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MOUTHING OFF

Bird's the word: It's the other red meat.
We're talking about emu, the non-flying fowl from Australia that occasionally lands on the menu at Cliff Young's (when they can get it) and recently paid a visit to Denver's School of Culinary Arts. Students there stir-fried the bird, made medallions of it and rolled the flesh into roulade. Never mind that the emu is a six-foot-tall creature often mistaken for its distant cousin, the ostrich. The important things to know are that emu doesn't taste like chicken (because it is indeed a red meat) and that it's 97 percent lean, which puts it on par with buffalo.

It tastes a little like buffalo, too, or like a really refined, fat-free cut of beef. I've tried wild emu and found its texture to be akin to plastic clams, but domestic emus are supposedly as tender as any other red meat, especially if you know to cook the cut no further than medium, since it has a tendency to dry out if it gets much hotter.

Chris Thompson, a member of Colorado's Emu Producers Co-op, has been raising these birds--which she chose over ostriches because of their "more docile dispositions"--for six years in Watkins. She claims there are now about 75 emu farms in the state, raising birds and consciousness that beef isn't an option for everyone. "We have to start looking at food that is healthier," Thompson says. "Emu is going to be one of the choices for people who have had heart attacks, who have to lower their fat intake." Emu is high in protein, she adds, and contains no steroids or other harmful medications.

Last year the USDA officially passed emu for public consumption--the meat is processed in USDA plants--and emu ranchers are just waiting for the final word on guidelines before they start sending the stuff to market. Meanwhile, area restaurants are beginning to get hip to emu, so open your mind and give it a try if you see it on the menu. The more popular emu becomes, the more likely its current price of $19.95 a pound--for fillets, rumps or drums--will go down. You can also purchase an emu carcass and render the ten pounds of fat a ninety-pound animal carries: Legends of Aborigines using the fat for its healing and wrinkle-removing properties abound, but the USDA isn't going to touch that one.

One more reason to give Denver the bird: In the emu family, it's the male who sits on the eggs--nonstop, without eating, for the 54 days it takes them to hatch--leaving the female free to go shopping or work outside of the home during gestation. Now, that's love.

Speaking of which, another Hallmark holiday is upon us, and if you still haven't made plans for Valentine's Day, it really must be love. Here are a few suggestions for February 14: The Fourth Story, at the top of the Tattered Cover (2955 East First Avenue), will host a Domaine Chandon dinner for $55 per person, and the Westin Hotel, Tabor Center will offer a $29.95 prix-fixe dinner at the Augusta and dancing to Broadway show tunes in the lobby. If you have no one to tango with, Caldonia's, at 2252 South Parker Road, will give a free tasting of red beer to anyone who shows up that night.

 
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