Brian M. Raftery and Tricia Johnson
June 16, 2000 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Sure, there’s Rudy the bossy ex-Navy SEAL and Susan the truck driver. But the real breakout characters on the insta-phenom Survivor? The rats. The CBS reality show — which debuted May 31 to strong ratings — has viewers squealing about the island’s omnipresent rodents, and the promise that the Survivors will soon be snacking on rat kebabs. ”The original intention was to have them live off fish, but they found fishing quite hard,” explains exec producer Mark Burnett, noting that the castaways came up with the idea of eating the rats themselves.

The good news: The critters won’t kill you. Unlike big-city sewer-dwellers that can carry disease, Burnett says, ”These rats are living in a largely pristine jungle environment.” Even better, ”It’s a very lean food,” says dietician Lisa Sasson of NYU, who compares the nutritional value of rats to their squirrelly cousins. Crunching the numbers: Your average roasted rodent would contain about 294 calories, 52 grams of protein, very little sodium, and just 8 grams of fat. (By comparison, a Big Mac has 32 fat grams.) With those numbers, it’s only a matter of time before this becomes a Hollywood staple. We asked chef Dan Barber of Manhattan’s trendy Blue Hill restaurant to advise the castaways on rat cuisine. Here, his surefire recipe — just in time for your July 4 cookout.

BACK LEGS Very tough meat that needs braising. Remove, clean, and salt overnight. Wash away salt the next day and braise in olive oil on open island fire for 2-3 hours. Let rest in oil.

FRONT LEGS (SHOULDERS) Not a lot of meat here, so make a sauce with the forelegs, as well as the rest of the bones.

SAUCE Gently brown bones and add aromatics — vegetables, herbs, whatever’s around. Add water and, if possible, white wine to cover. Simmer for 5 hours. Strain and keep warm.

RACKS AND LOIN Season and grill on another open fire. Brown well for better flavor and cook to medium rare. As these rats are probably quite lean, overcooking would dry them out.

TO PLATE Slice racks and loins, remove legs from oil. Reduce sauce until it coats the back of a spoon and nap onto meat. Serve immediately with a dry Pinot Gris (which, like the rats’ diet, has grass and herbal characteristics). And enjoy!

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