Exotic foods: Cooking wild at home

You might believe that exotic gastronomy is something like that old adage about money when you die: You can’t take it with you. So you go to foreign countries and enjoy the adventure of dining on reindeer filet with lingonberry jam in Sweden or twirling garlicky angulas (baby eels) like spaghetti in Spain. But when you get home, it’s back to grilling the same old beefsteak and coating each bite with ketchup, or boiling up a bowl of pasta – sans the eyes. I don’t subscribe to that theory, and neither should you!

Couple in Exotic Meal

Bring the exotic home to your kitchen, if you can

I make it a point to stuff representative spices and other (legal) substances from the places I visit into my suitcase, wrapping oils, wines and condiments in my dirty laundry to prevent breakage.

After all, even with the advantage of websites like (my favorite) iGourmet.com or newly launched NationalGeographicFood.com, you can never be sure you’ll get that exact artisanal product you’ve spied in the local markets or shops once you’re home.

However, problems arise with bringing back foreign meats and other banned products. But, that’s where your imagination — and a little ingenuity — can come into play.

Local substitutions for South African meats

Take my recent trip to South Africa. Primed by the unexpectedly good chow provided by South African Airways (roasted line fish with a lentil cake and coriander-pineapple salsa was a memorable, in-the-air meal), I couldn’t wait to hit the ground running and expand my culinary horizons with all kinds of wild fowl and cattle, such as guinea hen, sprinkbok and kudu.

Sure, I’d also be seeing these animals, and taking plenty of pictures of them in their natural habitat, out on game drive (also referred to as “on safari”). But as an admitted carnivore, I figure what’s good for the lioness is good for the lady — as long as it wasn’t giraffe, that is. Even I have limits.

But as I dined that first night in Capetown at The Table Bay Hotel on Sous Chef Adrian Schreuder’s Pan-Seared Springbok Loin with Gorgonzola Potato Gratin, Baby Stuffed Onions, Carrot Puree and Juniper Jus, I was struck not only by the juicy and savory qualities of the springbok, a type of small antelope, but also by how closely it resembled venison.

And in the days thereafter, staying out in the bush at the glamorous Singita Sweni Lodge in Kruger National Park, I recognized that it would indeed be possible to replicate head chef Frank Louw’s recipe for Sous Vide Guinea Fowl by using pheasant or even a small heritage turkey.

Indeed, nearly every type of South African game I consumed, from impala to eland, could be substituted back home by a more readily available North American species, from elk to moose.

Thus my epicurean souvenirs from South Africa included more than peri-peri (hot pepper) sauce and Amarula (a cream liqueur made from the fruit of the marula tree). I also collected a bunch of recipes from The Table Bay, Singita Sweni and another Sun International Property, The Palace of the Lost City in the North West Province, where executive chef Pierre Mourez feeds visitors before they head out to Pilanesberg National Park. And all proteins can easily be replaced with wild game that comes from my own backyard, metaphorically speaking.

Recommended swaps

Adrian Schreuder, the sous chef at The Table Bay, and other chefs from the region recommend that you replace the recipes with the following:

Eland = elk
Guinea hen = pheasant or heritage turkey
Kudu = elk or moose
Impala = venison
Springbok = venison

South African wild game recipes

Eland Carpaccio with a Sour Fig Compote, Shaved Parmesan, and Black Pepper

Serves 4 to 6

Recipe courtesy of Adrian Schreuder, sous chef at The Table Bay, Capetown

3-1/2 ounces balsamic vinegar
3 ounces soy sauce
1 anchovy fillet, finely diced
4 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 small bunch of thyme, leaves only
10 black peppercorns, crushed
10 pink peppercorns, crushed
3/4 ounces kosher salt
1 pint of dry white wine
2-1/4 pounds of eland filet
2 ounces olive oil
3-1/2 ounces rice wine vinegar
3-1/2 ounces sugar
9 ounces dried sour figs
Black pepper to taste
1 cup shaved Parmesan

1. Mix the balsamic, soy, anchovy, garlic, thyme, peppercorns, salt and wine. Marinate the eland filet for two days, turning every 6 hours. Remove from the marinade and sear in a hot pan with olive oil. Allow to cool and wrap tightly in cling film and freeze until solid.

2. Bring the rice wine vinegar and the sugar to the boil. Add the sour figs and cook until the liquid becomes syrupy and the fruit goes soft. Allow to cool and spoon into a sterilized jar.

3. Slice the carpaccio paper-thin and place on a plate, overlapping the first until the whole plate is covered. Grind some fresh pepper onto the meat and spoon a dollop of the figs in the center. Serve with shaved Parmesan.

Grilled Ostrich With Celeriac Fondants And Watercress Puree, Truffle Vinaigrette

Serves 4 to 6

Recipe courtesy of Adrian Schreuder, sous chef at The Table Bay, Capetown

2 large celeriac bulbs
1 cup clarified butter
Olive oil for frying
4 (6-ounce) ostrich fillets*
3 ounces cream
5 ounces fresh watercress
1 teaspoon truffle oil**
2 teaspoons olive oil
4 slices truffle, diced fine**
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Peel the celeriac and cut into twelve 1-millimeter-thick slices. Cut with 10-centimeter diameter pastry cutter and trim the edges. Place in medium pan over low heat, covered half way with clarified butter. Cook gently until golden and soft inside, turning often. Remove from the butter and drain on paper towels. Keep warm.

2. Slice the rest of the celeriac about 2- millimeters thick and cut into matchsticks. Fry in olive oil until crispy and drain on paper towels. Set aside.

3. Sear the ostrich on a hot grill and cook until medium rare. Meanwhile, bring the cream to a boil and add half of the watercress. Cook for a minute and blend until smooth.

4. Spoon the watercress cream in the center of the plate and place the celeriac slices in the center. Saute the rest of the watercress until it wilts and place on the celeriac. Stand the ostrich on top. Mix the oils, vinegar and truffle together, season to taste and spoon around ostrich. Sprinkle with celeriac matchsticks and serve.

*Ostrich is readily available in the US. Check with your local whole foods store or do a Google search for an ostrich meat distributor near you. You can also order it online.

**Truffles and truffle oil (black or white) can be ordered from DArtagnan.com and other online gourmet food stores. If you are on the west coast, you many also find truffle oil at a Trader Joe’s near you.

Sous Vide Guinea Fowl served with Sweet Potato Cakes

Serves 6

Sous Vide Guinea Fowl served with Sweet Potato CakesRecipe courtesy of Frank Louw, head chef at Singita Sweni Lodge, Kruger National Park

8 tablespoons dark soy sauce
8 cups water
Zest of 1 orange
1 stem lemon grass
2 spring onions, chopped
1 thumb ginger, peeled and sliced
2 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
1/2 cup rice wine vinegar
6 guinea fowl legs
Sweet Potato Cakes (recipe below)

1. Place all ingredients except legs and potato cakes in a pot and bring to a boil. Reduce to one-fourth of the original mixture. Set aside and let cool.

2. Place the legs and 2 tablespoons of the liquid mixture in zip-top plastic bags. Make sure that most of the air is out and that they are sealed properly.

3. Place the legs in a pot and cover with water. “Sous vide” them in water between 140 to 160 degrees F. (60 to 70 degrees C.) for 4 hours. Remove and allow to cool.

4. Over medium-high heat, in a pan big enough so all the guinea fowl legs can lie flat, wait for a small amount of oil to become very hot. Place all the legs skin side down in the pan until they are nice and caramelized, almost black. Turn them over so that the flesh side is at the bottom.

6. Add the liquid that was left in the bags and simmer with the legs in the pan until it is reduced by half. Use this sauce to pour over the guinea fowl.

7. To assemble, place the sweet potato cake on a plate. Lean the guinea fowl leg against it. Drizzle with the pan sauce and enjoy.

Sweet Potato Cakes

Makes 6 

2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and boiled
1 spring onion, finely chopped
1/2 chili pepper, finely chopped
1/2 thumb fresh peeled ginger, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
1 egg
1/2 cup flour
1 cup breadcrumbs
Oil for frying

1. Mash the sweet potato. If it is very watery, dry it out in a oven at low heat. Add onion, pepper, ginger, garlicm salt and pepper to the mash. Allow to cool.

2. Make 6 small sweet potato cakes out of the mixture and place in the freezer for 3 hours so that they are set and easy to work with. You can also make them the day before and freeze them.

3. Make an egg wash with the egg and a little water. Dust each individual cake with flour, dip it into the egg mixture, take out and place it in the breadcrumbs. Refrigerate for 10 minutes.

4. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. (180 degrees C.). Fry the cakes in oil in a large pan until light brown on each side. Bake in the oven until the cakes are warmed all the way through, about 15 minutes.

Pan-Seared Springbok Loin with Gorgonzola Potato Gratin, Baby Stuffed Onions, Carrot Puree and Juniper Jus

Serves 4

Recipe courtesy of Adrian Schreuder, sous chef at The Table Bay, Capetown

4 (5-1/4 ounces each) springbok loins
Salt and pepper to taste
4 to 6 tablespoons butter, divided
1 small bunch of thyme, divided
1 dash white wine
4 large potatoes, peeled and sliced very thinly with a mandolin
9 ounces heavy cream
3 garlic cloves, minced
4 ounces Gorgonzola cheese
20 baby onions, peeled but with roots intact
8 slices of pancetta, chopped
1-3/4 ounces bread crumbs
1-3/4 ounces grated Parmesan cheese
4 large carrots
1-3/4 ounces mashed potatoes
3-1/4 ounces red wine jus
6 juniper berries, toasted and ground

1. Season the springbok with salt and pepper and sear in a hot pan until evenly browned. Reduce the heat to very low, add a little butter, a sprinkle of thyme and a dash of white wine and roll every few minutes until desired doneness. Keep warm.

2. In a separate pot, bring cream, garlic and some thyme to the boil. Remove from heat and season with salt and freshly ground pepper.

3. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. (180 degrees C.). In an ovenproof dish, greased with butter, arrange three layers of potato, top with some crumbled Gorgonzola, then pour over some cream mixture, reserving some for the very end (See Step 6). Repeat until all the potatoes are finished. Bake until the potatoes are soft, about 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. Cut out rounds with a 4-inch pastry cutter and set aside.

4. Hollow out onions from the non-root end, saving what you remove. Chop the saved onion pieces and saute in a little butter with the pancetta, some thyme, salt and pepper. Mix in the breadcrumbs.

5. Stuff the breadcrumb mixture into the hollowed onions. Sprinkle the tops with a little Parmesan cheese and bake in the oven for 15 minutes. Remove and keep warm.

6. Boil the carrots until they are just soft. Puree them. Reheat mashed potatoes and fold them into the carrot puree, seasoning with salt and pepper. Add remainder of cream mixture and add a little more Gorgonzola on top.

7. In another pot, heat the jus, add the juniper and simmer for a few minutes. Strain jus. To serve, artfully arrange springbok, potato gratin rounds, stuffed onions and carrot puree on a plate and serve with jus.

Braised Kudu Old-Fashioned Way

Serves 4

Recipe courtesy of Pierre Mourez, executive chef at The Palace of the Lost City, North West Province

2 kudu round eye, well-trimmed and cut in 1-1/2 inch thick steaks
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
5 tablespoons olive oil
10 tablespoons butter
2 red onions, peeled and finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
8 dry shallots roughly chopped
1 small bunch thyme, leaves only
2 teaspoons parsley, finely chopped
1 tablespoon juniper berries
5 ounces game jus
1 bottle Pinot Noir

1. Preheat the oven to 400º F. Season the kudu steaks with salt and pepper to taste. On the stove, heat a cast iron pot over medium-high heat to very hot. Add the olive oil and butter and sear the steaks. Add in the chopped onion, garlic and shallots and stir.

2. Add the thyme, parsley, juniper berries, game jus and wine. Bring to a boil, remove and cover. Lower the oven heat to 250 degrees F. and place cast iron pot in oven for for a period of 15 to 20 hours, until the meat is soft and tender.

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