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Is that Emu on your plate?

New Delhi's high-end restaurants are ready to serve Emu meat to their clientele. Will a Butter Chicken-loving city take to a flightless bird, we wonder

Narendra Modi may have gone on a well-publicised fast not too long ago, but an entrepreneur from his state is making sure you don't go denying yourself the pleasure of good food. Even if that involves changing New Delhi's Butter Chicken-loving palate to try out something really exotic. Like Emu. If things go according to plan, Baroda-based Vinay Sharma, founder and CEO of Tallbird Farms, will be supplying Emu meat to New Delhi's restaurants by the end of the month.



Sharma has invested close to Rs 2 crore to open a farm in Vadodara in Gujarat from where he will supply the meat to connoisseurs and restaurants in the Capital. At present, he is sending samples to hotels and restaurants in the Capital and is in talks with around 15 eateries to supply the meat.


Not only does Emu meat reduce Low Density Lipoprotein (LDL), better
known as bad cholesterol, it is also packed with protein and has lower
calories


"We have a thousand farmers associated with us, who raise the bird for us all over India," he says. "We are targeting only high-end hotels and restaurants at first," says Sharma. Emu meat is priced at a Rs 500 per kilo.
But how, we ask him, would he get a chicken-crazy clientele to switch to Emu meat? "For one, it is good for the health-conscious, since the meat is 97 per cent fat-free. It is also high in iron and vitamin B12," he says.

Studies validate his point. Emu meat was recently included by the American Heart Association in its list of 'heart-healthy' meats. The meat is supposed to reduce Low Density Lipoprotein (LDL), known better as bad cholesterol. Emu meat is packed with protein and carries lower calories. sample this: A kilo of beef has 16.4 g of fat, while Emu meat has 4.7g. The good thing though, is that it tastes exactly like red meat.

Emu oil extracted from its body fat is the only animal extract that comes with Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids. It has been known to thicken the skin and act as an anti-ageing agent. It also helps heal burn injuries and reduces keloid scarring. Its anti-inflammatory properties mean that it is an effective cure for arthritis and has been recognised by sportsmen.

The meat is interesting for chefs because it lends itself to various preparations. It can be grilled, pan fried or saut �d. Nishant Choubey, executive chef of Cibo in Connaught Place, recently drummed up a spicy biryani that had chunks of Emu, instead of mutton, or chicken. His only grouse, is that the meat takes a while to cook.

"Emu meat is very similar to beef and duck. I had to cook the meat for nine hours at 80 C," he says.
The Emu meat starter he prepared had to be marinated for over a day. "The meat is tough, so I used raw papaya to make it tender," says Choubey.

The meat is a rage in Chennai. Local farmers are farming the bird in farms, slaughtering them for their meat and selling them to the local markets. Chefs in Delhi too, are hopeful that it will catch on. "Since it is low on fat, it should do well. Emu is a good substitute for red meat," says Ravi Saxena, corporate chef, The Claridges, New Delhi.

Saxena says you can cook any dish from Continental and Chinese to Indian with Emu meat. He tried making a pan-seared Emu Escalope. "I marinated it in olive oil, salt, pepper and rosemary and served it with White Onion Risotto," says the chef.

In Sharma's Baroda farm, there are incubators to hatch eggs, and the process takes close to 50 days. He sets aside a percentage of birds as 'layers', i.e, the ones who will lay eggs while the 'broilers' are for slaughter.

"They are capable of laying eggs at the 18th month, which is when their meat also turns more fibrous," says Sharma. So, a bird is typically slaughtered when it's 15 to 17 months old."

Sharma also wants to expand supply to the largely-vegetarian Gujarat and meat-loving Kolkata. "We will bring together culinary colleges and organise a competition. Talks are on with a couple of channels to telecast these events too," he shares.

Meet Emu
>> It's a relative of the Ostrich, another flightless bird
>> It's native to Australia
>> Emus have a nail on their toes, which is used to kick predators. Their legs are strong, and can even rip
metal wire fences
>> The best cuts come from the thigh and the larger muscles of the drum or lower leg

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