How to cook (and love!) unusual proteins


Joey Skladani is a culinary contributor. Follow him on Instagram and visit his website for more.

Despite Americans’ seemingly innate desire to say crazy things and seek exciting experiences, we’re pretty cute when it comes to diet. If it doesn’t “taste like chicken” or comes from a bag, a can, or a car window, that means “no” to many of the country’s pickiest people.

This is an unfortunate fact, because there are so many wonderful proteins, both in the US and abroad, that have been dismissed because they sounded somewhat unusual, but have been used and celebrated in cooking for thousands of years.

I consulted one of the best meat chefs I know, Joseph Leonardi (certified chef and founder of Leonardi Apiary & Gardens), to show him not only how to prepare exotic dishes, but to persuade skeptics to take part in eating them as a start. .

“People are willing to try different food items if they are educated [about them],” he says. “I do this a lot with guests when they have dinner with us. If I tell the “story” behind the dish, I notice that they are more willing to try it. If they could understand where the product came from and how it was grown or raised, they would feel better eating it.”

At the very least, it’s important for all of us to be open—what makes your stomach upset may be considered a delicacy in other countries, and for good reason.

So if you’re feeling adventurous or even a little less interesting, check out some of Leonardi’s top tips below, as well as a list of how to cook some of the more modern proteins you can find. You might just stumble upon something that’s likely to be your new favorite meal (or at least something to consider for special occasions).

Quick tips for cooking with unusual proteins

While not all meats taste the same, they can certainly be prepared in the same ways.

“Frying in a skillet or deep frying is a great way to cosmetically change the appearance of any item,” says Leonardi, who claims that disguising food to resemble something familiar is an easy first step in convincing someone to try something new.

“Put the protein on a skewer, dip it in tempura or cornmeal mixture, and it will make the impression of a chicken nugget or puppy hash,” he says. “Add a great sauce to dip in, too.”

To make new meats even easier, Leonardi also suggests incorporating familiar flavors (such as Asian, Cajun, BBQ, Mediterranean, etc.) into your seasonings. “Your taste will be familiar with these and it will change your thinking while eating.”

You can prepare the most exotic proteins in the same way as poultry, beef, pork and fish. “There are only a few ways to cook, fry, fry, grill, roast, or bake,” he says. “Once you understand the product, it’s easy to cook. If it’s a working muscle, you need to slow down roasting or grilling it. If it’s muscle not working, frying or grilling will work. When in doubt, cut into thin slices so they aren’t compressed.”

Finally, be sure to balance any dish so that the meat isn’t necessarily the focal point.

“If you know something is going to be lean, serve it with something that has moisture, like stewed beans or caramelized vegetables,” says Leonardi.

Here are seven go-to proteins, which are available in many specialty grocery stores and can be prepared quickly using Leonardi’s expertise:

frog legs

“If you can get past the fact that they are frog legs, the meat is actually really good. It’s best soaked in seasoned flour and fry in the pan. Once cooked, take it out of the pan. Add shallots and capers and cook for a few minutes. Sweeten with white wine and reduce. Remove from heat and set In unsalted butter (at room temperature) to make the butter sauce. Add the chopped parsley and return the frog legs to the sauce. Heat over low heat and serve.”


“Meat can be fishy because of what they’re eating, but if prepared properly, it can be a great alternative to protein on the menu. I usually marinate this in a tasty brine, dip it in seasoned flour, dip in batter, stir-fry it well and toss it in A glaze, like a honey chili or dipping.”


“Lamb tastes very similar. Simply combine Mediterranean flavors like olives, garlic, fresh rosemary, thyme and olive oil in a marinade and grill and then serve with roasted tomatoes, feta cheese and spinach. It’s so good!”


“A lot of people forget that ostriches taste like beef! Get some steak, salt and pepper and pull it up. When you flip the steaks in the skillet, put a little bit of whole butter, large chunks of garlic, shallots, and thyme, and brush with brown butter and herbs. Throw it in Oven until tender and cook on medium rare.


With organs like the liver and heart, it’s all about simplicity. For veal livers, you can always soak them in milk to try to get some of the iron taste off. From there, let them dry and season with salt and pepper. Put some butter in a hot skillet and gently place the liver over it. Depending on the thickness. It shouldn’t take more than 2 minutes on each side. You may need to put the pan in the oven to reach medium doneness.”


“It’s one of my favorite ingredients! Cut the tentacles near the head and season with olive oil, garlic, black pepper and parsley. In a frying pan, add olive oil and heat. Add chopped garlic, shallots, and saute. Add black and green olives and chopped tomatoes. Sweeten with white wine and add fish broth…just enough to cover the octopus. Cook until done in the oven.”


“It tastes very similar to squid and octopus. My opinion is that it actually has more flavor than squid but is more subtle than octopus. I don’t eat it raw, but you can eat it in moderation. We slice it thinly and bake and fry it. You can even use it as a garnish to give texture to dishes.”

If you enjoyed this article, check out this complete guide to eggs!

The post How to Cook (and Love!) Unusual Proteins appeared first on In The Know.

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