Something I learned this Thanksgiving, and really should have known or at least researched beforehand: a 19-pound turkey for seven people is ridiculous, ridiculous overkill, especially when one of those people is a vegetarian. The past few days have been punctuated by ever-more-creative (and unappetizing) turkey concoctions, and endless naps.
Today, in search of a recipe to counteract the dismal sameness of the bird and its tryptophan hangovers, I pulled my old copy of The Great American Writers’ Cookbook down from the shelf, and flicked around until I stopped short at Harry Crews’ snake steak.
I doubt I could find the ingredients here in Brooklyn, and even down south, I thought initially, Crews must be pulling our legs about how easy it is — or was, in his youth — to drive out, bag, and gut a rattlesnake in Georgia. (All my time in Florida, even hiking out in the Everglades or on Paynes Prairie, or descending into the Devil’s Milhopper, I never saw a diamondback in the wild. Nor was I itching to.)
Maybe not, though. The Google reveals that, once upon a time, there was a Tampa-area town called Rattlesnake, where the creatures were so common, a cannery mass-produced the delicacy in “supreme sauce” to be shipped around the world.
Of course the place has been renamed, and rattlers are scarce now, but at the moment I’d happily agree to prepare and eat rattlesnake (caught and killed by someone else) rather than turkey next November. It’s in that spirit that I post Crews’ recipe here. Follow — or read — at your own risk…
Take one diamondback rattle snake.
(Fifteen feet of garden hose, a little gasoline in a capped jar, a croker sack, and a long stick will be all you’ll need to take the snake. On a cold day, 32 degrees or colder, find the hole of a gopher — the Southerner’s name for a land tortoise. Run the hose down the hole until it is all the way to the bottom. Pour a teaspoon of gasoline into the hose. Cover the end of the hose with your mouth and blow. Shortly, the rattlesnake will wander out of the hole. Put the stick in the middle of his body, pick him up, and drop him in the sack. On the way home, don’t sling the sack over your shoulder, and generally try not to get struck through the cloth.)
Gut and skin the snake. No particular skill is needed for either job. Cut off the head six inches behind the eyes. Cut off the tail 12 inches above the last rattle. Rip him open along the stomach and take out everything you see. Peel him like a banana using a pair of pliers as you would to skin a catfish. Cut the snake into one inch steaks. Soak in vinegar for ten minutes. Drain and dry. Sprinkle with hot sauce, any of the brands out of New Iberia. Roll in flour and deep fry, being careful not to overcook. Salt to taste and serve with whatever you ordinarily eat with light, delicate meat.
Figure one snake per guest. Always better to have too much than too little when you’re eating something good.
Amazon’s Search Inside feature doesn’t turn up Crews’ snake steak in the second edition of the book, The New Great American Writers Cookbook. But William Harrison does tell you how to cook a timber rattlesnake. Also, should you go rattlesnake hunting and catch one that bites itself rather than you, here’s a what to do.
Image of the Rattlesnake, FL, post office, taken from the St. Pete Times.