Compared with the pastoral grazing of lambs at the Eagle Point ranch, the sight of 6-foot tall birds stalking their chain-link pens doesn't exactly suggest a tasty meal.
While both animals are raised for meat, the latter is prized for its low levels of cholesterol and high levels of beneficial fatty acids. Emu, says rancher Kay Craig, has half the fat and calories of beef.
"It's an extremely rich meat, very high in iron," says Craig.
Touted more than a decade ago as an alternative red meat, emu has more recently earned a following for its colorless, flavorless oil that can be taken as a supplement like fish oil or used for skin care. Craig's company, High Cascade Premier Enterprises, raises emus primarily for their oil. In addition to 150 gallons of oil, the flock of 75 birds also yields about 1,000 pounds of meat annually.
"This is what our family eats," says Craig. "It's just very, very versatile."
Despite her large family, Craig, 66, can't begin to use so much emu. So High Cascade maintains a list of regular customers and is adding more this month. Inspected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the emu is available for purchase by the pound starting this week. Customers can order by phone or online for direct shipping, pick it up at the Highway 140 ranch or find it at Shop 'N' Kart in Ashland.
"I use it for a variety of things — in curries, sauces for pasta," says Dr. Dan Fennell, a Medford pulmonologist. "It's great stuff.
"It reminds me most of elk."
The same methods for cooking game apply to emu — either hot and fast or low and slow with liquid, says Craig. Not unlike tofu, emu readily absorbs the flavors of diverse seasonings, she adds.
"We do a lot of roasts," she says. "It just works wonderful in a Crock Pot."
But the prehistoric, flightless birds native to Australia also grill well, says Cameron Callahan, co-owner of Eagle Point's The Butcher Shop, which has carried High Cascade emu in past years. One selling point of the dark, burgundy meat is a moisture content that makes it practically impossible to dry out, says Callahan.
"It's a meat that's well-adapted to rare," says Craig.
Emu fillets and top loins are the most tender cuts, priced at $11.50 per pound. Prime steaks are $9.95 per pound. Ground meat is $4.95 per pound. Sold in vacuum-sealed plastic bags, the packages weigh between 3/4 pound and 2 1/2 pounds, which includes no bone weight.
"There is absolutely no waste; you don't trim fat," says Craig.
The meat will keep frozen for at least a year. And because the birds' lack of fat prohibits aging after slaughter, it can hold in the refrigerator for up to a month, says Craig.
Reach Food Editor Sarah Lemon at 776-4487 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.