[Editor’s note: In their new book The Kosher Guide to Imaginary Animals, the husband and wife team of Ann and Jeff VanderMeer — both noted figures in the realm of cutting-edge speculative fiction — take a wonderfully weird trip through a catalog of mythical beasts, from the Japanese Abumi-Guchi to the Zulu Tokoloshe, applying Ann’s training in Jewish dietary law to the burning question “Is it kosher?” In a special afterword, the chef, cake-maker, and Food Network star Duff Goldman joined Ann VanderMeer to discuss the methods by which various fictional creatures might be made into meals — kosher or otherwise. We excerpt part of their conversation here.]
Duff Goldman is the star of the hit Food Network reality show Ace of Cakes, which features his world-famous cake-making business in Baltimore. A huge fan of Star Wars and a variety of fantasy and science fiction, Goldman has even been made into a character in the video game World of Warcraft. When Goldman caught wind of [The Kosher Guide to Imaginary Animals] and started riffing off the idea of recipes for imaginary animals in an email, we thought we’d call him up and record his thoughts on the subject for this book.
Ann VanderMeer: So to start — do you think Wookiees are kosher?
Duff Goldman: Yes, I think that. Let’s try to keep one foot in the realm of fantasy and one foot in the realm of reality. Kind of a comparison. A Highland cow — a Scotland cow — like a yak, a bison. Just really hairy and furry. The hair of that thing hangs off like a Wookiee’s hair. I would say that, sans sciatic nerve, Wookiee is probably kosher. Wookiees are really tough, and I don’t think I’d want to be the one to take one down. The difficulties in just butchering a Wookiee might render it treyf but I’m gonna say given the perfect circumstances — you got a really good butcher — I am going to say go for the Wookiee. If you are going to serve Wookiee, the best way to remove the remaining blood is to soak it because you won’t have to oversalt it. Those things are really tough, so you’ll want to cook it for a very long time. Just ’cause they’re Wookiees. Beefcakes.
Ann: What would be a good side dish for Wookiee?
Duff: Fava beans and a nice Chianti?
Ann: Seriously, though, what would you drink with Wookiee?
Duff: A big Cabernet. You want something either really big or really sharp. A really big dark Cabernet or maybe something that cuts a little bit, like a Pinot Grigio or something like that. Something that would introduce that acid element to it and wash down the years of battle that Wookiee’s been through because it’s all scarred up and tough. So I’m gonna say like a stew. Probably serve it in a stew, or you might get some braised Wookiee shank. There’s no waving the Wookiee over the grill and serving it. That’s just ridiculous.
Ann: Let me ask you this. What about the pollo maligno in our book — the evil cannibalistic chicken. I don’t know if it’s a cannibalistic chicken because it eats other chickens or eats humans. [Editor’s note: the Colombian “Pollo Maligno” is the subject of a chapter in The Kosher Guide to Imaginary Animals.]
Duff: I tell you this: definitely, absolutely — if butchered right — totally and completely kosher. And here’s why: you ever seen an industrial chicken farm?
Ann: I’ve actually seen them on TV but not in person, because I’m afraid.
Duff: If those things can be butchered and served glatt kosher, hormone-injected, subjected to the worst kind of animal cruelty, then saying that a cannibalistic chicken wouldn’t be kosher would be straight-up hypocrisy. So pollo maligno is definitely kosher.
Ann: What would you recommend for preparing it?
Duff: Again, you have to assume this is definitely not kept in a farm, so it’ll be a little bit gamey. So I would say cook it for a while, and braise or stew with prunes. Any kind of dried fruit — a dried fruit compote — using any kind of white wine. And then like make a maligno stock as well — don’t let the bones go to waste. If you can get a bunch of these guys together in the same room, butcher them all, but keep the bones. Roast the bones for the stock. Make the stock, and I’d say go heavy on the root vegetables and the onions, because you want that sweetness in there, it being a kind of tough, gamey chicken. So when you’re braising this thing, you’re going to put in the stock, white wine, then throw in a lot of dried fruits and other things that will add sweetness and complexity to the flavor. To mask some of that maligno-ness. They are, in fact, infused with Evil, so you can —
Ann: Infused with Evil? I kind of wonder how Evil would taste?
Duff: Evil is probably kind of like the inside shell of a walnut. I mean if I was going to say what does Evil taste like, I would say walnut shells. Just that really bitter, astringent thing that makes you make a face. Makes your mouth itch. You know what I mean? That little skin inside a walnut you peel off. I’m making evil sounds just talking about it.
To read more from Ann and Jeff VanderMeer about The Kosher Guide to Imaginary animals, see our conversation with them here.
This excerpt from “Duff Goldman in Conversation; or How to Cook a Mongolian Death Worm” is graciously provided by Tachyon Press, and is © 2010 by Ann VanderMeer and Duff Goldman.
Ann VanderMeer is the award-winning fiction editor of Weird Tales and the founder of Buzzcity Press. A much sought after Bar/Bat Mitzvah teacher, she is also the world’s foremost expert on kosher imaginary animals. She and her husband Jeff VanderMeer have collaborated on a number of anthologies, including Steampunk, The New Weird, and Last Drink, Bird Head.
Duff Goldman is the star of the Food Network show Ace of Cakes, and the proprietor of Baltimore’s Charm City Cakes.