Dungeons & Dragons Online

Fantastic Beasts and How To Eat Them: The Hydra


The Hydra

Ah, the terrifying multi-headed beast of legend. Cut off one head, and two grow back. Many of us know this monster well, whether from the stories of heroes vanquishing them, the scary tales our parents told us to keep us in line, or from first hand experience standing face to faces with it.

But beasts can be slain, so what do you do after you finish defeating this monster? Well I would hope you don’t just leave the body to rot and decay in some dark damp dungeon, there’s so much good meat on there to use! Many adventurers only focus on the gold that a hydra might hoard, or the reward they get for slaying one, without realizing that the real treasure is the hydra itself. So how do you cook it?

Preparation:

Butchering a Hydra is quite simple actually, when compared to many of the other monsters I have discussed before. Well, simple when it comes to a lack of armored hides or paralyzing poisons. But you still need to spend the time cutting up a 15 foot monster, in addition to the space to haul it all. If space is an issue, then the most important parts to prioritize are the heads and tail. But if you do have a caravan ready, then by all means, bring the entire hydra back. There are so many uses for this beast, both in the kitchen and in other areas.

For butchering, treat this as you would a large water lizard. First remove the necks, then the tail. After that, remove all the guts and discard the intestines and digestive organs. The bile and waste left in these can spoil the rest of the meat if they are not taken out. Many of the organs do provide good eats though. After that, the rest of the body can be skinned, separated into its major cuts, and then deboned. At this point, the hydra is ready for cooking. You may note that I did not mention skinning the necks or the tail, and that is on purpose. Many cooking methods for hydras, wyverns, and dragons all deal with cooking while the hide is on, and then remove it afterwards. I will admit, I believe that this may be more of a “recipe” that has been passed down by the bards and skalds than one that was passed down by chefs. I personally prefer fully skinning my Hydras to ensure good browning on all of the meat, but to many who have heard the tales of heroes roasting the foul beast, they want it cooked with the hide on, and removed after. Food is just as much culture and tradition as it is taste after all.

Also, a quick note on the regenerative properties of the hydra. I have heard some people tell stories of hydra meat regenerating, reforming, and expanding in your stomach until you burst. As long as you fully cook the meat, this should be no issue at all. Fire prevents this regenerative reaction after all. Not that it's really a worry in the first place. Probably.

Culinary Uses:

Now that we have our Hydra in a workable state, what can we do with it? The two largest uses, as alluded to earlier, are roast Hydra heads, and roast Hydra tail. These are almost archetypal dishes, ones that people who have no interest in hydra have probably still heard of. But just because those are the well known ones doesn’t mean the rest of the Hydra is any less delicious!

Some of the organs are quite tasty when grilled over coals. I am a particular fan of the liver, but it can be a bit grainy and metallic based on the diet of the particular hydra you are eating. Many adventurers also find the heart to be both delicious, and a feast worthy of a true warrior. Or at least a good talking point to tell people about afterwards.

But what about the entire rest of the body? Well there is plenty of good eats there too. The ribs are perfect for smoking slow and low and the thighs are particularly fatty and can be roasted until they crisp up in their own fat. Hydra steaks are a great treat, and make for good grilling, though they need to be cooked at a high heat quickly, since they are rather lean and dry out easily. But when cooked by a skilled chef, they are an absolute delight, and go great with intense flavors, like lime and chilies.

Flavor:

But what does that meat taste like? At first assumption, you might guess it is similar to large river lizards, or even alligators. That assumption makes sense, as both are massive reptilians that lurk in marshes and swamps. The primary difference however is the voracious appetite of the hydra. While most river lizards will lie in wait, content to consume the same types of animals that are unlucky enough to wander by, the hydra actively hunts anything it can find, eating an incredibly varied diet, ranging from, plants, to small animals, large animals, small men, large men, carriages that carry men, houses that men live in, and trash that men throw away. Really, anything is fair game, and this makes hydra meat a lot like rolling the dice because there is little consistency in its flavor. In my discussion of the Owlbear, I mentioned how its gaminess can be dependent on the specific beast you hunted and its individual diet, but that pales in comparison. Owlbears will eat anything they have access to in their original area. Hydras will travel far and wide to gorge on everything they can.

Assuming a hydra only consumed fish and small game throughout its life, I do believe that it would taste rather similar to alligator, with its flaky white flesh and slightly aquatic flavor. But good luck finding that hypothetical hydra. Now this isn’t to say that would be the prime of hydra eating, and all other ones are inferior because of their varied diets. But it is important to keep in mind that each hydra is completely different, for better and for worse. Sometimes you get an amazing hydra steak, bursting with flavors you can’t even describe, a serendipitous melody of tastes. Other times, just the smell coming from the kitchen is enough to tell you that those flavors came together in an interesting, or rather, completely off putting way. This meat is truly one for the risk takers out there, so what better dish for adventurers?

Non-Culinary Uses:

Aside from just eating the beast, a Hydra provides many interesting uses. Its teeth make for great weapons, perfect for placing on the end of a spear or pike, or for whittling into razor sharp, yet durable arrowheads. Its hide is thick and durable, perfect for tanning and making into armor, or even for making into heat resistant tarps. I have heard of farmers using these thick mats to cover their crops at night in case of unexpected temperature drops and frost. Speaking of farming uses, the bones can also be ground up into a surprisingly effective desiccant, soaking up any unnecessary moisture. Some farmers will place this bone meal at the bottom of their hay piles to prevent any mold and rot from occurring. And these applications are not even scratching the surface of the occult uses of a Hydra, as it is used for all sorts of potions and incantations. But that is a field I know little about and thus shall not speak too much about it. If any accredited wizards or alchemists would like to offer up their expertise, I would be more than happy to include it in the next edition.


Recipes:

Hydra Heads:

When discussing eating hydra, this is the dish that pops into most peoples’ minds. The image of its many faces all on a plate, laid on a bed of roasted vegetables is a picture painted by bards throughout the land, regaling tavern goers of the feast to be had after the heroes slay the beast.

Now these heads are usually fire roasted, and nothing is wrong with that method. Simply gouge out all the stuff inside, stick them on a spit and rotisserie them until they are cooked through. The flesh will be tender, particularly the cheeks and tongue, and is quite a joy to eat. But let’s also delve into a more peculiar method. For this one, I steal some ideas from my fellow Halflings who are masters of this technique: salt baking.

For salt baking, first, you need to make sure the outside of the meat is very dry. If you have a curing or dry aging room, or even just a cool dry basement, then leave them in there overnight to dry the surface of the meat. This is important for a good texture on the outside of the meat as you will not get direct flames on the meat like you would with roasting. Once it is nice and dry, then take a large pot and fill it halfway with salt. Heat it up and stir the salt around for heat distribution. The salt is acting like sand, providing consistency in heat distribution and a very even cook. When I say large pot, I mean, really large pot. These are Hydra heads, and honestly, you probably don’t have a cauldron large enough. In that case, instead, you can dig out a large pit to fill with salt and coals. The coals can be stirred through the salt, and more can be added as needed through the cooking process.

Whatever your salt scenario, take the heads, wrap them in thin parchment or cheesecloth along with herbs and spices for flavoring, and a bit of cooking wine. Then bury them in the salt, and allow to roast for a few hours, generally 4 to 6 depending on the size of the hydra heads. Remove them from the salt and they should be perfectly cooked through. One big bonus when compared to fire roasting is that you get to enjoy the eyes! In fire roasting they usually dry out completely and sink into their sockets, but with salt baking they cook down into a perfectly jelly-like consistency. Lay them on a bed of roasted vegetables, or a salad of greens and herbs, then pick the head clean and enjoy a feast fit for heroes.

Hydra Neck and Hydra Tail:

The neck and tail of the hydra are treated rather similarly when cooking, as they are both rather tough and muscled. But with a slow fire, all that thick muscle will dissolve into beautiful gelatin given enough time and love. The roasting process is pretty simple, just like other meats you will put them on a spit and have someone keep it spinning for the whole day. However, this isn’t a chicken you’re putting on the spit. These are the longest parts of a 15 foot beast.

You have two options. The first, and recommended method is to separate the neck and tail into equally sized sections. This will take a while and may require a lot of pits to roast over and a lot of people to roast them, but it is well worth it. It's the only real way for people like us to cook a monster of that size. But then again, you and I aren’t Storm Giants. That leads us to option two.

Upon last dining with the Storm Giants, one of their own had just defeated a Hydra that had been encroaching on their territory and attacking their yaks. I was lucky enough to get to see their cooking process, and it was just as impressive as anything else in a Storm Giant’s court. They had dug out these long, 12 foot trenches and filled them with coals. They then placed the entire tail and each neck on long metal rods, before spinning them slowly for hours on end. Since the tail is thicker at one end and gets skinnier further down, they make sure to gradually add less kindling down the trench, allowing for it to completely burn out at the thickest part, much later than the thin end. It was a completely unique dining experience, an absolute spectacle to behold, and a set of truly amazing and well crafted flavors.

But to be completely honest… none of those flavors came from this different method. The flesh was well cooked, but not much better than when I had it separated first then roasted. The intense flavor of the smoke came from the wood used, rather than the fact they did it all at once. Overall, the meat ended up about the same as if you were to separate it first and cook it piece by piece. So don’t feel too bad about your restaurant’s inability to cook like a Storm Giant. Of course, if you’re regularly cooking Hydra enough for this to matter, well, I would appreciate a dinner invitation.

Thank you u/The-0-Endless for requesting this one, it was a lot of fun to write and I hope I did a classic monster justice. If anyone has other requests, just let me know! As always I hope you enjoyed this writeup. You can check out eatingthedungeon.com for more writeups and weekly uploads. If you'd like to download these for your own table, this post is up on Homebrewery!

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