Advertisement - Click to support our sponsors.

Star-Bulletin Features

Wednesday, January 17, 2001

Have your snake ... and eat it, too
Photo by Craig T. Kojima, food styling by Betty Shimabukuro, Star-Bulletin

Greet the Lunar New Year with
foods that truly reflect the
theme -- a snake cake, or
some real cobra, if you dare

By Betty Shimabukuro

This being the dawning of the year of the snake, how about we eat one?

The snake is among the edible animals of the Chinese zodiac and deserves a place at the table for your Lunar New Year's feast. Of course, it isn't as easy to get there as, say, chicken, sheep, pig or beef, but you do have some time.

The new year begins a week from today, so go ahead and order up some rattlesnake (it'll have to come by mail from the mainland). Or if that makes you squeamish, perhaps you'll take your snake symbolically, in pastry or pasta form. More on that option later.

First, meet Russ McCurdy, founder of Seattle's Finest Exotic Meats, purveyor of rare and peculiar things, such as whole snake, frozen, ready to cook.

The company ships two types: cobra and rattlesnake. Both come mainly from small family farms -- the cobra from Malaysia, the rattlesnake from Texas and Arizona.

McCurdy says 85 percent of his snake sales go to the West Coast Asian community, another 5 percent to Texas and the Southwest and 10 percent to the curious. "It's a tough mindset."

Of the two, cobra is the economy cut, going for $24.50 per pound. Rattlesnake is the most expensive of all the exotics, up there with bear loin at $39.95 per pound.

Cobra is described as similar to conch, with a tender texture if cooked right. It requires an hour of low-heat steaming or sautéeing. McCurdy describes it as a lot like calamari. Rattlesnake is light and chewy, with its own distinctive flavor, he says, although, in all honesty, "it tastes like chicken."

That old cliché may very well have practical roots, McCurdy surmises, allowing people to accept new tastes by associating them with the safe and familiar. "When their mouth first wraps around one of our exotic meats, they think, 'Am I gonna die?' But immediately, the brain says, 'Hey, this tastes like chicken. I'm going to be OK.' "

Snake is served in Chinese restaurants in hot pots (small rattlesnakes, whole) or in the Southwest as chili. Typical recipes call for sautéeing snake in butter or grilling it, doused in barbecue sauce and wrapped in foil. There are also snake curries, soups and stews. Recipes tend to begin with such unnerving instructions as, "take a 6-foot rattler, freshly skinned, boned and de-rattled, head removed, about 1 pound ..."

Snake is also valued as medicine in the treatment of rheumatism, arthritis and immune disorders, McCurdy says. "The older generation of the Asian community tells us this; the younger ones, they like the taste."

McCurdy says many of his customers will order snake in combination with other meats, 8 to 10 pounds of "cobra, a little venison and maybe some kangaroo." He does get occasional orders from Hawaii.

McCurdy's partner, Minh Huynh, is the operation's in-house chef. Huynh says he first tasted snake seven years ago when he started working with McCurdy, although snake is a common dish in his native Vietnam.

On later trips home, he enjoyed the tiny local snake, about finger-width, 1-1/2 feet long. It's normally caught and immediately thrown on a grill with a little salt, lemon and pepper, Huynh says.

His own first cooking efforts didn't turn out too well. "It was too chewy." But he's since developed a technique of slow cooking for an hour or more to tenderize the meat before proceeding with a recipe. Among his signature dishes: Snake Curry and Deep-Fried Snake.


We're going to assume here that chances are slim you'll actually want to cook a snake. But bringing a little fake snake to the table is still a great idea for the Lunar New Year.

Faux snake recipes are plentiful in cookbooks designed for children and holiday cookbooks in the Halloween chapters.

Butchered Snake Bits

"Gross Grub," by Cheryl Porter (Random House, 1995)

1 10-ounce package rigatoni pasta
2 cans squirtable cheese spread
1 small bottle barbecue sauce
16-20 whole black peppercorns
1 carrot, peeled

Cook pasta according to package directions; rinse and drain.

Fill rigatoni tubes with cheese spread: Cover one end of each with your finger, then squirt cheese spread inside. Place 6 to 8 cheese-filled rigatonis end-to-end on a platter, in snake-like curve.

Using a toothpick, spread lines of barbecue sauce along the top of each snake for markings. To make eyes, use sauce to "glue" two peppercorns onto one end of each snake.

Peel a strip of carrot to form a tongue for each snake. At the narrow end of each peel, carefully cut out a long, thin triangle, so your snakes have forked tongues. Stick a tongue to the head of each snake. Makes 8-10 snakes.

Icky Sticky Sugar Snakes

"Creepy Cuisine," by Lucy Munroe (KidBacks, 1993)

Bullet Dough:
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup chocolate chips
Bullet Sticky Sauce:
1/2 cup honey
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons cinnamon

Mash butter and honey with a fork until well blended. Gradually stir in vanilla, flour and salt. Wrap the dough in a plastic wrap and refrigerate 1 hour.

Separate dough into pieces the size of golf balls, then separate each ball into 4 smaller sections. Roll each section between your hands into a snakelike shape, about the length and thickness of your pinky (dip hands in flour if dough sticks). Place snakes 1 inch apart on greased cookie sheets. Bake at 300 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes, or until lightly brown. Remove snakes to a platter and cool slightly.

Press 2 chocolate chip eyes into the head of each snake. Set aside until completely cooled.

To prepare sauce: Mix honey, sugar and cinnamon. Drizzle over cooled snakes. Makes 24 snakes.


For an idea of what it takes to cook a snake, though, consider this:


Fisher's Wild Game Recipes

4 1-1/2 inch snake fillets
5 tablespoons butter, divided use
1 pound mushrooms, sliced
2 tablespoons onion, minced
1/2 cup red wine
1 tablespoon flour
Salt and pepper to taste
Pinch garlic powder

Saute fillets in 2 tablespoons butter, 5 minutes on each side. Remove fillets and drain pan.

Add 2 more tablespoons of the butter to pan; sauté mushrooms and onion until tender, add red wine, cook over low heat until contents are reduced by half.

Mix remaining 1 tablespoon butter and flour to form a paste, add to pan and cook, stirring constantly for 1 minute. Add salt, pepper and garlic powder.

Place snake fillets on a serving platter; pour mushroom mixture over snake.

Nutritional information unavailable.

Seattle's Finest Exotic Meats can be reached at (800) 680-4375, or at

Make a Fruit Short-Snake

Adapted from


Bullet Two sheets of frozen puff pastry, thawed
Bullet 1 cup of prepared chocolate pudding
Bullet Sliced fruit of your choice: Strawberries, kiwis, bananas, mangoes -- whatever suits your taste and makes good scales
Bullet 1 cup of whipped topping or vanilla pudding
Bullet M&Ms, for eyes
Bullet 1 Fruit Roll-Up, for tongue


1. Cut pastry sheets into 2 matching S-shapes (you'll have lots of scraps, perhaps to make worms). Bake according to package directions, until golden brown. Cool.
2. On one pastry layer, spread chocolate pudding and a layer of fruit (bananas, in the case of our snake, above). Top with second pastry and spread with whipped topping. Arrange more fruit (strawberries for our snake) in a scale-like pattern.
3. Place a single large fruit as the head. Place candies for eyes (wrap in foil for glow-effect, if desired). Cut a forked tongue out of the Fruit Roll-Up and stick in place.

Do It Electric
Click for online
calendars and events.

E-mail to Features Editor

Text Site Directory:
[News] [Business] [Features] [Sports] [Editorial] [Do It Electric!]
[Classified Ads] [Search] [Subscribe] [Info] [Letter to Editor]

© 2001 Honolulu Star-Bulletin