24 September 2008

Beer and Food Pairing: Rabbit and Turtle

In the past I've done some goofy things with beer - a shandy of Lakefront Cherry Lager, Blatz, and diet soda comes to mind - usually in the vein of not taking any of this too seriously. So when offered up a chance to visit home to sample some interesting rural cuisine, I thought it might be fun (and also kind of stupid) to go ahead and pair those culinary treats with better beer.

That's a lot of rabbit

The event - known to family and friends as "Freezerfest" - features foods collected over the course of year from the the lakes, ponds, streams and woods of the area near my hometown of Trenton, Illinois. On the menu: rabbit, turtle, squirrel, frog legs, and fish.

Fried squirrel looks a lot like fried anything else.

As an avid student of Garrett Oliver's The Brewmaster's Table, I though that the book - which features guides to hundreds of beers and the foods that pair well with them - could serve as a guide into my dining adventure. Surprisingly enough, that wasn't completely the case. While Brewmaster's Table does feature pairings for rabbit, I was on my own as far as turtle goes.

A tiny sample of the selection

Rabbit and beer

In the back (pages 355-361) of my copy of Brewmaster's Table I found a handy reference chart entitled "Beer with Food: A Reference Chart". On page 360, the pairing for rabbit reads "Biere de garde, tripel, Belgian Pale Ale, strong British Bitter (ESB)". I headed to my local "by the bottle" liquor store (Parti-Pak Liquors) and picked up bottles of Two Brothers Domaine DuPage, Brugge Tripel de Ripple, Orval, and Goose Island Honkers Ale to fill this requirement.

Pairing for turtle was not so simple.

A plateful of exotic heart attack

Turtle and beer

Because Brewmaster's Table has no turtle pairing recommendations, I first googled "Turtle Beer Pairings" - if you follow the link you'll quickly realize that there are no examples. My next guess was to find out what exactly turtle tastes like, and go from there.

Pete - the man behind the food with the preferred mode of preperation

My search brought me to an article by Newt Harlan entitled "Tastes like Chicken". In the article he lists quite a few exotic animals and what they taste like - rattlesnake, rabbit, squirrel, armadillo, alligator, coon, and turtle:
A turtle supposedly has something like seven distinctively different kinds of meat. I've eaten it in turtle soup and sauce piquant and my taste buds identified several of them . . . fish, pork, shrimp, kind of like frog legs and yes, even chicken.
In the interest of having as much information as possible, I continued on and found an article from the website of The New Yorker - listed under their New Orleans Journal section, I thought that this was surely a reputable source.
“You got seven kinds of meat on a turtle. Depending on what part you’re eating, it will taste like turkey, or fish, or pork, or veal.”
Veal? I knew that the sort of people I was dealing with weren't the veal type. The list sounded a little too Yankee for my liking.

I continued my search and stumbled across the site of the Missouri Folklore Society and an article entitled "The Turtle in Missouri Folklore" that contained the following information:
Any hillman will tell you that an ordinary mud turtle contains seven kinds of meat -- pork, beef, mutton, chicken, duck, and fish.
You may have noticed that only six kinds of meat are given. Must be hillman math. And a site using that sort of math was exactly the kind of source I was looking for. With my seven (six) meats in mind, I returned to Brewmaster's Table and began pairing. Because I wasn't sure how my turtle would be prepared, I went with the roasted examples for each type of meat.
Pork: Dunkel, dubble, doppelbock, altbier, Oktoberfest Marzen, Biere de Garde
Beef: Brittish bitter and pale ale, German altbier
Mutton: Dubble, Scotch Ales, strong dark trappist and abbey ales, old ales, biere de garde
Chicken: Biere de garde, dunkel, bock, british bitter and pale ale, british brown, Oktoberfest marzen, dubbel, american amber ale, belgian pale
Duck: Dubbel, strong dark trappist or abbey ales, doppelbock, weissbock, biere de garde
Fish (which fish?): ???
So in the spirit of those hillmen that came before me, I put everything into an Excel Spreadsheet and came up with the following list (which I'll admit is a bit messy here):
Dish | Flavor | Beer Style | Beer
Turtle | Beef | British Pale | Bass Pale Ale
Turtle | Beef | Altbier | Bluegrass Brewing Co. Alt
Turtle | Beef | British Bitter | Goose Island Honkers Ale
Turtle | Chicken | Bock | Berghoff Bock
Turtle | Chicken | British Pale | Bass Pale Ale
Turtle | Chicken | Dunkle | Franziskaner Hefe-Weisse Dunkel
Turtle | Chicken | British Bitter | Goose Island Honkers Ale
Turtle | Chicken | Belgian Pale | Orval
Turtle | Chicken | American Amber | Bell's Amber
Turtle | Chicken | British Brown | Sam Adams Brown
Turtle | Chicken | Oktoberfest Marzen | Sam Adams Octoberfest
Turtle | Chicken | Dubble | Trader Joe's 2007 Vintage Ale by Unibroue
Turtle | Chicken | Biere de Garde | Two Brothers Domaine DuPage
Turtle | Duck | Weizenbock/Weissbock | Aventinus Weizenbock
Turtle | Duck | Strong Dark Trappist or Abbey Ale | North Coast Brewing Brother Thelonious Belgian style abbey ale
Turtle | Duck | Dopplebock | Spaten Optimator
Turtle | Duck | Dubble | Trader Joe's 2007 Vintage Ale by Unibroue
Turtle | Duck | Biere de Garde | Two Brothers Domaine DuPage
Turtle | Mutton | Scotch Ale | Founder's Dirty Bastard
Turtle | Mutton | Strong Dark Trappist or Abbey Ale | North Coast Brewing Brother Thelonious Belgian style abbey ale
Turtle | Mutton | Old Ales | "Bell's Third Coast | "
Turtle | Mutton | Dubble | Trader Joe's 2007 Vintage Ale by Unibroue
Turtle | Mutton | Biere de Garde | Two Brothers Domaine DuPage
Turtle | Pork | Altbier | Bluegrass Brewing Co. Alt
Turtle | Pork | Dunkle | Franziskaner Hefe-Weisse Dunkel
Turtle | Pork | Oktoberfest Marzen | Sam Adams Octoberfest
Turtle | Pork | Dopplebock | Spaten Optimator
Turtle | Pork | Dubble | Trader Joe's 2007 Vintage Ale by Unibroue
Turtle | Pork | Biere de Garde | Two Brothers Domaine DuPage
Rabbit | Rabbit | Tripel | Brugge Tripel de Ripple
Rabbit | Rabbit | British Bitter | Goose Island Honkers Ale
Rabbit | Rabbit | Belgian Pale | Orval
Rabbit | Rabbit | Biere de Garde | Two Brothers Domaine DuPage
All beer acquired and iced, I headed back to my hometown to join a couple friends and complete the pairing. And that's where it all went wrong.

The selection expands

We started by getting a plate full of the required meats - rabbit and turtle, along with the surprise inclusions of squirrel, frog legs, and catfish. All fried. We laid the plate out, decided to start with the rabbit, and then pulled a couple of the pairing beers (Goose Island Honkers Ale, Two Brothers Domaine DuPage) out to start. But suddenly the idea of eating rabbit started making me a little queasy. I did start to pick out flavors and notes from the pairings, but immediately aborted that plan.

Probably not what Ted had in mind

On to the turtle. The turtle we ate had been prepared by a thorough steaming, then later the meat was breaded and fried. It's really amazingly tasty, though saying that it tasted like seven other kinds of meat would be a stretch. Frying seems to "dumb down" any subtle flavors we might have picked out. I did try to sample as many beers as possible with the small amount of turtle meat I ate, but eventually the whole idea of eating turtle began to overwhelm the enjoyment of the tasty turtle, and we ended up with a table full of beer.

Believe it or not, there was a hearty crowd in attendence

Not such a bad thing. Between the four of us we managed to sample all the fine fried foods provided, and as the night progressed we also made our way through all the beer. Just not paired together.

A lesson learned. My suggestion to you, should you decide that beer pairing is something you're interested in, is to keep it simple. In our case, the flavors and variety in beer immediately revealed that we'd undertaken too large a project. And while we could have simplified, when presented with that much beer, why ruin the fun?

Signature event can coolies were a surprise treat.

In addition, it would have helped had I been able to minimize my queasiness. To be honest, I was a bit disappointed in myself. None of these meats (short of squirrel) were new to me. Perhaps too much city living has made me a weaker-stomached man. I'm definitely not a hillman.

That's ok though. At least I can still count.


  1. AWESOME! Food pairing or no, that was quite the beer spread you hauled out there. I'd be curious to try turtle some day. Maybe Chris Eley can get his hands on some...

    Side note -- I picked up Weihenstephaner Festbier last night for the first time. I loved it. Everybody seems to categorize it as Oktoberfest/Marzen, so maybe I DO actually like the style. Of course, I'll eat deep-fried snake if that's an Oktoberfest. I just think it's one of the tastiest lagers I've ever tried, and I don't even particularly like lagers!

  2. i believe that the festbier, while being the most consumed style at oktoberfest, is in actuality more along the lines of a helles.

    i think all that fried stuff looks pretty great. although in my experience, anything tastes good deep fried.