It's not often I get to eat something I've never tasted before. I remember my first encounter with mole sauce, the first time I tossed back an oyster and my introduction to the lightly cured, air-dried Spanish ham, jamon serrano. I love exploring new tastes!
But such delicious experiences are becoming increasingly rare. My daily food is familiar food - all good, all nourishing, but all too familiar.
I was definitely ready for the unexpected when my eye fell on an unusual offering at our local market: yak sliders. Yak? What does yak taste like? And what's a slider, for heaven's sake?
"What's a slider?" I asked the market cashier.
"You've got to get out more, Pam," came a voice from the lineup behind me.
Well, duh. That's obvious. "Sliders are a clever new way to serve you less and charge you more," said a fellow shopper helpfully.
"Oh." This didn't sound promising.
"And where does yak come from?" I persisted.
No, I was told. Apparently this yak was a comparative local: raised near Merritt.
That pleased me and I took my six-pack of frozen yak sliders home. They looked like little hamburgers, sort of like hockey pucks designed for toddlers.
My recipe search revealed that I didn't have the wherewithal to assemble an authentic, fully realized slider. I needed buns, miniature buns to accommodate my miniature burgers. We were clean out of teensy-weensy buns, so we just cooked up the yak pucks in a frying pan and ate them.
They were really, really good! They didn't taste exactly like beef, nor did they taste at all like game. This was a welcome novelty: a taste I'd not encountered before! We were careful not to cook them very long (another piece of advice I'd gleaned from the slider experts in the market lineup). As a result, we had something akin to yak sashimi: very pink, but wonderfully delicate and juicy.
Yak's appealing juicy texture is not, apparently, due to its high fat content. Yak meat has more protein yet fewer calories, as well as less saturated fat and cholesterol, than beef. But it is very high in Omega-3 fatty oils, which deliver the juiciness that makes it so tasty. I've decided that yak is a thoroughly delightful way to access those valuable Omega 3s that nutritionists get so excited about.
I'm also quite taken by the animal itself. Yaks look like such sweet, huggable creatures. Like rumpled cows on steroids, with a thick, shaggy, bed-head coat and impressive handlebar horns. The yak is known as "the grunting ox." Instead of a cow-like lowing, a yak delivers a rumbling grunt when it's agitated or hungry.
A yak is amazingly strong and agile. It can carry heavy loads and climb high mountains. Its undercoat provides a lovely, soft cashmere-like wool.
And another thing: Yaks offer an efficient alternative to traditional fuel. Just collect its dried dung and burn it. That's how they stay warm in Tibet.
If you're still with me after the dung digression, I'd like to share what little I've learned about sliders. They are not necessarily miniature hamburgers.
They can be made with meat, of course, but you can also build a slider with seafood (crab cakes for instance). A slider can be fashioned from just about anything, as long as it's in miniature - and if it's tucked inside an equally minuscule bun. Just think tapas. Or a tasting menu.
Make it bite-size, put it in a bun, and you can call it a slider. That's my take anyway.
But do try yak. Preferably our own organically fed, pampered yak from Merritt. If you can find it.
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