Don’t be horrified, unless you’re vegetarian
The ostrich is dead, long live the ostrich!
When I heard that it was eaten, I was glad it didn’t go to waste. All that huffing and puffing on the streets of Mapayapa Village in Quezon City did not just end with a dead bird, a life wasted. We made something out of it—an adobo dish.
Ostriches are farm animals. I learned that too late, in my early 20s, when I first ate the bird. I ate it raw, in a dish called ostrich carpaccio, deboned and cut into thin, elegant strips, marinated in lemon juice, garlic, and pepper, drizzled with avocado oil, and topped with Pecorino cheese.
It was some kind of a breakthrough for me. When I was a kid, I would always be the last one to wake up and so my mom would leave two eggs sunny side up and a few pieces of pan de sal on the breakfast table for me to eat by my lonesome. I would imagine myself either at the Ritz in Paris or the Waldorf Astoria in New York eating ostrich eggs at $200 apiece. I had no idea that ostrich eggs were neither exotic nor expensive, nor did I have the slightest inkling that it was even edible. I just thought it would be nice to have an egg as big as an ostrich’s fried on one side only and looking like the sun bright and happy on a good day. So, a decade or so later, when I had my first bite of ostrich meat, it was to me a revelation: Dreams come true.
In the Philippines, the business of ostrich farming began in 1996, just a couple of years after my ostrich carpaccio experience. It was pioneered by Lorenzo Limketkai, an engineer, and his son Heintje, who established the Philippine Ostrich and Crocodile Farms, Inc. in the same year. The younger Limketkai underwent hands-on training on ostrich farming for a month in Australia and came home with the purchase of the first batch of birds from there.
As soon as the farm was established in July 1996, with only three breeders employed, the company set to work, producing the first egg in one month. Charge it to experience but that egg did not hatch, due to inexperienced handling as well as incomplete facilities and equipment, such as incubators. It was only after over a year, on Dec. 23, 1997, that the first bird was slaughtered, its meat, labeled Big Bird Ostrich Meat, sold to leading supermarkets, deli shops, and fine dining restaurants.
It wasn’t such a challenge to introduce ostrich meat to the Filipino palate. It’s very good meat not only in terms of taste but also in terms of nutrition. Low in cholesterol and containing only half the fat of chicken and two-thirds of the fat in beef and pork, it is as rich in proteins and iron as beef. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetic recommends a six-ounce serving of ostrich meat, which “contains just 4.8 grams total fat, 0 grams saturated fat, 162 milligrams cholesterol, and 132 milligrams sodium.”It’s like eating a same-size serving of skinless chicken breast, but ostrich trumps chicken when it comes to flavor.
On Sept. 10, 2002, a team of professionals in England and Wales formed what is now known as the World Ostrich Association. Part of its mandate is to establish standards in critical areas of ostrich farming and, more important, meat production, distribution, and purchase. In 2003, the association released ostrich meat yield classifications to suggest standard prices based on the total yield of deboned meat harvested from a bird. The standard on deboned meat weight includes the silver/blue skin left on the meat but excludes major tendon ends, rib cage meat, neck meat, and organ meat or fat. A class 1 ostrich, the highest classification, yields 45 kilos of meat or more while a class 5 bird, the lowest, yields no more than 30 kilos.
But how else to enjoy ostrich?
Aside from carpaccio, which I swear by, and aside from adobo, you can fry ostrich fillet, seasoned to taste, add onion and mushroom, pour in a sauce made of caramelized onions, thyme, rosemary, salt and pepper, butter, chicken stock, and red wine, and voila—an ostrich steak.
Or you can do scrambled ostrich egg. It’s just like your supermarket-variety chicken egg, except that one ostrich egg can comfortably feed up to 10 people. For good measure, whisk the ostrich egg along with coconut cream, mustard powder, and ground turmeric, pour the mix into a pan, add parsley, basil, and rocket, and serve with a crisp hot toast or warm fresh rolls. You can do a lot, really. Maybe even tinola or sinampalukan in a cauldron #parasabayan.