We never intended to eat this rattlesnake. In fact, we never intended to kill it. We were all afraid of the Western Diamondback who had made himself at home on a rock just outside our summer cabin in Idaho.
Not only did this deadly rattler block safe access to our fishing hole year after year, he terrorized me with the thought of a child getting bit on our remote piece of land hours from the nearest hospital.
Inevitably, that old snake ventured too close to the trail one August day. He met his match with my husband (the Mountain Man) and our friend Bill, a snake-savvy Southerner who knows what to do when a rattler crosses his path.
4 year old Benjamin is not afraid of rattlesnakes. In fact, Benjamin is not afraid of anything! (This snake is dead, head removed, but still fighting.)
Once the 4-foot long snake was dead, we felt twinges of guilt. We don't kill animals just for fun. And though we could make a case for self-defense, this rattler was more of a psychological threat than a physical one. So I decided to honor this old snake by turning him into a tasty appetizer.
I adore my friend Catherine, but I liked her even more after she served rattlesnake to her out-of-town guests.
The snake wriggled for hours after its venomous head had been discarded, providing snake handling opportunities for the herpetophobic amongst us. Bill, our snake specialist, is also an infectious disease specialist. He reminded us that snakes are coated with Salmonella slime, so we first gave it a nice, long soak in a salt water brine. We skinned it (just like a fish), and inspected the meat. A four foot snake has a lot of meat clinging to his bony skeleton.
Bill with our rattlesnake's beautifully patterned, intricately designed hide.
When cooking game meat, a long bath in buttermilk is never a bad idea.
How to cook a rattlesnake? I searched the web...sites that focus on the hunting and cooking of varmint are numerous but not at all appetizing. I learned that rattlesnake meat sells for $32.99 per pound. I sent a query to Food52.com's Hotline. One of my favorite frequent hotliners advised cooking it up like a gater. Huh?
I went with my instinct. Game meat needs a good soak to tenderize the meat. This old man of a snake--at least 11 years old by the rings in his rattle--would need to be plied with buttermilk for a few days to bring out its flavors, whatever those were. In honor of our snake, we were game to find out.
This old snake was at least 11 years old, based on the rings in his rattle.
I simmered up a batch of Homemade Teriyaki Sauce, which would make you devour just about any grilled meat or fish. Fresh ginger gives this teriyaki a nice bite, and a good, drinkable sake gives it depth.
Snake on the grill, with a teriyaki glaze.
Once glazed and grilled, the rattlesnake meat was shredded and tucked into crisp lettuce cups, and dipped in a simple Vietnamese sauce--chilies and fish sauce being the perfect complement to the gamey meat.
10 year old Eliza conquered her fear of snakes by not only holding the big old rattler, but wrapping it in lettuce and eating it.
How does rattlesnake taste? Not like chicken. More like squid. The meat is chewy and flavorful, just what you would expect from an animal who has toughed it out for 11 years on a rocky ledge in a remote canyon. It tastes like survival.
Which didn't prevent us from eating every last bit. Personally, I think that anything glazed in Homemade Teriyaki Sauce, wrapped in lettuce, and dunked in a spicy Vietnamese Dipping Sauce will be readily devoured by hungry guests.
I've got 3 more feet of rattlesnake in the freezer if anyone would like to try some.
For a printable version of the recipe, click on the file below it.
Homemade Teriyaki Sauce
A jar of homemade teriyaki sauce keeps well in the fridge for up to 1 year. Sake gives the sauce its punch; use a brand good enough for sipping. This recipe is based on a dish served at Forage and Lounge in Driggs, Idaho. They toss their teriyaki sauce with noodles, coconut oil, ginger, garlic and scallions. Yum.
- 3 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
- 1 1/2 cups low sodium soy sauce
- 1 cup water
- 2 cups brown sugar
- 1/4 cup sake
- 1 tablespoon ground ginger
- Mix all ingredients in a medium saucepan, and gently heat to a simmer.
- Reduce heat to low, and cook down until the sauce has the consistency of honey.
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Vietnamese Dipping Sauce (nuoc cham)
This simple dipping sauce, from Nancie McDermott's Quick and Easy Vietnamese, is great for dumplings and spring rolls, or anything you want to tuck into a lettuce cup and eat with your hands.
- 1 tablespoon chopped garlic
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1/2 teaspoons chili-garlic sauce or finely chopped fresh hot red chilies, or 1 teaspoon dried red chili flakes
- 3 tablespoons fish sauce
- 3 tablespoons water
- 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
- Combine the garlic, sugar, and chili-garlic sauce in the bowl of a mortar and mash to a paste. Or place the ingredients on a cutting board, and mash with a fork or the back of a knife.
- Scrape the paste into a small bowl and stir in the fish sauce, water, and lime juice. Stir well to dissolve the sugar.
- Transfer to small bowls for dipping, or cover tightly in a jar and refrigerate for up to a week.
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