Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Beaver Tail

Beaver tail has been one of the most fun and most perplexing of the wild meats I have tried. Before cooking it, I had the impression that it had a central bone, surrounded by some substantial meat and then a fairly thick layer of fat.
Inside of a beaver tail from the cut-end.
Those perceptions were changed, as I'll share below. 
Cooks.com has a recipe that I primarily relied on: "Place the beaver tail in hot coals (a propane flame also works nicely) until the black scaly outer skin puffs and blisters. [Another site gave a time of about 10 minutes for this to happen.] Be sure you wear heavy gloves. Do this to the entire tail. As soon as the tail is cool enough to handle, peel off the outer layer of skin. Wash the tail and place in large kettle of cold water. Add salt, peppercorns, tablespoon of pickling spice and clove of garlic if desired. Cook for about an hour and slice when tender. This is a real conversation piece when served chilled on crackers." After the fact, I find that this is very similar to (and perhaps inspired by) the recipe given by a researcher of foods eaten by Lewis & Clark. For beaver tail, the expedition cook would cook the tail with direct heat over an open fire until it started to separate from the skin. He would let the tail cool and then peel off skin. He would then roast the tail or simmer it in water until it was tender and then he would salt it to the desired taste. 

Another description I found helpful: "Place the beaver tail on the barbecue until the scaly skin blisters. Let it cool in the freezer compartment. Remove the cold blistered skin and discard. As it toasts, the hide puffs away from the meat like a slowly expanding balloon  After a few minutes you can strip it away and trim the edge, leaving you with a nice filet of greasy pink/white meat for your recipe."

I put my four flame, gas-heated, out-door barbecue on full throttle and placed the beaver tail on the grill closest to the heat.
I watched the color of the flesh on the cut-end change color and then gradually the tail began to curl, much like that of a scorpion. 
I used tongs to invert the tail and reverse the curl. It did start to puff-up and I decided to leave it on a little longer [about 20 minutes] 
to see if perhaps the heat from the grill might adequately cook the inner meat so that I could scrape off the fat and eat the meat directly off the bone, kind of like a meaty corn on the cob. The outer shell did strip away, but my conception of what was inside was shattered. 
Inside the outer layer of the beaver tail.
It looked like one big blob of fat, without any visible meat. Where was all of the "greasy pink/white meat" I had been savoring?
When I turned the tail over, large veins ran through the fat. It did not look appetizing at all. 
I took a tiny taste of the fattish substance and was not impressed. I am not squeamish about fat. In fact, I like it too much. I love buffalo bone marrow. But this isn't ordinary fat. It is not as greasy as normal fat and it does not have the same rich flavor. So, my conception of eating it like corn on the cob destroyed,  I went to the second part of the recipe, which was to get a pot of boiling water, add some spices, and boil it for about an hour. I did that, but the tail still had no real discernible change in texture or taste. 
Beaver tail after boiling.
Veining in the boiled beaver tail.
Judy described it as fatty cobwebs. My first thought was fatty tapioca pudding. Fat with kind of an airy, artificial aspect to it. 
Chilled beaver tail on a cracker.
There apparently has been some controversy over whether the mountain men of the old west really ate beaver tail and considered it a delicacy? Many modern-day wanna be mountain men believe that the stories of eating beaver tail were a joke that mountain men perpetrated on their greenhorn companions (like the snipe hunt that I was subjected to as a new Boy Scout at scout camp). This interpretation of 19th century life through the prism of 21st century conceptions (and I might add 21st century tastes) posits that beaver tail "consists only of fatty gristle," has "poor flavor" and "should be considered inedible." However, at least one man's review of the mountain man literature led him to conclude that beaver tail truly was something enjoyed by the mountain men. Some time before 1840, Rufus Sage said that the beaver tail "is highly esteemed by trappers and assimilates a fish in taste, though it is far superior to any of the finny tribe." [If it tastes like fish, it would have to be halibut or some other mild, tasteless form of fish.] During the same time frame, a person named Wislenzus said that beaver tails, "which are fat all through, are especially regarded as delicacies." George Caitlin, describing the customs of the Indians in the Yellowstone area before 1832 said "this is truly the land of Epicures; we are invited by the savages to feasts of dog's meat, as the most honorable food that can be presented to a stranger, and glutted with the more delicious food of beaver tails, and buffaloe tongues."

Now I turn to some modern descriptions of eating beaver tail: (a) "Alaska natives eat them, which to me, from experience tastes like a large chunk of good tasting lard/tire mix, due to the fact that you are eating mostly fat. [B]ut the food value for one tail is about the same as a Big Mac..."; (b) "A reason for [trappers] eating beaver tail and calling it a delicacy was due to the want of fat. With their diet of lean meat...fats are a great treat...Marrow bones are real good[,] darn near like butter[,] the same goes for the kidney fat from a buffalo."; (c) "the tail hung about twelve inches from the flame. I let it hang there for almost an hour, and reached over now and then to rotate the tail...First, the scaly skin got kind of bubbly. Next, the skin started to get crispy and thin, almost like the skin of a baked potato. Finally, the skin started to pull away to reveal the shiniest and nicest block of fat that you've ever laid eyes on. It resembled what you might find on the edge of a fat beefsteak. I sliced away a shaving, as thin as a slice of prosciutto. The fat melted in my mouth like butter, leaving a gristly bit of leftover that felt like a combination of beef jerky and Styrofoam. It was wonderful. I had another slice. And another."; and (d) "whitish flaps of pungent steamed fat and gristle"
Beaver tail fat scraped away from the bone.
All of that done and said, I'm not sure where I stand on beaver tail. It was very fun to cook and to experiment with. As far as eating it seriously and getting some real food enjoyment out of it, I think that putting it in a large batch of bbq beans or cooking it to the consistency of pork rind would be the way to go. I have to give my thanks to Anshu Pathak of Exotic Meat Market (877-398-0141) for sending me the beaver tail free as part of a shipment of meats. 

Monday, February 18, 2013

Roasted Coyote Leg

For many years I have enjoyed trying unusual meats and dishes. I have learned that what at first is unusual and exotic may later turn into standard fare and that most of what we think about food is cultural. My first experience eating sushi came while I was with one of my partners in Santa Monica and we visited a sushi buffet. I had several firsts that day. I ate a cooked snail in the shell (thinking of the silvery trail of the snails on my sidewalk), a whole small octopus (wondering if I would eat the beak) and several kinds of raw fish. It was difficult for me mentally, to the point that I had an upset stomach by the end of the meal and I was exhausted. The mental part of eating all of those weird and unusual foods was tough. I similarly experienced angst when confronted with soft-shell crab. However, those are all foods that I now love and can eat without a second thought. Those foods have not changed, but my mental thoughts and cultural experiences have. 

We have just been watching a scandal unfold in Europe as horrified Europeans have discovered they've been eating  horse meat! What a travesty! But what is wrong with horse meat? It is perfectly good meat. In fact, I wish it was available locally (it is illegal to eat horse in California). I would buy it over beef, chicken or pork. One of the best meals I've ever eaten was in Tokyo where a multi-course meal we ate had horse in every course. I have a fond memory of visiting Scotland and Edinburgh Castle. We stopped for lunch at a pub just down the street from the castle and I noticed haggis on the menu. As we travel I make an effort to try local cuisine and Scotland is famous for haggis, which is sheep heart, liver and lungs mixed with onion, oatmeal and suet and encased in a sheep stomach. I was prepared to eat a bite and leave the rest, but I found that I loved it. I ate the whole thing and ended up buying some canned haggis to take home with us. We had a wonderful meal of roasted guinea pig in Peru, but I find that our local Peruvian restaurant cannot legally serve guinea pig in California. It becomes really unfortunate when our local laws enforce our cultural mores on all of citizens through legislation. Some of the real spice of life is lost. 

That brings me to today's post, which is eating coyote meat. 
A coyote photographed in Redlands.
I have a friend that was a trapper and still hunts and likes to eat wild game. I told him that if he shot a coyote I would like him to save the meat for me. He responded by saying he would never eat coyote. In fact, he won't eat the meat of any animal that only eats meat. I've since seen that same objection coming from others as I've researched recipes for bobcat and coyote. One article I found on the reasons that people don't eat the meat of carnivorous animals speculated a number of early original causes: first, that carnivorous mammals were solitary and more difficult to find, and second, that carnivorous animals were more dangerous (both to hunt and raise together) and difficult to feed. Then I was surprised when Judy told me that she put her foot down on coyote. That was one meat she was not going to try. 

As with bobcat, my post yesterday, I found some fun recipes for coyote. My favorite was for "sun baked coyote: (I got this one from an old-time mountain man). Shoot a coyote. Let it sit in the sun for ten days. Come back, and you'll find nothing but bones and hide as others have gobbled up the meat. Then thank your lucky stars that YOU didn't have to eat it." I saw some comments that said the taste of coyote was similar to lamb and some that said the taste was similar to venison. I enjoyed this comment: "I got a coyote this past weekend and cooked some up for 3 separate friend[s]. They all hunt and eat venison regularly. I cooked it as they usually have their venison[, with] butter and garlic. Not a single one of them could tell that what they were eating wasn't venison. Even the raw meat! They were all friends that had told me at one point they were willing to try [coyote] but like most had been told [coyote] tastes like tires or garbage[,] or some great book told them not to eat [coyote]. It took one bite to change all their opinions.  It is unfortunate what I see spread all around from people who obviously have no experience with it."

I got a coyote leg from Exotic Meat Market (877-398-0141). When I ordered it, I spoke with Anshu Pathak, the proprietor. I wanted coyote stew meat and a bobcat hind leg. However, Anshu told me that the bobcat hind leg was probably not going to be available, just the bobcat stew meat. So I was thrilled that he sent me the coyote leg, something not offered on the website. 
coyote leg

coyote leg
I was surprised at how big and meaty it was. For cooking, I decided to do a variation of a recipe that I've used for quail, chuckar and beaver leg. Because the coyote is so lean, I wrapped it completely in bacon, 
then coated it in flour and fried it in oil until it was lightly browned. 
I put it in a roasting pan with a chopped onion, two large chopped red peppers, a bunch of red potatoes (pre-softened by ten minutes in the microwave), two cans of golden mushroom soup, and one can of water. 
I put it in the oven covered at 350 degrees for an hour, then took off the cover and cooked it an additional 10 minutes. It was not cooked sufficiently, so I put it back in the oven, covered, for about 30 more minutes. 
The coyote meat was quite stiff - I would probably cook it in a crockpot (to soften it up) given another opportunity. 
cooked coyote leg
cooked coyote leg
But the taste was amazingly good. 
Judy relented on her pledge not to eat coyote and she surprisingly announced that it was her favorite meat out of those we tried (the others we had were bobcat - my favorite, otter, and beaver tail). Andrew and Lauren also said it was their favorite of the meats we tried. The consensus was that it tasted much like venison, with the same gamey taste. It was much stronger than the mild bobcat. I called my trapper friend (who had said previously he wouldn't eat it) and asked if he wanted to try it. He said he did, so I dropped some by his home, but have not yet heard his verdict. It was for me another perception changer. I wonder how much perfectly good coyote meat goes uneaten because of the perception that it is inedible? Another good lesson that most of what we perceive about food is based on local custom. 

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Fried Bobcat Stew Meat

I was excited recently to find that Exotic Meat Markets (877-398-0141), an on-line meat distributor, had bobcat stew meat available. They get their bobcat meat from bobcats that have been trapped for their fur. 
I did some internet research to try and find a good bobcat recipe. Most of the bobcat recipes are on trapping sites and I found some very fun ones that perpetuate the general stereotype that any meat from an unusual source must be horrible. For example, "Marinate it overnight in Golden Italian dressing, the next night take it out of the fridge and throw it in the trash...go to Wendys, order yourself a big ole burger and a cup of chili....." This next one is a little more elaborate, but along the same line: "This works best with the tenderloins or a steak cut. 1. Cut Bobcat into 1/2 strips and marinate in a mixture: 1/2 cup orange juice, 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar, 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar, 1 table spoon salt, 2 table spoons ketchup, a good dash of A1. Wrap bobcat strips in bacon. Let sit over night in fridge or at least 6 hours. Set up the grill for indirect heating. Get a cedar plank and arrange bacon wrapped bobcat evenly across the plank. Cook until medium rare. Remove bobcat from plank and discard. Salt and pepper to taste and Eat Cedar Plank."

I did find some helpful information. I learned that bobcat is very mild and will take the taste of whatever it is cooked with. Also, as one would guess, that it is very lean. The recipe I used came from Dacotah Rose (love that name) who writes about "living the wild country life atop the Rocky Mountains of Colorado." She noted that all the men she'd asked about cooking bobcat meat said it was "awful," but when she'd asked them how they'd cooked it "it was always on the barbecue." In her words: "Cut into bite sized pieces. Place in a smooth surfaced skillet with butter, salt, pepper and garlic to taste. Cook gently, turning often until done. It was not stringy, strong tasting or smelling and it was really a very nice mild meat." 

As I like to get the true taste of wild meat, particularly when trying it for the first time, this simple recipe was my guide. I cut the stew meat pieces into smaller pieces. 
I put canola oil in to a fry pan, along with the bobcat, some salt and some pepper. 
I did not want to over-cook it, so I pulled it off with hints of pink still in the meat. And Dacotah Rose was exactly right. It was very mild, very nice textured and the salt and pepper gave it just enough spice to make it enjoyable. 
We had Andrew and Lauren over for dinner and Andrew wanted to cook it longer because of the fact it was wild caught. So I took out my portion of the meat and let him cook the rest of it further. The further cooking made the meat stiffer and texturally less appealing. 

I loved the bobcat and would eat it anytime or anywhere, cooked just the same way again. For anyone venturing into wild meat, this is a good starter meat as it does not have the gaminess of venison or antelope. 

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Eastern Fox Squirrel

The eastern fox squirrel 
is found in the eastern and central U.S. (other than New England, most of New Jersey, western New York and northern and eastern Pennsylvania), west to the Dakotas, Colorado and Texas, in the southern prairie provinces of Canada, and they have been introduced to California. 
In the northeast, they are generally gray above with yellowish undersides. In the western part of their range, they are gray above and rust colored on the undersides. 
In the southern part of their range, they are black with a white stripe on their faces and a white top on their tails. I have seen them twice. The first time near downtown Denver 
and the second time on the campus of the University of California in Berkeley. 

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Eastern Gray Squirrel

The eastern gray squirrel is found in southeastern Canada, the eastern United States, down to Florida and as far west as eastern Texas and it has been introduced to the western United States, western Canada and overseas to England, Ireland and South Africa. It mostly has gray fur, but it can be mixed with brown, has white undersides and a large bushy tail. 
I have previously blogged on the western gray squirrel, one of our local Southern California squirrels, but which has a significantly smaller range. In fact, out west, the eastern gray squirrel which is much more aggressive than the western gray squirrel, is threatening the western gray squirrel. The western gray squirrel is larger than the eastern gray squirrel (18 to 24 inches long, compared to 16 to 22 inches) and has salt and pepper to steel gray coloring, except for the underside which is white. The tail is long and bushy, white-edged, and the western has prominent ears and large feet. The western is shy and spends more time in trees. When disturbed it will give a hoarse chirping calll. The eastern gray squirrel has more of a pale gray coat with reddish-brown on the face, back and tail. 
Its tail is narrower and its ears are shorter than the western gray squirrel. 
It is also much more aggressive.  I saw this eastern gray squirrel in a park in St. Augustine, Florida.
In October 2013 we visited the capital in Charleston, West Virginia and saw the eastern gray squirrel, below, on the grounds. 

In January 2014 we visited Mobile, Alabama and a park that had more squirrels than I have ever seen, literally hundreds. Here are a few pictures of these eastern gray squirrels.
Eastern gray squirrel walking down the trunk of a tree in Mobile, Alabama.

In April 2016 we visited New York City and took a walk through the length of Central Park. Eastern gray squirrels were everywhere. Below are a few pictures.

This one has a brownish patch on his back above his rear end as well as a brownish patch in the center of his tail.

In a tree, near the North Woods, apparently eating nuts. 

Monday, February 11, 2013

Snowy Egret

While in Everglades National Park I only got one picture of a snowy egret, but it is such a beautiful bird I have to show it, even though it is not a great photo. 
They are much smaller than the great white egret and have a slim black bill, with an area of the upper bill, in front of the eyes, that is yellow (or red during the breeding season). They have black legs and yellow feet, although the legs on this one, as well as others I've seen in pictures, appear to have some yellow as well. The plumes on this egret are beautiful. When puffed out, the plumes on the head, neck and back really stand out, even more so in breeding season. 

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Great White Egret

The great white egret, 
Great White Egret or Great Egret
also known as the great egret, the large egret and the common egret is very common in the southern United States and the rain forests of South America. It has all-white plumage and is distinguished from other white egrets by its yellow bill, 
black legs and black feet. In breeding season it gets delicate ornamental feathers on its back. 

Close-up of the ornamental feathers.
The apparent difference between the great white egret and the great white heron, which is a morph of the great blue heron, is that the egret has all black legs and a thin yellow bill subtly down curved, while the heron has a very heavy bill and buffy-gray legs. 
Great White Egret with Alligator passing it by.
As I have been looking at descriptions of different birds in the Everglades, I have read descriptions like (for the great white egret) "it is a large heron with all-white plumage" and it begs the question, is an egret the same thing as a heron, and if so, why the distinction? The family Ardeidae includes birds called herons, egrets and bitterns. The herons are in the genera "Ardea" and the egrets are in the genera "Egretta," but they are not biologically distinct and there is no consensus about the placement of many species within one or the other of the genera. The distinction depends more on appearance. Egrets are named egrets because they are mainly white and/or have decorative plumes, and they tend to be smaller. However, the great blue heron and tricolored heron have decorative plumes and the great white egret is only slightly smaller than the great blue heron. I have found other differences indicated, including: Herons have a clean flight and egrets do not; Egrets shake their legs while flying and herons do not; Egrets often stand in shallow water and herons tend to perch on higher places much more often; and Herons are more diverse in coloring.