New Yorkers will line up for anything except, it turns out, free rat samples. Yesterday we rushed out of the office assuming we'd have to beat back throngs of hungry curiosity seekers at the Allegra LaViola Gallery, where chef Yuri Hart was grilling rat as part of artist Laura Ginn's show "Tomorrow We Will Feast Again On What We Catch." We just assumed since we'd put out a free food alert that at least some of you guys would show. But you let us down. Because really, it wasn't that bad. We've had worse tasting meat from supermarket bargain bins!
Now, over the years we've tried quite the menagerie of meats—if you are going to be a carnivore might as well embrace it, right? As far as air-breathers go, this list includes chicken, duck, goose, quail, pigeon, cow, horse, donkey, lamb, pig, deer, rabbit and guinea pig (they call it "cuy" in Ecuador), so we couldn't really turn down the chance to add another species to the list. Especially since we've definitely spent more than a few hours over the years planning for the coming zombie apocalypse.
In the end there were just a handful of people in the gallery's basement yesterday. Which was probably fine; it was quite hot in there. The artist was on hand, however, bringing out trays of rat prepared by Hart behind a white curtain. Sadly, she was not wearing the hand-made rat dress she wore to the recent full rat dinner—though it was on display. Two types of rat hors d'oeuvres, both with roasted rat meat, were being served. One was rat served straight up on a thin cracker while the other was rat served with a blueberry glaze on a thin slice of bread. And honestly, the straight-up rat meat was more to our palate. Not surprisingly, it wasn't too dissimilar to its rodent relative, the guinea pig.
The flesh itself, ripped in small bits from the rat carcases by Yuri, didn't have too strong of a flavor, actually. Kind of chewy, not fatty and slightly gamey. The most memorable aspect of it was a slight metallic aftertaste which was easily washed away with a free glass of wine (possibly due to whatever the animals, raised as feeder animals, grew up eating). Because the animals are so small, and their little bones so sharp, the meat was served in tiny pieces which can make it hard to focus on. Would we eat it again? We aren't setting up traps behind our apartment building, but never say never. As the chef put it when we asked if he'd cook with the rodent again, "I said after the dinner that that was it, but here I am cooking rat again."
The real obstacle to mainstream acceptance of edible rat is really the negative associations most people have with the word rat. The vermin have such an awful reputation that it is hard to get excited about eating it. "We need to come up with another word for it," Ginn mused to us. After all, when people eat pigeons—which are just flying rats—they just call it squab!