat shortages (well, everything shortages) were chronic. As a child, I thought the provenance made the hot-dogs even more appealing! But nutria were a bit of a fad, like emu were in the States.

    14. What, no Terry Pratchett reference yet? 
      ‘Why does ketchup cost almost as much as the rat?’ said Angua. ‘Have you tried rat without ketchup?’ said Carrot.

    15. If the taste of Nutria can’t compete with other meats humans typically eat, why not make dog treats out of them?

      1. Someone already did.  Marsh Dog!!!  Check it out.  Veni posted a link up above somewhere.  I live in the most rapidly disappearing wetland in the world, south Louisiana, and these critters are responsible for hundreds of thousands of acres of wetland loss.  They eat the roots of the marsh plants that hold the sediment in place.  They can eat out an area so badly that the plants will not regenerate, and then the sediment erodes more rapidly, hence, more wetland loss.  I’m not just saying this to you, but by way of reply to all those above who question the taking of this animal.  The push to market the meat is so that the animal doesn’t die in vain.  We have a bounty program here to eradicate them so that we can continue to live where we live.  I don’t like the senseless killing of any creature, not even a roach, but they are rapid breeders and can take over a beautiful area in no time.  They contributed greatly to the near-extinction of the native muskrat down here, too, because they took over the habitat.  Well, I’m stepping down now, but there’s much more I could say.  More power to you all in your quest to find a good Nutria recipe!!!  (some folks say they use it in Nutra-sweet!)

    16. 1. You’re not going to convince more people to eat them by repeatedly calling them rats! Nutria are not rats. They are closer to beavers. I usually describe them as beavers with rat tails. They’ve actually migrated all the way up to Portland Oregon’s suburbian sewers, so they’re a growing problem. 
      2. Cut nutria meat up in chunks and deep fry them or add them to a sauce piquante. Fried meat goes well on a New Orleans style po-boy! Nab one of those cajuns or acadians you seem to have met along the coast and ask them how best to prepare it. Some restaurants do cook nutria meat but it’s often farmed and the chefs are usually not replicating cajun home cooking. Nutria is very popular among cajuns. Hunter populations have a better understanding of what to do with wild meat. Metro folk in Louisiana are the ones that think nutria is gross because there’s a stigma among urban populations against living off the land/knowing what your food looks like before it’s packaged for the grocery store.
      3. There used to be a bounty on nutria of $4 a tail. I think that was pre-80’s. Older people in my family remember it pretty well. Nutria were taking the coast apart back then, but it’s been getting better. (Enough that they farm the meat to sell it/serve it, since you can’t sell game at a restaurant.) There was an effort to sell/ship nutria meat to China in the late 90s but I’m not sure if that ever came to anything.

    Comments are closed.