A Roadkill Christmas

roadkill peacock

For those with a marginal holiday budget and a lively sense of culinary adventure, nothing beats the fun of “found” protein sources. And for those confronting less-than-welcome drop-ins who show up expecting to be fed and entertained, here’s a dandy way to discourage them from sticking around for supper.

“Hey, what’s for dinner?”

“Roadkill. . . . . No, really.”

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Times are hard. And accordingly, the creative cook must work with the ingredients on hand.
 Sometimes these are cleanly packaged and readily available, and sometimes, well, maybe not so much. If you’re facing a feasting holiday with a depleted larder, take heart. One of my all-time favorite Christmas dinners featured a road kill peacock that still sets me to salivating when I remember how wonderfully it turned out.

Now, if your initial reaction to the idea of serving your guests salvaged carrion is revulsion, let me just say that properly prepared, it’s not nearly as gag-inducing as you might imagine. After all, that hundred-and-fifty dollar prime rib of beef you’re contemplating was probably dispatched and dressed with less care than whatever met its demise at the front end of someone’s SUV. With a little creativity (and the stomach to google for butchering instructions,) your road kill repast is, at the very least, bound to be memorable. Besides, do you really want to spend the holidays with people whose sense of festivity doesn’t extend to their gullet? (Unless, of course, you’re stuck with insufferable foodies, in which case, road kill, unidentified as such, is probably the perfect main course for further stuffing their stuffed shirts. Just be sure to tell them you special-ordered it from a free range rancher in Sonoma.)

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From “A Roadkill Christmas“-copyright 2010 by Allena Hansen

It had been snowing on and off that December evening, and by the time I got to the canyon on my way back from town, there was ice all over the road. Fortunately I’d been driving with uncharacteristic caution, because if I’d sped by like I usually do, I’d have missed it. The plumage caught my headlights and reflected off the glistening ice, a dark form against the white snow, iridescent and unmistakable—a peacock! Likely a coyote kill from the ranch up canyon. I was feeling frugal, having just blown the last of my year’s discretionary income on dish soap and toilet paper, and it seemed like a terrible waste to leave it lying there so I pulled over and carefully peeled it off the pavement.

It was a big one, maybe 15 pounds or so, and already beginning to freeze. Granted, there was a sizable chunk missing from the breast where whatever had nabbed it had gouged out a dinner, but danged if I was going to let that discourage me. I mean, how often do you get a chance to dine on roast peacock?

I threw it in the trunk and carted it home where I skinned and gutted the thing, blasted it clean with a garden hose, and carefully trimmed the mangled part from the carcass. Then I rubbed it all over with koshering salt, set it in the refrigerator, and went to bed.

The next morning, contemplating my folly, I rinsed, patted it dry, and inspected it for any unspeakable things I’d missed the night before. Finding none, I salted it again, and stuck it back it in the fridge for another 12 hours figuring the salinity would kill any untoward microorganisms still clinging to life on its surfaces.

That evening I gave it a final rinse and brined it overnight in a stockpot to which I’d added two cups of salt, an equal amount of maple syrup, and enough ice water to cover it all. The next morning I dried it inside and out, stuffed it loosely with figs and black walnuts from the orchard, then trussed and rolled it in cracked black pepper and dried garden herbs. Thus prepped, I settled it into the Komodo oven and slow-smoked it over apple wood for the next two days.

I’d alerted a couple of my epicurean nerd friends of my find, and they were sufficiently trusting—as nerds alone at Hannakwanazachristmasolstice tend to be—to venture up to join me for Christmas dinner. Knowing both my predilections and my propensities, they’d brought along a bottle of good champagne and several peppery pinots to soothe me as I cooked and fussed. (There’s no point serving peacock without good wines and an audience—and nerds tend to make exemplary drunks.) So, after reheating my prize, I carved the smoked bird to minimize the missing breast chunk, and served it with a wild current jelly I’d put up the previous summer, grilled root vegetables from the garden, wilted winter greens with balsamic vinegar, and wild rice with shallots and morels.

It was an extraordinary meal, baroque in the best sense of the word. Four of us devoured the entire thing in one sitting, with nary a sandwich’s worth left over for later. The irony of dining so sumptuously on such blatant lowlifery was delicious, but the memory of that road kill Christmas turned out to leave the best taste of all.

My one-time triumph notwithstanding, this year I bought a goose; me chancing upon a fresh-smacked peacock is likely a once-in-a-lifetime event. However, given the invasion of scrub jays who’ve taken to tormenting me this winter, I’m sorely tempted to drive through their claven and transform some of them into a side dish.

Happy Holidays, everyone!

Travel well. Eat safely.

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