Wawawai Round Steak (Rattlesnake)
(Submitted by Harvey Hughett, Moscow, ID)
In many of the canyons of the inland northwest live small populations of the secretive Northern Pacific Rattlesnake (Crotalus viridus oreganus). Many dens contain 200 or more. Occasionally some of these are encountered in and around urban areas and are eliminated. For those who choose only to take the skin for a wall decoration, hatband or camo for a self-bow, they are really missing a tasty meal if the meat is discarded. The Japanese love it and import thousands of pounds each year from the United States (Maybe it’s the lead-in-the-pencil concern?). Most people who eat rattlesnake will agree that it is delicious and compare it to mild fish or chicken. Actually, when I cook rattlesnake steak, it smells EXACTLY like frying chicken. Once you smell the steaks cooking you’ll quickly overcome your fear and “bite back!” Also, rattlesnake meat can be purchased from the more interesting stores and supply houses that knappers sometimes frequent. I have friend in Pomeroy, Washington who collects several hundred each spring, often from areas near new homes not far from dens. As a kid, my father and I made annual rattlesnake hunts to our favorite areas and cooked the meat over a campfire. I don’t eat as many as I used to, preferring to catch them live and move them away from homes and highways so they have less chance of becoming endangered. Frankly, I enjoy the idea of them crawling around “out there” surprising folks. But I often eat them when a large one catches me off-guard. Warning! Rattlesnakes are very poisonous and can cause severe tissue damage or death. A guy I used to snake hunt with lost the use of his thumb from a bite but “he asked for it.” The snake was one of three “pets” that ran loose in his house and he accidently hit one with his hand (BTW, Jack Daniels set him up to do it). Anyone who is not experienced in collecting snakes should avoid them (There’s a special technique to keep them from disarticulating their jaw and snagging you with a venomous fang...and No, the meat is not poisonous). Because they serve a very useful function in nature they should not be indiscriminately killed. Also, game laws vary from state to state on the harvesting of these useful neighbors.
Even though the local variety is smaller than those in other areas, the adults can be very tasty. Below is the recipe that I have used successfully. Even skeptics usually come back for seconds.
Preparing the meat: The first, essential step is to detach the head and discard it where one can’t step on it and animals can’t get to it. Due to muscle contractions, sometimes even a dead snake can cause an injury. Skin the snake, discard the entrails, wash thoroughly, cut into 3-inch long pieces and soak in salt-water overnight.
½ pound of Rattlesnake (more or less)
½ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. pepper (I prefer lemon pepper)
1 cup milk
1 cup 50/50 mixture of flour and cornmeal, enough for coating
Shortening, enough for frying
Wipe meat dry. Mix salt and pepper with cornmeal/flour. Dip meat into milk and coat liberally with seasoned cornmeal/flower mixture. In a frying pan, bring ¼ - ½ inch of shortening to high heat. Add meat and fry for approximately four or five minutes; then turn and cook other side about four minutes more, being careful to not burn. Meat should be nicely browned. Put the meat on a serving platter and impress the genteel with your finely honed culinary skills.
Prepared like this, about the only person who wouldn’t like it would be Satan himself. Good eating!