So the past few weeks we've been discussing some monsters with obvious culinary merit, but today, let's start getting weird. Let's talk about the ground trembling, acidic, nightmare bug that pops out of the earth and steals you away. Yes, you can eat it.
The Ankheg is a large insectoid creature, clad in armor-like chitin, and filled with acidic fluids. It spends most of its time burrowing underground, it uses its long antennae to sense movements in the earth around it. It surfaces only to surprise its prey and grab them with its long hook-like claws, before stealing them away to devour. If you feel the rumbling under the ground, it’s probably already too late.
To most individuals, this sounds like a beast straight out of nightmares, completely unfit for consumption. It might boggle the mind to even imagine eating this thing. But those with prior culinary knowledge know that the best treasures may come from unlikely places. You may find this description almost similar to a monster well known for its various uses: the Cave Fisher. However, while Cave Fishers are an abundance of blessings to any kitchen, with each part able to be easily prepared, Ankhegs require a bit more work to fully utilize. While this monster doesn’t have the same abounding culinary appeal as a Cave Fisher, the sheer abundance of Ankhegs has led to a necessity for finding ways to make this monster palatable. Let’s take a look at what exactly the Ankheg has to offer, and then how cooks have used these creatures in different ways.
First off, let’s go through the process of cleaning and dressing Ankheg meat. After slaying the beast, it is imperative that all of the acidic fluid is fully drained from the body. If not, the little viable meat will be ruined, the texture will fall apart, and most cooking methods will reduce it to sludge. I have heard of some Goblins allowing the meat to dissolve in the acid after death, then cracking open the chitin and slurping down the result. I can’t say I would like to try it myself, however.
Assuming you don’t want Ankheg slurry, the chitin is first removed, which is done anyways as Ankheg chitin is a great crafting material for lightweight yet durable armor, weapons, and equipment. After the flesh is exposed, next make a large incision in the abdomen where the stomach is, to allow all of the digestive fluids to leak out. Once the corpse is drained, the flesh can be separated into different sections. It is worth noting that only the chitin in the abdomen is required to be removed for easier access to remove the digestive tract. There are certain cooking methods that roast other parts of the Ankheg with the shell still intact. Roast Ankheg legs are commonly found at Halfling spring festivals when the farmers are ready to start cultivating their lands and cull the large number of Ankhegs that had popped up over winter.
So now that you’ve removed the tough exterior and have access to the tender meat, what do you do with it? Searing and roasting are by far the most common. The flavor itself is rather bland and almost acidic when consumed on its own, with a lingering flavor that is tinged by the poison the monster excretes. This is an inevitability even with prompt draining of the fluids, doing it quicker will just alleviate the intensity of this flavor. Due to this, the meat is commonly utilized in ways that mask the flavor, such as employing heavy marinades, or thick glazes and sauces. Ankheg meat is a good vehicle for other flavors to shine through, and while the underlying flavors are a bit dank on their own, the tartness can be a good balance to otherwise cloyingly sweet or rich and fatty flavors.
Another way that the meat is commonly used is in forcemeat for the creation of sausages. Ankheg meat holds up well to the sausage making process, especially when combined with bold and punchy spices, such as garlic, ground chili peppers, and some of the earthier spices from either the desert steppes or the Orcish lands, such as paprika and cuminum. In my opinion, this is where the natural acidity of the meat truly shines through, and is one of the few applications where the chef is able to showcase the meat’s natural tendencies, instead of working around them. I have recently heard of some experimental new chefs in the capital utilizing Ankheg forcemeats for uncured dishes, such as terrines, however that may be too adventurous for even my tastes.
Example Recipe – Coal Buried Leg of Ankheg
After slaying the beast, remove the chitin covering the abdomen. Take a sharp blade and make a long incision to drain the green fluid. You may need to string it up for a few hours to properly let all the fluid out. Once it has been drained, you can cut the limbs at the joints, removing them one by one. These limbs will be used for the coal burying. The fleshiest parts are the arm joints just before the hooked claws, and the thighs, so make sure to stake claim on them early.
Once the limbs are separated, start your fire. You want this fire to burn low and slow, you really only need the flame for as long as it takes to start all the coals. Once the fire dies down and has reduced to hot embers, place the limbs of the Ankheg under all the hot coals. This process will steam them from the inside of that hard exterior. I have also seen this done with sand, by placing sand into large copper pots and heating those through, then burning the limbs in the sand. The sand method gives a more even cook, but coals are obviously a bit more convenient.
Regardless of the method you choose, the meat is done once the chitin has started to crack from the heat. Once you see those splintering separations, you can remove it. Give it a nice hard hit with a hammer or other blunt instrument, and it will split right open, revealing the steaming hot meat inside. The meat on its own is a bit of an acquired taste (that halflings seem to have acquired) so I highly recommend slathering on some butter and sprinkling on some salt, paprika, and cumin. Dig in!
Example Recipe – Ankheg Sausages
After the meat is cleaned and separated, grind up the meat. This can be done with a gnomish meat grinder or just with a fine mince from a sharp knife. Add the meat and your seasonings of choice to a large bowl, and knead them together, getting them entirely incorporated. As aforementioned, Orcish spices are a great flavor palette to use, but I have also seen these sausages made with sweet herbs, such as rosemary and thyme, or even Faewild bittervine. These sausages can make a good canvas for a variety of flavors, so take your pick, just make sure to be generous with the seasonings.
Next, take your sausage casings and start filling them with the meat mixture. It is important to do this carefully and evenly, you do not want large air bubbles in the casing as this will hinder the curing process and lead to popping when they are cooked. After the sausage casings are filled, they are then left to dry and cure in a cool dry place for a few weeks. Barns are a good place to do so, or in your cellar if you have one. Once they have slightly darkened in color and are solid all the way through, they are ready. From this point, they will last up to a few months and can be used the same as any sausage, whether fried up, roasted, or stewed.
Hope you enjoyed this writeup. As always, check out eatingthedungeon.com for more writeups and weekly uploads. If you'd like to download these for your own table, I have started formatting these and putting them up for download on Dungeon Master's Guild. Always for free of course. In the next week all my previous posts should also be formatted and available there.
Let me know any other monsters you'd like me to cover or whether you'd be enticed to try some Ankheg at a Halfling festival.
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More about Dungeons & Dragons OnlinePost: "Fantastic Beasts and How to Eat Them: The Ankheg" specifically for the game Dungeons & Dragons Online. Other useful information about this game:
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