Sunday, January 25, 2009


During a “Jeopardy!”-style trivia session at this weekend’s Leadership Development Institute in the Baltimore ’burbs - which, incidentally, is where I was since returning from Sweat City late Thursday night - the question was asked, “Is a giraffe kosher?”

My answer got a huge laugh. “Yes - but it’s a bitch to shecht.”

True, dat. The old joke has it that the reason Jews don’t eat giraffe is that, while it is a kosher animal - a ruminant with split hooves - it’s too difficult to find the right place on the neck to cut the carotid artery with a razor-sharp knife for a proper shechitah (ritual slaughter).

I also suspect that the fact that giraffes are thin on the ground where most Jews live may have something to do with it.

But this neck business is really a misconception. The anatomical boundaries for a proper ritual slaughter are very clearly defined. As it has been said, “anyone who does not know where to shecht a giraffe either knows nothing about the laws of shechitah or could not hit the side of a barn with a baseball.” However, giraffes are notoriously testy, and it’s hard to imagine one standing patiently still while a guy waving a sharp knife climbs a tall ladder alongside him.

And yet, one can hope. For I, I who have eaten of Leviathan, can yet dream of enjoying giraffe... and at least giraffe is, or can be, kosher.

How to enjoy giraffe? I am sure a giraffe steak would be tremendous. Think of the huge trencher you’d need to hold a bone-in ribeye. But a steak, after all, is a steak, and there is nothing exceptional about a giraffe steak. What we want to do is take advantage of the giraffe’s unique anatomy.

There’s a classic Ashkenazic Jewish dish that comes to mind. I speak of helzel, AKA falsch kishke (fake kishke), a preparation that involves stuffing the neck of a suitable bird. Typically, chicken necks were used in the desperately poor shtetls of Eastern Europe; the lucky housewife who could lay her hands on a duck or goose neck was in High Cotton.

But this is the twenty-first century, and fine ingredients are within our grasp. So let’s update the old shtetl classic. Presenting...

Elisson’s Giraffe-Neck Helzel

This will make enough for about 800 servings. You will need:

One giraffe neck, skinned and cleaned (approximately 200 lbs.)
400 cups all-purpose flour (you may substitute matzoh meal for part of all of the flour)
50 tsp. salt
200 yellow onions, chopped
100 cups schmaltz
200 cloves garlic, chopped (optional)

Preheat an industrial kiln to 325°F. The kiln must be large enough to accommodate the giraffe neck.

Sauté 100 of the onions in the schmaltz until golden brown. Add the garlic (if using) and sauté another minute or two to release the aroma. Combine with the remaining onions, flour (or matzoh meal), and salt in a large Hobart mixer.

Sew up the small end of the giraffe neck, using Manila rope and a railroad spike. Stuff with the flour-onion mixture. Do not stuff more than 3/4 full, or the neck may explode during cooking. Sew up the large end of the neck.

Immerse the neck in a large tank of boiling salted water and simmer for about 30 minutes. Remove, pat dry (several clean bath towels are useful for this purpose), and then place in a well-greased (and very large) roasting pan. Roast at 325°F for 12 hours, or until a thermometer inserted in the center of the neck (avoid touching bone) reads 175°.

Allow to rest for fifteen minutes before carving to allow the juices to redistribute. Then simply slice between the vertebrae and serve with a pan gravy made from the giraffe jus. It’s a dish even Keesie would love!


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Gotta. Love a Kosher Giraffe. Georgia