October 30, 2014

"Why Don’t We Eat Swans Anymore?"

"[R]oast swan was a favored dish in the courts of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I, particularly when skinned and redressed in its feathers and served with a yellow pepper sauce," writes Monica Kim in Modern Farmer.
Swans have been the property of the Crown since around the twelfth century, but Edward IV’s Act Concerning Swans in 1482 clearly defined that ownership. To this day, Queen Elizabeth II participates in the yearly Swan Upping, in which the royal Swan Master counts and marks swans on the Thames, and the kidnapping and eating of swans can be considered a treasonous crime....

“Nobody has ever requested swan,” says Mark Lahm, chef and owner of Henry’s End in Brooklyn. Lahm’s restaurant is one of the few in New York to focus on wild game and has claimed to serve every meat imaginable: bear, turtle, kangaroo—everything, except swan. “Swan is not an animal that is hunted and besides it has the ‘cute’ factor going for it,” Lahm says. “I cannot imagine it on my menu.”
But there are places in the United States where swans are considered pests, threatening other native species of birds. And the Queen is irrelevant here. Would you eat swan? If you want to know how it tastes, it's "delicious — deep red, lean, lightly gamey, moist, and succulent."

55 comments:

William said...

I've had goose. It was greasy, dark, and foul tasting. (Look, Ma, no puns). It's not the cute factor. They probably just don't taste good....From the looks of them you would think deer would taste much better than, say, pigs, but they don't.

sydney said...

I hear they taste like chicken

sydney said...

I think deer taste better than pigs. Also I think goose tastes better than turkey.

Michael K said...

It's probably more like goose which is quite good.

Rob said...

Perfect for a big family--no need to fight over the neck!

David said...

It tastes like Sandhill Crane.

Rae said...

I've had goose. It's all right. Duck is better.

Given that certain parts of the population lose their minds if you eat a chicken, I doubt we'll start chewing on swans unless there is a major crisis.

sane_voter said...

I prefer whooping crane

sane_voter said...

White swan is better than black swan

Mark B said...

"delicious — deep red, lean, lightly gamey, moist, and succulent."

Which doesn't fit, and why?

Ans: Lean. Lean meat is not delicious, moist, or succulent.

Sounds like more subtle anti-fat propaganda from low-information journalists.

Hammond X. Gritzkofe said...

I knew there was something fishy about "swans".

Merriam-Webster on-line says plural of swan is swan.

fivewheels said...

Would I eat swan? Why on earth would I not? I love duck. I like chicken. I've enjoyed quail and pheasant. Fire up the grill.

Fritz said...

Mute Swans, the swans that the queen would have eaten, are an invasive species in MD. Our DNR has made a pretty big project out of eliminating them and done a pretty good job, but a pair showed up at my beach the other day.

Sure, I'd eat 'em. But shooting them isn't allowed.

Beldar said...

The world's most famous swans — those on the River Thames — have, since the 15th Century, belonged to the Crown and two ancient English guilds, the Worshipful Company Vintners and the Worshipful Company of Dyers (the latter of which represents the trade that gave my ancestors my family name).

Please don't eat them. They'd probably lock you up in the Tower of London for that.

Wilbur said...

I'm not big on goose; the fat layer's too thick, too bony. The taste is good, but not great.

If you're frying a turkey for a holiday or whenever, I recommend frying a duck, too.

campy said...

Nothing beats a good spotted owl, unless it's a California condor.

Bob R said...

I'd be very interested in trying Swan. Where are they considered a pest? I'd be happy to help with the problem - at least once. But I've never had a well cooked game bird that I didn't like. (I haven't been really adventurous. No four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie or larks tongues.)

We have goose at least once a year. The thing with goose is you have to cook it like pot roast. It has to be well done, and the skin has to be pierced so the fat runs out. It's the only bird that I know of that is better well done.

I like duck better. We had duck breast sous vide tonight. Sounds exotic, but it's a crazy low work meal if someone is around to throw the packages of frozen duck in the water bath at lunch time.

RecChief said...

Althouse asks, "would you eat swan?"

If it's anything like goose, hell yeah

rhhardin said...

The soy swan patties are good.

Freeman Hunt said...

Who wouldn't eat swan?

We demand swan!

Freeman Hunt said...

Remember how they were trying to get us to eat bugs. I tried them. Ants, scorpions, grasshoppers, crickets, and bamboo worms were all worse than beef, pork, poultry, mutton, and most fish. They were better than sardines.

Bring on the swan.

(One of the main problems with bugs is that they come with the face on. Removing all the tiny faces would be too labor intensive. Munch, munch, munch on an eye and a mouth. An excellent appetite suppressant.)

chickelit said...

Do swans really sing before they die?

chickelit said...

When I lived in Switzerland, I noticed that they ate a fair amount of ostrich. I tried it once in a meat fondue. It's the "other red meat."

chickelit said...

One ostrich produces a lot of meat.

campy said...

"Do swans really sing before they die?"

More than they do after.

Rusty said...

Althouse asks, "would you eat swan?"

Sure. You got one?

chickelit said...

More than they do after.

I meant just before they die.

Larry Day said...

I'm a hunter and I find both duck and goose to be excellent fair. I do take the trouble to always try recipes that are universally praised. I can't imagine why swan wouldn't be just as tasty, only bigger.

sinz52 said...

What restaurants in major cities need is a good recipe for rat.

And you can google for some: Stewed rat, broiled rat, etc.

chickelit said...

Roasted rat in Laos

khesanh0802 said...

@sinz52
Absolutely. Many an English - and I am sure other nation's - sailor thought rat a treat after an interminable diet of "salt horse".

Fritz said...

"I'd be very interested in trying Swan. Where are they considered a pest? I'd be happy to help with the problem - at least once. But I've never had a well cooked game bird that I didn't like. (I haven't been really adventurous. No four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie or larks tongues.) "


Here in the Chesapeake Bay, Mute Swans are considered a problem, unlike the similar winter visitor, Tundra Swans.

http://www.mdinvasivesp.org/species/vertebrates/Mute_Swan.html

Jason said...

Swans - and their consumption - figure prominently in the Tudor miniseries, which 'I've been bingewatching lately.

Swans notoriously mate for life. Swans were also a symbol of Anne Boleyn, possibly, or had become associated with her family. Henry gave Anne Boleyn the gift of two swans to symbolize the permanence of their marriage.

Later Henry VIII "celebrates" the execution of his ill-fated Queen Anne Boleyn by gluttonously feasting on one of the swans he had slaughtered for the occasion.

Much more discussion of possible meanings and symbolism here. http://www.thetudorswiki.com/page/HIDDEN+MEANINGS+on+the+Tudors?t=anon

Jason said...

Leda and the Swan, by William Butler Yeats

A sudden blow: the great wings beating still
Above the staggering girl, her thighs caressed
By the dark webs, her nape caught in his bill,
He holds her helpless breast upon his breast.

How can those terrified vague fingers push
The feathered glory from her loosening thighs?
And how can body, laid in that white rush,
But feel the strange heart beating where it lies?

A shudder in the loins engenders there
The broken wall, the burning roof and tower
And Agamemnon dead.

Being so caught up,

So mastered by the brute blood of the air,
Did she put on his knowledge with his power
Before the indifferent beak could let her drop?

amr said...

Since I've decided to jump here to be the bird guy...
Trumpeter Swans were critically endangered for much of the 20th century. At times telling the difference between a Trumpeter and a Tundra (the other native swan species) can be difficult. Best not to allow people to shoot something that they couldn't be sure was not an endangered species until they got close to the fallen bird.

I'm not sure why not Mute Swans, but most places where they are in the US, they're not exactly wild, so someone may claim ownership or something. Probably would have been a bigger deal when shooting endangered species was not a big deal.

traditionalguy said...

The secret is the jellied cranberry sauce.

chickelit said...

Jason: You probably missed my spoof of Yeats in the context of Lena Dunham fawning for Obama before the election two years ago:

Lena and the Swoon

A little blow: the great wings beating still
Above the swaggering girl, her thighs caressed
By the dark webs, her nape caught in his bill,
He holds her tattoo'd breast upon his breast.

How can those terrified vague fingers push
The pink-feathered glory from her loosening thighs?
And how can body, laid in that pink rush,
But feel the strange heart beating where it lies?

A shudder in the loins engenders there
The broken home, burning sensation,
tower of glower,
And Armageddon dread.

Being so caught up,
So mastered by the brute blood of Air Force One,
Did she put on his knowledge with his power
Before the indifferent beak could let her drop?

link

Anonymous said...

I've studied cooking, especially medieval cooking and there are reports that swans were not particularly tasty...had a fishy flavor and the flesh was supposed to be too tough. Swans were often skinned and dried to preserve their plumage and form and would then be used to cover roasted poultry or other meats as a form of table decoration.
Romans used to raise dormice as a delicacy.

virgil xenophon said...

@Bob R/

Exaxtly about piercing the goose skin to allow the fat to escape. As we have only one child and have usually been distant from both sides of the family so the holidays have mostly been "just us" our family "tradition" has been to have duck (a l'orange) for Thanksgiving and Goose (with wine-cranberry sauce) for Christmas.

Alex said...

I'm sick and tired of PETA telling me what I can and can't eat.

I'm going to buy a big, thick Angus steak and fire up the grill this weekend. Maybe fry up some fish on the side. Just to annoy PETA.

Revenant said...

Eh, I'm happy with cow, chicken, and pig. Turkey sometimes.

lee said...

Sure. Liked ostrich, quite tasty. Murder Burger in Sacto had great ostriches burgers, but ostriche medallions are much nicer. Kangaroo tasted too much like horse meat; I understand why it's used in dog food in Australia. Love goose, quail, pheasant, and duck. Like venison better than pork.

Rusty said...

Most people overcook game. That's probably why they don't like it.

St. George said...

"Why Don't We Eat Swans Anymore?"

Good name for a mediocre rock band that appeals to hipster college kids.

gerry said...

Swans are aggressive and dirty.

They might make good eating.

kcom said...

From the sound of it, "we" never did. The king did.

That's the funny thing. It seems like whenever people imagine being back in those times they automatically assume they'll be part of the 0.000001%. Sorry, if you were there, you'd be eating oats and rye bread (assuming no famine), not swans. Anyone who doesn't get down on their hands and knees in gratitude for the industrial revolution and the free market (that's you, Lefties) is clueless about how they would have really lived back then.

MadisonMan said...

Too many people read The Trumpet of the Swan?

SGT Ted said...

Spotted Owl is so much better.

Shanna said...

Where are they considered a pest?

Last year one of the wrong kinds of swans mated with one of the right kinds of swans and they killed the offspring. It was very sad.

Jason said...

Molly Ban.

Her white apron wrapped around her,
He took her for a swan
A hush and a cry,
For he shot Molly Ban.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xOpY0wQdJ5w

Kirk Parker said...

Freeman,

You left out termites from your list. Big mistake! Better than bacon bits, in my experience.

Rusty said...

kcom said...
From the sound of it, "we" never did. The king did.

That's the funny thing. It seems like whenever people imagine being back in those times they automatically assume they'll be part of the 0.000001%. Sorry, if you were there, you'd be eating oats and rye bread (assuming no famine), not swans. Anyone who doesn't get down on their hands and knees in gratitude for the industrial revolution and the free market (that's you, Lefties) is clueless about how they would have really lived back then.

Life was poor, nasty, brutish and short.
Which, coincidentally, is the name of the law firm I use.

Kirk Parker said...

Rusty,

Well if one of ever takes the other to court, your team will be up against Deway, Cheatham, and Howe.

Maybe we can sell pay-per-view tickets?

JorgXMcKie said...

One of my female students told me that she always remembered Hobbes as like being in a campus bar late on a Saturday night. All the 'untaken' guys by then were "poor, nasty, brutish, and(/or)short.

Joseph Bridges said...

More than they do after.

I meant just before they die.


Same answer as before.