Unusual Proteins: The Blue Ostrich Burger
Ostrich Burgers? With blue cheese? What in the blue hell? No, don’t worry, I’ve not completely lost it… Yet! I’ve just found a new unusual protein to play with. Now, I’m not suggesting we all rush out and buy ostrich and cook it at home. This post is meant mainly as a culinary experiment and challenge. Though, if you’d want to go out and cook some ostrich, I’ll tell you how and can’t honestly think of better way than this…
In other words, this is not so much your every day do it at home recipe as it is the story of an inside joke between food bloggers gone too far. It’s also a glimpse into the mind of the Johan, an intro to my take on recipe development and a story of how sometimes recipes and ideas start out as a joke, gain a life of their own, catch momentum and somehow turn out amazing in the end. This is, essentially, the story of a joke that turned into a surprisingly awesome mashup of three of my favorite guilty pleasures: BBQ, bar grub and burgers all tossed together with a healthy sprinkling of insanity! In short: a perfect next installment in our Unusual Proteins Series.
How, you may wonder, did this particular experiment come to be? Well, that’s a pretty long and complicated story that we will get to in just a minute, but before we get that far, let’s ask ourselves a very basic question that I bet we’re all dying to know.
What does ostrich taste like? Nothing like chicken, that’s for sure!
An ostrich is a bird, right? A really big one at that, granted, but still a bird, right? Right! So it would be reasonable to assume that ostrich, like so many other things we don’t quite know how to describe would taste like chicken, right? Or poultry at the very least… Right? Well, no! If anything it tastes like beef with an almost gamy quality and a texture not entirely unlike venison: dense, short-fibered and slightly grainy. Unlike beef, though, ostrich has next to no marbling or fat content meaning it doesn’t pack nearly the same deep intensity of flavor and umami-richness that regular (quality) beef does. If ever you’ve had kangaroo (and I’m sure you have!), you’ll find ostrich much closer to that in taste and texture than to the more closely related chicken.
If ever you do want to try this ostrich cooking business at home, you may also want to bear in mind that ostrich is an incredibly lean piece of critter and dries out very easily during cooking – faster than chicken breast, actually – a fine reason why it lends itself well to low ad slow cooking methods such as BBQ or slow roasting.
Cooking ostrich – the great inside joke!
What inspires a man of reasonably sound mind to create an ostrich blue cheese burger? Well, allow me to try to explain. What eventually became the blue ostrich burger started out as an inside joke between myself and my blogging colleague and culinary playpal Malou. At some point, Malou was doing a #willitwaffle theme for her blog and proudly proclaimed: “There is nothing in this world, I can´t waffle!” – “Uh-huh,” I shot back dryly, “you shove an ostrich in that waffle iron of yours and I’ll show you my impressed face!” For reasons known only to the initiated, waffled ostrich became a thing and a bit of an inside joke – loved by some, hated by many. Other food bloggers joined in on the fun and, well… It was basically all fun and games until a national supermarket chain actually started carrying pre-cooked, frozen ostrich steaks and I knew I’d best brace myself for some sort of ostrich onslaught.
A waffled Ostrich as imagined by Erland from fjordrejen.dk
Even so, I barely had time to mouth the words “Oh fudge, ” before I stumbled upon a post on Malou’s blog klidmoster.dk featuring the batshit crazy yet stunningly complex waffled ostrich and butter bean spread burger with roasted red peppers, pickled onions and dukkah. “Well, this is great,” I thought, reading through the post – “now I’ll have to best her in ostrich craziness AND culinary creativity!”
But just how would I go about doing that? Like my competitor in this Iron Chef Battle Ostrich, I wanted to make something that was not only humorous in nature and appeal, but also made sense culinarily speaking, something that wasn’t just a gimmick but showcased the unique qualities of the products and techniques used… And somehow out-crazied waffled ostrich! How on earth would I do that?
Eventually, my worries were solved by a seemingly random turn of events and an unlikely bit of help from the “enemy”. My worthy opponent, you see, one day found herself conned by fellow food blogger, Lars from Grydeskeen.dk into attending a gin and cheese pairing event hosted by Danish gin-makers Njord Gin and artisan cheese makers Arla Unika. I say conned because my adversary is really not a big cheese fan, au contraire, mes amis, she’s rather upset and scared by the substance. So the story goes that Lars had apparently told her about the gin portion of the show but downplayed the cheese portion to a point where it may not have been mentioned. Which, long story short, led to the rather humorous and groundbreaking experience of Malou, the not-so-cheese-loving food blogger, sitting through a tasting of five increasingly challenging cheeses including her arch nemesis blue cheese – only to be gifted a care package featuring even more cheese on the way home.
To her credit, she allegedly quite enjoyed the experience and even had a few cheese-related epiphanies throughout the evening. I, of course, was furious because, hey, I love cheese. I love gin… I’m pretty sure I’d love the combination of cheese and gin! And a cheese care package! But did someone con me into going? No! And did someone hand me a goodie bag filled with blue cheese and other goodies? No!
But this is where my competitor is less selfish than most. Being an active ambassador of the Stop Wasting Food movement, and probably a little curious to see what Denmark’s favorite food geek would do with the spoils of war (or just really keen to stop his bitching), she kept only what she needed and felt safe consuming, then simply bagged up the rest of the cheeses and shipped them to me overnight along with a few other goodies in the culinary care package to end all care packages… Probably not thinking she was giving me a competitive advantage in the process.
The care package I received included amongst other goodies a small piece of Arla Unika Sort Gjesing – a blue cheese made with a citrus infused gin from Njord Gin – which finally got the ball rolling in my head as culinary synapses flared and thoughts started to connect in a way known only to me and a few other culinary weirdoes.
My thoughts jumped immediately to a comment made by my buddy Michael on a photo I posted of a couple of ostrich steaks on Instagram. In his comment, Michael, jokingly questioned my choice of “oddly shaped chicken” which turned into a joke conversation on its own and, eventually, an idea: If ostrich is really an oddly shaped oversized chicken, I thought, and I have blue cheese a plenty, then how about chicken hot wings with gin-infused blue cheese dip – only in burger form? That just might work, I thought, and then immediately, another synapse fired in my mind! In a split second, I was back at Memphis Roadhouse, a nitty-gritty absolutely pretty BBQ joint in Aarhus Malou and I have recently reviewed in a previous post. In my mind’s eye, I saw myself eating one of their smoked chicken wings and immediately thought to myself: hey, yeah, if BBQ chicken wings are a thing, then how about a Smoked Ostrich BBQ “chicken wing” burger with blue cheese dressing, proper coleslaw and the works?
I’ve no plausible explanation for how ideas such as these pop up, but sometimes they just do and I’ve long ago learned to roll with them and let playfulness take over… And so I did! I went at the idea, I played with it for a few days and eventually a plan formed in my mind. I’d take my precooked ostrich steaks, I thought, and I’d douse them in wing sauce made with a combination of Louisiana style hot sauce, butter, honey and a bit of extra heat. Memphis Roadhouse, I remembered, serve their wings with a house made Habanero sauce and I wanted to mimick a bit of that heat. Only, I didn’t have Habaneros so I opted instead for a shot of Bhut Orange Copenhagen chili sauce originally concocted by another culinary hero of mine, Kim from Grillkokkerier.dk and gifted to Malou who re-gifted it to me on account of me being the only one she knew crazy enough to actually enjoy it… There she goes helping the enemy again!
Ahem, anyway, I’d douse the ostrich in my Ghost Chili infused wing sauce, then in another homage to Memphis Roadhouse, I’d smoke them low and slow for about an hour over hickory wood, serve them up on a burger bun over slaw and cover everything in not one but two sauces. The first sauce, I reckoned, would be a tribute and a stab at the cheese-fearing woman who helped instigate this madness: A gin and citrus-infused blue cheese sauce made with Arla Unika’s Spirit of Njord Mystery Blue Cheese.
The second sauce, I figured would be a tribute to the BBQ roots of the dish I was building and the spirit of the American South: a thick and sweet BBQ sauce. While regular readers will know that when it comes to BBQ I favor thin, tangy North Carolina Style sauces, I found my go-to BBQ sauce recipe a little too runny and a little too tangy for the purpose of this dish. First of all, I wanted it to cling to the meat and stay on the bun, rather than run away or soak into things. Secondly, I figured that with Ostrich being a relatively lean piece of meat, the stringent acidity of a North Carolina style sauce would be simply too much. So rather than playing it safe, I threw away the well-known and put together a thick and sweet Kansas City like tomato-based sauce with quite a bit of heat and complexity thrown in. A sticky, sweet sauce, I figured, would better complement and coat the meat. The tomato element, I figured, would serve as a nod to that other perfect burger condiment of choice: ketchup!
With the addition of not one but two sauces, I was nearing a perfect result but still, somehow, some way, something was missing. I picked at it for hours, trying to figure out what my perfect burger was missing before, eventually, it hit me: crunch! Hot wings are crunchy but my hot wing burger wasn’t… Something had to be done and a crunchy element added… But how? I entertained the thought for a minute to bread the smoked ostrich and fry it till crispy, but the texture of the meat didn’t seem right for the purpose and so I kept wondering… Until eventually my eyes gazed upon a couple of onions laying next to my deep fryer for no apparent reason and within seconds, the dish was complete! The crunch to my chicken wing would be provided by another fond food memory from the American south: homemade onion rings! And that completed it. My entry into the great ostrich burger cook-off would be an artisan burger bun, dressed in coleslaw, layered with slices of smoked Ostrich glazed in hot wing sauce, topped with BBQ sauce, blue cheese dressing and onion rings for crunch and texture. Add a homemade pickle for show (these, too, came courtesy of Malou’s care package and her perfect pickle recipe) and a bit of zing and I was home free!
Now all I needed was a recipe and given all the speculation that had already gone into the project, this was actually the easiest part of my culinary journey.
To compose and make the Blue Ostrich Burger, I did what any reasonable person would do: tore a Saturday afternoon out of the calendar, made sure I had a few beers in the fridge, fired up my trusty little Weber kettle grill and set upon improvising my way through this project, all while taking notes as I went, should anyone be crazy enough to actually want to reproduce my efforts. Things went well, too, and within an hour I had an ass-kicking hot wing sauce, a creamy, funky and citrusy blue cheese sauce and one hell of a thick, sticky, spicy and sweet BBQ sauce. “Hah, I’m so on top of this,” I said out loud to myself as I got my Ostrich steaks ready for the smoker… And then the heavens opened up and it started raining cats and dogs right as I arrived at the outdoor portion of the cooking show.
Now, I have a good friend and colleague who has famously stated that there is no such thing as bad grilling weather. And be that as it may, but you try telling that to the busload of Japanese tourists driving by as you find yourself huddled up under a canopy in a heavy downpour, intensely watching a heavily smoking portable kettle grill, beer in hand, rain in hair, an instinctive yell of “Don’t worry, it’s all in the name of ostrich! I’m battling this chick I met on the internet!” escaping your lips as the scene passes by… Err, but I digress. The fact of the matter is that despite major setbacks such as thunderstorms and biblical downpours, I managed in a single afternoon to come up with my perfect(ly whacky) Blue Ostrich Burger Creation… And a reasonably complicated one at that!
The Blue Ostrich Burger Recipe
Okay, fair bit of warning. What you’re about to see here is neither the shortest nor simplest of recipes. It’s more of a collection of recipes, actually. Admittedly, this recipe was created partly for shit and giggles but the components and flavors are awesome if I dare say so myself – on their own and in unison. Even if you’re never going to make an ostrich burger, I’m hoping you’ll find bits of ideas and inspiration in this recipe, maybe even tweak it to suit your taste. Even if you never cook up the full monty, the basic components of this recipe are awesome on their own:
The hot wings sauce is a killer condiment that could be easily used to fancy up regular hot wings. The blue cheese sauce is a cooling, funky concoction that would work well in any burger or as a dip for vegetables, meats or cold cuts. The coleslaw recipe is my go-to version for summer cookouts and the BBQ sauce recipe given here is a nice thick, sweet alternative to my already famous (ahem!) North Carolina Style BBQ sauce for those looking for a little more sweetness and complexity in their BBQ sauce. Cook up a large batch and use it liberally on anything from ribs to brisket, I promise you, they’ll be amazing. I’ve even used it on smoked pork tenderloin to great effect. And as a dipping sauce for the sweet and crunchy onion rings that are also part of this marathon recipe.
- Two ostrich steaks, about 4-500 grams total (I used pre-cooked, frozen)
- Two burger buns
- One pickle per person
- 2 tablespoons Tabasco
- 2 tablespoons honey
- 1 tablespoon butter
- A dash of Ghost Chili / Mango hot sauce (optional)
- 50 grams sour cream:
- 50 grams crumbled quality blue cheese
- 25 grams mayonnaise
- 1 small clove garlic minced
- 1 teaspoon buttermilk
- Juice of ¼ lemon
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
- 50 grams cabbage, shredded
- 25 grams carrot, shredded
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1 pinch salt
- 1 pinch freshly ground black pepper
- 1 pinch cumin
- 1 pinch Cayenne
- 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
- 1 tablespoon mayonnaise
- 1 tablespoon Crème Fraiche or sour cream
- ½ teaspoon whole grain mustard
- 25 grams butter
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon ground chipotle
- 200 ml Heinz Ketchup
- 50 ml apple cider vinegar
- 2 tablespoons honey
- Juice of half an orange
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
- 1 teaspoon Tabasco
- 1 teaspoon tomato paste
- A few drops of liquid smoke
- 1 large onion cut into half centimeter thick slices
- 150 grams flour
- 200 ml buttermilk
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 50 grams bread crumbs
- 1 egg
- ½ teaspoon salt
- Melt butter in a small sauce pan over medium-low heat.
- Add honey and let melt as well.
- Stir in Tabasco sauce and Ghost Chili sauce if using.
- Stir for a minute to combine and set aside to cool.
- Add all blue cheese sauce ingredients to food processor and process until a uniform but still slightly lumpy mass has formed.
- Taste and adjust seasoning if needed.
- Refrigerate till needed.
- In a small sauce pan, melt the butter over medium heat.
- Once butter is melted, add in garlic powder, onion powder and chipotle then fry for about 30 seconds or until fragrant.
- Add tomato paste and fry for about a minut.
- Pour in all other sauce ingredients and stir well to combine.
- Bring sauce to a boil and let boil for about 30 minutes or until reduced by half and thick in texture.
- Set aside to cool.
- Liberally baste ostrich steaks with the hot wing sauce and set aside at room temperature.
- Light a low and slow fire in a small kettle grill using a handful or two of charcoal briquettes (depending on the size of your grill).
- Once briquettes are ready, add about a handful of (non-soaked) hickory smoke chips to the coals, then place the ostrich steaks over indirect heat, put the lid on the grill and cook for about an hour at 100-120C.
- If at the end of the cooking period, a probe thermometer registers a core temperature of less than 60C, you may finish the steaks over direct heat for a bit of char or in the oven.
- While ostrich is smoking, prepare the rest of the toppings.
- Toss cabbage and carrots with all spices and a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar, leave to marinade in a bowl for about 30 minutes.
- When the thirty minutes are off, place in a colander and squeeze out any excess liquid.
- Whisk together mayonnaise, sour cream and mustard to create a dressing, and gently fold a little at the time into the cabbage/carrot mix to create a very lightly dressed coleslaw. Refrigerate till needed.
- Heat a deep fryer or pot of oil to 180C.
- Carefully separate onion slices into rings, then lightly toss in a bit of flour.
- Whisk together egg, buttermilk, flour and baking powder and salt to form a lump-free batter.
- Dip onion slices in batter allowing the excess to drain off, then place in breadcrumbs and give them a few good pats to help the breadcrumbs stick.
- Fry battered onion rings in the oil in batches until golden brown, delicious and crunchy.
- Put cooked onion rings on a rack and sprinkle with fine salt to taste.
- Toast the bun in a toaster or oven for a few minutes.
- While bun is toasting, slice ostrich steak into thin slices.
- Split burger bun in half and add a bed of coleslaw to the bottom bun.
- Top coleslaw with ostrich followed by a healthy dose of the BBQ sauce, a few onion rings and, finally, as much blue cheese sauce as you deem fit.
- Add top bun and a pickle on the side.
- Serve with remaining onion rings and/or fries with additional BBQ sauce and blue cheese sauce for dipping.
Blue Ostrich Burger: More than just a gimmick!
Reading this ridiculously long and somewhat complicated recipe, you may get the idea that all of this was just a gimmick to somehow sneak ostrich into a recipe. But you know what, I had a pretty clear cut idea throughout this process, an idea of flavor and texture that I actually believed in…. And you know what, it not only worked, it made one hell of a burger that was wild, crazy and more than just a gimmick!
If ever there was a manly burger, this is probably it: It carries all the pungent, spicy smokiness of BBQ coupled with the rich butter-like and fiery twang of a good wing sauce, all bundled up with a creamy, citrusy yet deeply funky note from the blue cheese dressing. It’s part steak burger, part blue cheese burger and part hot wings with a sweet, delicious crunch and a surprising textural element thrown into the mix with the addition of onion rings…
Oh and let’s not forget the ostrich … Which, to be honest, probably adds more of a textural element than anything else. There’s a certain game-like quality to it and a dense but not chewy texture that works just perfectly for the part it’s playing in this curious but tasty food experiment. The flavor, obviously, is unique, too. It’s somewhat of a mild interesting flavor; more beefy than poultry-like yet with the full-on beefy notes replaced by a milder hard-to-put-your-finger-on funkiness. It’s a strange flavor, unique and hard to describe which, coupled with the gimmick factor and perfect balance of taste and texture found in this mad hatter culinary experiment, is more than enough reason to try ostrich steaks in a burger such as this one. But really, the flavor is much more like lean beef than anything else which is why – if you were to find yourself clean out of ostrich – you might well substitute a lean, dense cut of beef such as flank steak or even sirloin. It would still make a great (albeit less radical) burger, I’m sure!
And there you have it, ladies and gentlemen… When the world gives you ostrich, make Blue Ostrich Burgers! My first culinary square-off against a fellow food blogger and a worthy contribution to the growing tome of Ostrich recipes. Where do we go from here? More ostrich? New special ingredients?
Your move, Internets!