If you had to pick an animal symbolizing Texas or the Old West, you wouldn’t go wrong picking the Western Diamondback Rattlesnake. By far the most feared snake in North America, and for good reason. 95% of snakebite deaths in the US are from rattlesnakes. Interestingly, 99.9% of snakes eaten in the US are rattlesnakes. Of course, 72% of statistics are made up on the spot.
I don’t “hunt” for rattlesnakes, but I do run across them hunting other critters and they are a welcome bonus. West Texas kids grow up attending Sweetwater’s Rattlesnake Roundup and I was no exception. It sure gets a bunch of bad publicity, with many outright lies, but it’s a blast to attend. The snakes killed aren’t wasted-their venom is used to make anti-venom, they fry up the meat, and sell the skins. A lot of eastern medicine practitioners buy up the internal organs for medicinal use, while other snakes become conversation pieces as taxidermy in homes across the state.
The coolest part is the snake handling. This is the Texas version, not Kentucky. You won’t see any poison being drunk, but old men wearing cowboy hats will walk into a pit with hundreds of slithering serpents wanting to sink some poison into them. They put on demonstrations debunking some of the myths surrounding the rattlesnake, as well as showing you how to safely move about them. Generally, they just play with them to most everyone’s delight.
I only handle them once I’ve removed their heads. Shotgun blasts being my preferred solution, but any decapitation method will work. They are easy to skin, just start on their belly and head south. Be sure to leave the rattles on and save the hide because it is beyond easy to tan.
Rattlesnake is a white meat and can be on the chewy side sorta like alligator and bull frog, but different. It has more body to it than poultry and fish, yet not the same toughness as squirrel or rabbit. I find it rather bland, which makes it a good vessel for your favorite flavors.
You can see in the picture below rattlesnake is not as red as the quartered cottontail, but a bit different than the javelina loin. That’s the javelina heart, not the snakes’. Like members of Congress, they don’t have hearts.
Here I’ve chopped the snake into 4-6 inch sections, each section yields about a cup of meat. I don’t even attempt to serve it still on the bone to snake eating newbies. Just too much strangeness to get over in one meal.
This manly rattlesnake recipe is so easy, even the most clumsy culinarist can pull it off.
- 2 pounds of snake (I’d stick with rattlesnake, a buddy told me about a water moccasin tasting rotten, and I’ll take his word for it.)
- 24 corn tortillas
- 1/4 pound roasted hatch green chiles
- 1 purple onion sliced
- 1 red bell pepper sliced
- 1 garlic clove minced
- 8 ounces of green enchilada sauce of your choice, I highly recommend this right here
- 2 TBS of olive oil
- 2 cups of mozzarella cheese
- 1 cup of cilantro
- lime wedges
- queso fresca or sour cream
- Fire up your grill. While in the brush country, I stocked up on some mesquite to use on Wanda the Modern Marvel of Engineering™. If you have no mesquite, any approved BBQ wood will do. Or charcoal. And if you don’t have any other option, gas.
- Oil your grill plate. Sprinkle on a high quality salt on your rattlesnake and let it reach room temperature. Slap on the grill hollow side down. Grill for about 8-10 minutes over a medium hot fire. Flip it over and cook another ten minutes or so, paying attention to the tenderness of the meat.
- Pull the meat from the grill and let it rest for at least five minutes up to half an hour. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a skillet and cook the onions and peppers for about five minutes until the onions are not quite caramelized. Add the garlic and cook another minute. Remove from the heat.
- Debone the rattler, which is surprisingly a lot like filleting a flounder.
- In another skillet, heat the lard until its shimmering, but not smoking. Line a cookie sheet with paper towels and dip the tortillas in the hot grease and set on the towels to drain. The tortillas should be stiff, but not crunchy like a chip.
- Warm the enchilada sauce.
- Add the meat to the sauteed peppers, onions and garlic and return to medium heat. Mix thoroughly and add the mozzarella cheese. Stir until the cheese is melted and stack each plate with an enchilada as follows:
- Meat, veggies, cheese mixture
- Spoonful or two of green sauce
- Meat, veggies, cheese
- Green Sauce
- Queso Fresca
- Squeeze of lime
Obviously, other white meats can be substituted if you find yourself short a rattler. But if you do run across one, try a bite.