This Might Be The Next Food Craze (& We're Terrified)

While snakes are not normally something that I'd consider particularly appetizing, I am also a modern woman with a forward-thinking approach to food. Bear Grylls, ever encouraging the inner adventurer in all of us, ate snake at the 109th Annual Gala of the Explorers Club. That got me thinking: If Bear did it, then I can do it. Plus, I want bragging rights. It's also become clear that if I want to keep up my protein habit, I had better expand my palette beyond staples like chicken, beef, or lamb.

While I used to have the excuse that snake meat was hard to come by, it is now starting to pop up at butchers in NYC. Paisanos is one, and it provides two options: rattlesnake and python. The rattlesnake was, strikingly, packaged whole (minus head and rattle). Skinned and descaled, it was irrefutably recognizable as a snake. I looked at the price ($143!) and swiftly turned my attention to option No. 2: the more moderately priced python fillets (just $53). 
Photo: Stock Connection/REX USA.
Somewhat to my disappointment, the man behind the counter didn’t bat an eyelash as he rang me up for python. I asked him if snake meat was a hot ticket item (“yes"), and whether he’d ever tried it himself (a short laugh and a simple “no”). “They say it tastes like chicken, but...” he trailed off. 

Encouraged, I went home to cook my python. I was comforted by the fact that snake has long been a delicacy in large swaths of Southeast Asia. In Hong Kong, for example, Cantonese snake soup is lauded for both its nutritional and medicinal properties. Curiously, the Internet offers up some slim pickings when it comes to python recipes. Most online retailers will sell you snake meat with the dictum, "Do Not Overcook!," and no further instructions. A video with 12,000 views shows an accented cook scoring then frying the fillets in butter and garlic. Maud Newton, writing for The New York Times, described the taste as “tough, chewy fish." Even with all of that, I was undeterred. 

At a loss for recipes, I enlisted the help of my friend Willie (who, in turn, enlisted the help of chef Sam Sifton), and together, we came up with a plan of sorts: Python Piccata. The plan was to batter and fry it, then douse it with butter, white wine, and garlic. We were feeling pretty confident. After all, practically everything tastes good when doused in butter, white wine, and garlic.

I now know that “reptilian” is an adjective that can be used to describe a smell. I discovered that as I unwrapped the python fillets and set them, pinkish and thin, on the cutting board. The odor was neither pungent, nor off-putting, just very distinct from poultry or other mammalian meats. The feel of the meat was also uniquely serpentine. The frying process went off without a hitch, but then we tasted it. To be honest, it was the toughest, most sinewy meat I’ve ever tasted. Chewing it was akin to chewing bubble gum. We had to get out steak knives. They weren’t enough. We chewed and chewed (and chewed) until we could chew no longer. And, then we went to Chipotle.

In conclusion, I highly doubt snake meat is poised to become the next big protein craze, unless someone writes a paradigm-shifting cookbook. (The Barefoot Contessa on snake meat, for instance, could be a game-changer.) Partly, I blame snakes themselves: they’re all muscle, it’s like eating a long-distance runner. But, mostly, I blame our inferior cooking skills, our non-serpent eating culture, and the general lack of information on the internet (maybe the one thing the internet does not have info on). Snake isn’t something you eat because it tastes good, it’s something you eat because it tastes adventurous, and it says something about you if you’re willing to try it. (I can attest to this; a week later, and I’m bringing up my python cooking adventure anytime I can possibly fit it into the conversation). But, despite the uptick in snake sales at Paisanos, I think we’re still a ways off from declaring that snake is the new fish.        
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