Got a game hunter in the family and not sure how to cook the meat he or she brings home? Leave it to Kate Krukowski Gooding to teach you the many ways of eating beaver. In fact, she authored the book, 50 Ways to Eat a Beaver. In this episode, she’ll teach us how to acquire game meats, how to handle them before cooking, and which other meats make a good substitute. Plus, we’ll discuss her other books on cooking wild meat and her appearance on Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern.
Kate is a self-trained chef and has worked in every capacity of the restaurant business,. Kate holds three degrees and has started five companies that include an Import/Export Business, Cellular Phones, International Championship of A cappella, a non-profit teaching Maine youth how to start and run business as well as her cookbook publishing company.
[This post contains affiliate links through which I may receive a small commission.]
In addition to Black Fly Stew: Wild Maine Recipes, Simple Gourmet Lamb with Side Dishes and Wine Pairings, 50 Ways to Eat a Beaver and Free-Range Fish & Lobster, Kate writes specialty cookbooks for private companies. You can find Kate at Black Fly Stew and Facebook.
Adrienne Hew: Aloha everybody, this is Adrienne, the Nutrition Heretic, coming from the Big Island of Hawai’i. Today we’re going to talk about wild meat. Years ago, my husband had this friend who used to like to go out hunting and he was really trying to connect with his roots, so he went out and he caught a squirrel. We were playing poker one night and he’s got this squirrel just cooking away on the stove. I asked for a piece and it was tough, stringy, dry and absolutely flavorless because he boiled the heck out of it. No salt, no seasoning, nothing, it was just a hunk of tough, boiled meat. I said this has got to be a learning curve for this kind of meat because we don’t have this anymore, you can’t just go to the store and buy squirrel. There’s no cookbooks about it; we do know that the founding fathers ate some of these wild meats like squirrel, and cock by the way. A few years ago my good marketing friend, Ed, went to a book signing in Maine and he met today’s guest heretic, Kate Krukowski Gooding; she is the author of 50 Ways To Eat A Beaver, and I’d like to say that we are kindred spirits in our sense of humor, at least. Kate, welcome to the show.
Kate Gooding: Thank you, Adrienne. I like your squirrel story, what an introduction.
AH: Yeah, it scared me away from ever trying wild game meats, not that I haven’t had kangaroo. I had the opportunity to eat certain things and they were done really well; different kinds of elk and moose and so on.
How closely related are the squirrel and beaver when it comes to meat quality?
KG: Not anywhere near, no relation. A squirrel, typically, if it’s cooked, you shouldn’t boil it, it should be braised and it ends up tasting like dark chicken.
KG: It’s delicious, it’s just like dark chicken meat; however, that’s part of the reason I started writing cook books because I got tired of people saying they’d never had a good game meal. It really is on how you prepare the meat as well as how it’s taken care of from when you get it in the woods to the table.
AH: Is there a period of aging or anything like that, that people want to observe? Or is it just a fresh meat?
KG: For beaver and squirrel, the fresher the better. There are some meats that it’s important for it to hang, a lot of red meats. However, that said, for beaver, I usually get it, my brother catches it, traps it, puts it right away in the freezer, unless you’re going to eat it right away. Squirrel, same thing; but moose and elk and caribou and deer, there needs to be a little bit of hanging for the blood to settle out.
AH: Right, I know with chickens we usually want to wait twenty-four hours.
KG: After they’ve been bled.
AH: There’s nothing like that for beaver or squirrel. Wow, that’s awesome.
KG: The beaver is a red meat whereas a squirrel is a dark white meat.
AH: Okay, so when you first had beaver, tell us a little bit about that story, what was your introduction? It’s in the book.
KG: It’s actually really funny because I had gone trapping with my old boyfriend, Dwayne, from up home in Jackman and unbeknownst to me he said to his mom, why don’t you make some beaver for dinner and when we come back, we’ll have it.
AH: Isn’t that suggestive? Mom, make some beaver for my new girlfriend.
KG: No, that’s why my husband, he’s the one who picked out the name of the book, the old devil entendre.
AH: It does work, I have to say.
KG: Yes, it does, as yours does. So we came back from trapping and she had made this wonderful barbecued beaver over egg noodles and it was so delicious that I said, I have to taste this meat by itself. I actually haven’t gone back. Beaver and bear are probably my two favourite red meats.
AH: Really, wow.
KG: It’s such a sweet red meat, and part of it is the bear and the beaver, most of the fat is between the pelt and the muscle so it’s very, very lean. It’s delicious, I love it. When I first met my husband and we were living together and then we got married, it was three years after we got married that I told him I’d had beaver back straps. I wasn’t getting a lot of beaver at the time so I wasn’t sharing them. So he’s like, where did you get these? I said, I’ve been getting them. Beaver back straps are amazing, also; I love all of the parts of the beaver except the tail, I’m not a tail fan.
AH: What’s different about the tail?
KG: If you like pork rinds and you like the fat in beans, then you will love it. I did make a recipe for it in my cookbook.
AH: I saw that reference but it didn’t dawn on me that that’s what you meant.
KG: I’m not a fan of it.
AH: I just made pork rinds last night, so it might just be up my alley.
KG: Okay, then you might like it. If I’m going to cook the whole beaver then I will braise the whole thing because there’s not a lot of meat around the shoulders and the back. Typically, my brother will trap and just save me the legs and the back straps. The biggest beaver he got for me last year, I have a picture of him, it’s sixty-nine inches long or sixty-eight inches long. It’s a super blanket, it was huge; I forget how much he said it weighed, forty pounds. It was big.
AH: That’s enormous, that’s bigger than me.
KG: They are huge, and they are not an animal you want to upset.
AH: I can imagine.
KG: They’re nasty. If you’re out in a canoe and you’re anywhere near where they’re breeding or preparing for the winter, they will just slap their tails, like you’re in my territory.
How Eating Beaver Compares to Other Meats
AH: What other meat, I’m kind of obsessed with this part; what other meat would you equate it to? I guess what I’m thinking is that modern Americans, and we’ll go into this later, but because we have these neutral tasting meats as our primary meats; the beef, pork, and chicken, they’re fairly neutral. Going into, like I grew up eating lamb and goat, and first of all, most Americans until recently had never heard of eating goat, but lamb was always like, it’s too gamey, I don’t like the fat, the whatever people have issues with. Where would you say the beaver is in terms of flavor?
KG: It’s not the same flavor as lamb but I’d say it’s a heightened flavor, and because typically we are used to eating pork, chicken, and beef that are farm-raised, the difference in the meat flavors, because of what they are eating and where they are, the grazing, if they’re cattle grazing out on the plains and then finished corn-fed, they’ll be different than ones that are just corn grain fed all of the time. Your animals that are out in the woods, they’re eating all of their fresh leaves and berries and roots and so they are, which is all very flavorful, and the typical animal that we eat is bland food, so we’re used to eating bland meats.
AH: I’m glad that you brought that up because I have had the opportunity to eat chicken that has been more foraged, as well as pigs that are given more of a variety in their rations. For example, in Northern Italy they eat a lot of chestnuts around November time so you get that infusion into the meat which makes a very different profile of flavor. I don’t know that I’ve had beef that has gotten much more than just grass, but I know that for some several of the other animals we’ve definitely had more variety and you can taste that.
KG: There’s a big difference. I had actually stopped eating red meat for probably thirty years because only if it was game, the difference in the color it was pale, pale red in comparison to wild game meat which is red, rich red. It was just such a difference and I don’t like taken into anything; like why eat it if it isn’t going to taste good? It got to the point where I’m not sure what different hormones that they inject or are fed, but it just didn’t sit well. So people, you will look at the statistics and I don’t know if you understand that Maine is leading the top as far as young farmers in agriculture in the United States.
AH: Really, that’s awesome. I could see a lot of people moving to Maine as refuge, just as they move to Hawaii for refuge.
KG: Exactly, like how life should be, right? And the flavor. We’re part of the CSA where we get chicken every other week, fresh chicken, so we have them throughout the winter. The difference in flavor when I make my stocks, it’s a 100% difference; your organic versus the things you can buy at some stores.
AH: For sure, we’re recording this right after Thanksgiving and people came over on Thanksgiving and were, wow, how did you make that? Fresh ingredients; it’s not that hard to make a good tasting meal when you start out with great ingredients. That’s the backbone of it; you don’t have to mask it over. Actually, that’s one of the things I like about your recipes is that they are recipes that enhance flavor or compliment the flavor. It’s very clear that you’re not trying cover up the flavor of the meat, which I think is really, really important for people to understand.
KG: I will support you 100% because I cannot tell people enough that what you have just said is that it is so important to start with basic, fresh ingredients. Sometimes just using one fresh herb as opposed to dried makes all the difference in the world.
AH: Exactly. I think two flavors in the kitchen that are overlooked because they’re considered too plain are, in desserts it would be vanilla bean, and in regular cooking would be parsley. A little bit of parsley added at the end of any dish, even my salads, people are like, what is that fabulous flavor? It’s parsley, that’s all it is, just a couple of sprigs of parsley chopped up at the end totally changes the profile of any salad.
KG: It’s so funny because the two basics I go for are French long leaf thyme, which is the most flavorful for me, and cardamom.
AH: Ah, I think that those are two good ones, but at that point, you’re not getting complicated, but I’ve had to explain to people what thyme is, not to mention cardamom isn’t even in most people’s vocabulary.
KG: You’re absolutely right because if they’ve grown up with a meat and potato culture, salt and pepper is almost all they’d know.
AH: That’s where the parsley and vanilla come in; those are exotic but they’re also considered plain. People think, what flavor of ice cream, and they’re always surprised if a child says vanilla instead of chocolate or strawberry because vanilla is so, we even use it as kind of a pejorative meaning that something is bland or boring.
Why Kate Writes Wild Game Cookbooks
How did you start writing cookbooks?
KG: I had just quit my husband’s company, I had actually turned it around for him financially, and I’m not in the maintenance mode so I started doing some consulting. I was literally up on Mount Desert Island at the time and a friend asked me to write a cookbook for her because she knows I’ve been cooking all my life. I’m totally self-taught, so I started putting some numbers and things together and the bottom line is she wanted me to develop a tabletop cookbook for 100% sales and I said that’s not going to work because you’re going to need national distribution for what you want and I don’t have that networking capability up here on the island.
So I finished that and I said, I have signed up for this publishing, how to publish a cookbook and I wanted to delve into that a little bit more. You know, I’ve written and created recipes all my life, I can do this. So back in 2006 I just started doing all my research and the hardest thing for me was getting all my recipes together. It was a labor of, I don’t know if I want to call it love or not, but measuring. I broke down recipes but I didn’t always put the measurements in.
AH: Yeah, when I wrote mine I actually had to consult other cookbooks to get the amounts because I know visually and there are those differences. Even one thing I always talk about is salt. For example, if you’re using Celtic sea salt to Himalayan salt; Himalayan salt I found very difficult to be precise how much flavor I’m going to get out of that salt, sometimes it seems to be under salted, and it seems to go very quickly to over salted. I don’t know what it is with Himalayan salt; I don’t have that problem with French sea salt for some reason.
KG: It’s strong, Himalayan salt is.
AH: It can be, but then I’ve used it in recipes where I use the same amount I’d have used with another salt and it just, nothing, butkis, it just doesn’t taste like anything.
KG: It depends on what you’re doing with it. I understand.
AH: I’m not sure, but one way or another it just never seems like I’m never at the right amount for what I’m looking, I’m either way over or way under.
KG: That’s frustrating.
AH: It’s very frustrating, but I guess where I was going with this is just that every cookbook is going to be a guideline but it doesn’t necessarily have to be written in stone. So when people are making dishes to use some of their intuition and if they want it a little bit more salt, and keeping in mind that salt, in my opinion, shouldn’t make the food taste salty as much as it should bring out the flavors in the food so I don’t like to taste salt in my food, I just want it to support the flavors that are there.
AH: Right, so I totally feel you on the whole measurement part.
KG: The one thing that I had done right from the beginning, because I self-taught, there are so many things that I assume when cooking, that people know. My husband was testing a recipe for me and my description was to make flat bread. However, you needed to cover it with a damp cloth to allow it to rise. So he calls me in for me to answer a question and I look at this little lump on the side board and I go, what’s that, and he says, that’s the flat bread. It was tightly covered in this damp towel. So what needed to happen, I had to explain that it needs to go in a greased bowl with the damp towel laid on top of it, but that’s a prime example. So I had testers for all of my cookbooks.
AH: Oh good, that’s a very good point. I was actually just talking to my seven-year-old because I teach a cooking class at her school, and every time I talk to the kids I’m like this is what we’re going to do. I explain it to them but for some reason I can never explain it enough, I say slice something, and I get mash. It’s like you show them, but then when people don’t cook I think there’s a misconception that things are very much more difficult in the kitchen. For one, I notice that people tend to man-handle things more if you don’t give them really specific directions.
KG: Have you noticed how they have a difficult time in how to slice properly where they’re not taking off their knuckles?
AH: Yes, there’s that, and there’s also the sawing back and forth, which does not come naturally to a lot of people they think they’re just going to chop it down like it’s a battle axe and then remove it, just separate it from the other part. I have to explain all the time, if you’re carving, particularly, you want to saw back and forth.
KG: And of course if you have a dull knife, that doesn’t help.
AH: Yes, exactly. The whole getting fingers under there, things sliding around, oh no, let’s make a flat surface out of that round thing before we try to cut it anymore.
Health Benefits of Wild Meats & Precautions to Consider
What are some the health benefits as you see it between the wild meats and the store-bought meats?
KG: The big thing for people to understand is that your wild game is a much better source of protein, minerals such as iron and zinc because of what they eat. They’re out there eating a natural diet; they’re more active than a typical farm animal and all of that between the food they eat and their activity contributes to their lower fat content in the meat. So eating greens in the wild contributes to your pro-inflammatory Omega-6 fatty acid, also higher content of your anti-inflammatory Omega-3 fatty acid, and that’s including fish. Say you go to the store and see two different kinds of salmon; you see a sockeye and a farm-raised. The sockeye will typically be a nice clear, red the whole way through and then your farm-raised you’ll see in between each layer this thick white and that’s the fat.
AH: It’s gelatinous, and not good gelatinous. I don’t even call it fat, it’s grease, it’s not normal, and it’s orange in color. You know that whole story how they’re actually grey, the farm-raised salmon because they’re in cages eating each other’s feces as well as soy and corn pellets. And before they used to feed them shrimp shells before harvest, but now apparently they just feed them dye.
KG: So they don’t, that is news to me. I knew they had finished them with shrimp shells because that color turns their meat.
AH: This was according to one of my butchers from about fifteen years ago that told me this, so I don’t know how accurate his information was, but I have had a few other people in the fishing industry back that up, and say they’re mostly using these dyes.
KG: I will say that I’m curious because a friend of mine caught me a farm-raised salmon that must have gotten out of the pen when they were closing down and it was pink so I don’t know if it was at the end and it had been eating shells or been eating dye, but I’m going to do some research on that. Thank you for that.
AH: That’ll be interesting, too, because I know there was that big break out of all the fish in the Pacific North West a couple months back, but the color, was it pink or was it orange? I wonder how much time it had spent out of the pen.
KG: It wasn’t orange like a sockeye but it wasn’t a lighter pink orange like they usually are, it was a little darker than that, so it maybe had been out for a while. Perhaps the fish had got out of the pen and had been out in the wild for a little bit because the color was really good on that. One of the things people always ask me, too, was about muscles because so many are cultivated now, but the difference between that is they are not penned up. They’re hanging on ropes and there’s stuff going through that they’re able to capture and eat and so the flavor is still good for the cultivated muscles versus ones that you can dig. They’re both really good, however, the cultivated muscles really worked hard to get as natural an environment with these new rope-growing cultivations.
AH: Right. Now with the wild meats, at least in your area, is there any particular precautions that people should take should they get them tested? I’d like to think that these animals are intuitive about what they eat, they know. I have goats and they know when something is going to make them feel sick, they just smell it and hmm, I’m not sure about it.
KG: Yep, same thing with my cat. I just got a moose liver and Edgar loves moose liver; however, it’s not right. I called my brother because it ended up being, the guy that got it for me took it right from the moose and put it in a cooler so what happens is it didn’t allow for it to naturally decrease in temperature so it actually made it mealy. It was fine for some; animals would be eating it, like my step-daughter’s dog loves it, but my cat wouldn’t. So I was testing it because I’m making a moose faux grois so instead of fois grois like forced duck, I make it with moose liver which is really yummy. So you know the color didn’t look right to me, so once you handled game meat and organs for a while then you’ll know. But just to give this a little segue, a lot of people will not, in areas that are more populated, may not even test eating the organs just because they don’t know what could be in the ground or what’s on the pesticides, and things like that they’re eating if it’s close to more people. But I understand the colors of how it is and so I will, depending on where it is, I will take it and eat it or use it for something. It is important to know where it came from, also.
AH: Yes, here in Hawai’i we have a lot of wild animals, particularly boar or pig, and goats and sheep. I’ve only heard this from one person, but this person seems to know a lot of people, if you know what I mean. One of the not so nice things about paradise is that there’s a lot of people who practice cock fighting. What they often do is they will drug them up to fight.
KG: So they’re more adrenalin.
AH: Right, they’re more aggressive and so on, and then afterwards they just throw them out in the wild and supposedly some of the wild pigs get at them. They say that you should test the meat. So far, I know some people who eat local wild meat and they’ve gotten it tested and they’ve never had any problem. Many of them say that you can smell when they’ve gotten into something nasty like drugs, basically, so that’s one of the reasons why I ask that question. I wonder if there were other contaminants or weird local practices you’ve heard about in other parts of the country that may impact the quality of meat.
KG: There are certain people I know within the wildlife community. If there is something going through, like when I was working out in the woods one year we had the brain disease for the moose and the deer where they were eating feces and it the worms were getting up to their brain and they were running around going crazy, it was just terrible.
KG: Scrapie, I’m not familiar with that.
AH: Scrapie is sort of like mad cow but in usually it’s the deer they talk about it.
KG: This was a moose they had to put down and I had to move it with my bucket loader, but then you have to be careful and that was in the middle of summer so then the biologists would come to the tagging station and they would assess the animal. That’s always been very helpful, but the first moose that I got looked very healthy and then we went home, because at the [inaudible] shore dinner we usually eat the heart. Well, it was riddled with worms.
KG: This six-year-old, young huge male which was 850 pounds, it had already lost 20% of its weight because it was near the end of rutting season so it would not have survived the winter with its heart like that. I actually felt good because I love when an animal is presented to me that I can take because otherwise it really would have suffered. So that’s another aspect of hunting.
AH: There’s a theory on Scrapie, or in mad cow, and every permutation of that it has a lot to do with high manganese levels. One of the things that was found in the south west, I want to say around Colorado, when they had their big outbreak of twenty years ago was that the salt licks the hunters were putting out to attract the deer was imbalanced in this chemical composition. Because like now, our goats have a Himalayan salt block that they can lick and I put sea water every once in a while in their water to get the actual naturally occurring balance of minerals. I guess there’s one, that Morton Salt or some other, now they’re going to come after me, but you know what I’m saying. Just your run of the mill, not naturally procured salt that might have some variance, maybe not the worms in the heart, but for sure some of the mental imbalances that sometimes happen in these animals.
KG: Part of what my brother, who’s a wild game hunter and a Maine guide, he always is trying to get people not to feed the wild animals, especially me. We got a lake where we have a nesting area for geese and ducks and so I have to help the little ducklings and that’s another whole story. It’s important, are they getting the balance of food that they need? So you have to be careful.
AH: I think what you’re saying is so important, whether you’re getting it from the wild or from your local butcher or supermarket or wherever, know the people who are handling the food. Even the fact that I was able to engage in a conversation with the guy selling me the salmon, saying, this stuff, they fed it dye, this fish was fed dye. But once you establish that relationship you’re more apt to get those honest answers.
KG: It’s very important, people, if you don’t ask where your food came from.
AH: Then you don’t care.
KG: It’s your responsibility at the other end, I think.
Flavors Vary in Wild Meat Between Seasons
AH: Yes, totally. So what are some of variabilities from one season to the next, or one year to the next? Why doesn’t it always taste exactly the same? We know that it’s wild, but are there things like a drought year, how is that going to impact?
KG: It will impact the hydration of the animal and what they are able to eat and absorb because then they won’t be able to eat some of the drier foods that they normally would. That’s actually a great example of why meat changes because when there is a drought the fresh green leaves that are typically in abundance will not be there so the meat will change because they’re eating more dried buds and bark. Cambium, things like that would change and make the meat not nuttier, but make it a little bit wilder than if they were eating more of the greens.
One of the things that’s interesting is that I was talking to someone about this recently because they say, really, how does the beaver taste if it just eats wood? I said, actually, it doesn’t eat wood; it eats the tree bark and all the soft tissue so that cambium layer that’s beneath the bark; on a very young tree, especially, it’s very tender and that’s what they love. You see some trees, really big trees that have been knocked down by a beaver, like on my Facebook page my nephew has his head stuck beneath one, but typically a tree that big will be knocked down to hold water in to an area, but it’s the small trees and the saplings of the willows and beaches and birches that they’re going to be taking down for their food for the winter, to build up their house a little bit. One of the things people don’t understand is that the beaver, their huts are built way down in the water and that’s really protection from predators and people. Their biggest predator is probably wolves, which we don’t really have any in the US, but people are a big predator.
AH: We learned that lesson going on a whale watch here, that humans forget that we are a threat to a lot of wildlife. So that while we may not be actively trying to eat them, raising them or shooting them for food, we’re definitely encroaching on their habitat and that’s reducing their numbers because they don’t have as many places, or they’re just showing up. That’s what’s happening with coyotes, they’re just showing up in the cities, they have nowhere to go.
Going From Wild Meat to Farm Animals
How do we get to a place where we no longer really appreciate, basically talking beaver, squirrel, caribou, maybe not in Canada, but for here, all these wild game meats are, they’re an anomaly, they’re not part of the regular table, you have to know someone who knows someone to get them. How did that come about? When did we make that shift where we’re only going to eat these farm animals?
KG: Again, part of it was the explosive growth in population and the more we work, the less we have time to hunt. I know we were looking at statistics for the Finland wildlife and the number of young girls and boys coming into the hunting experience has some diminished years; however, this past year seems to have gone up a little bit. The more people that take the time that want to hunt and get their food or has been in their culture in generations, I still see that happening. But if it hasn’t been in the culture, it’s through the generations or we’ve grown up in the suburbs and then gone off to college and you’re always in the city, those things are furthest from your mind and then you look at the convenience, and the convenience is the grocery store.
I don’t know what the balance number is right now, but I still see a lot of people that are involved in hunting and fishing and yet I also see a lot of people who aren’t even interested because of, I really think, technology has moved us in the direction of more convenience. We want everything; immediate gratification, more convenience, let’s have it now. If the people are educated enough, though, I do know a lot of people like that, what’s important is they keep shopping the farmers’ market; they put a little planter outside so they have some herbs to add into their food. That little bit will just be parsley, like you talked about, if they had a little thing of parsley and they start adding it into salads, they’re going to go, “Oh my God, I wonder what else I can do?” So that is a snowball effect and so if people get those ideas we just talked about in their head then they get excited because also when you’re excited somebody else is, “Oh my God, this tastes so good, I can’t make it this good,” and it’s as simple as adding a fresh herb or something at the end.
AH: I love what you say about people who have these traditions in their families, and holding onto that and moving it forward, or at least keeping it for future generations and still exploring the snake and beaver and other meats that we don’t think of. Most of us don’t even, we look at a squirrel or beaver and the last thing we think about is eating it unless we’re starving but so many people would rather reach for a bag of Doritos than to eat that. It draws on something that one of my followers has told me, because her husband is a psychotherapist and he works with a lot of people who have cult-like affiliations, one of the things he said was that one of the first things they do to bring you over to their side is to separate you from your native foods and the foods that you enjoy with your family. They’ll prescribe a diet that basically makes you become anti-social. It’s a really, I think that’s a really powerful way of interpreting it and it’s very true. If you look at what we would consider some of the more radical diets or radical religious practices, there’s always something that’s off the table that makes you not able to sit down with other people who aren’t a part of that group.
KG: Interesting perspective.
AH: So I like to hear that there’s people like that. That’s the thing; I grew up in New York City and I moved here only four years ago but to me, growing up when I would hear about people who ate these different meats it always seemed like these people were at the fringes of society, but that’s because of my New York City upbringing. In places even an hour outside of New York, you’re starting to see different landscapes; even the way they make a pizza is different for crying out loud, so you can only imagine what some of those other local things that might still be lurking, especially going into the Native American communities and things.
KG: It actually totally makes sense because you are not subject to hunting a wild game while in New York City.
AH: No, although my parents did once buy a live chicken at a market. I don’t know who slaughtered it but I remember the chicken. It was like one of those deals in the Bronx, they had this big open market, this was back in the ’70s; I don’t think they allow that anymore.
KG: Oh my God, but that’s as good as it gets back then, fresh.
AH: Exactly, and that’s another really interesting thing going into flavors and how different it is. My family’s from Jamaica and both of my parents, it took them a couple of years before they would eat American chicken. But many of our Jamaican relatives ate chicken all the time when they were in Jamaica, came to the US, can’t stand the stuff because of what they eat.
KG: Right, it’s not wild, they’re not meat. Plus, that’s the first time I had goat was there, and I love it.
AH: I made goat for my seventy-two-year-old neighbor a couple of years ago, and you can cook goat for me anytime. She had never had goat before and she thought I was off my rocker when I told her what I was making for dinner that night. She had three helpings, so much for the elderly not having a good appetite.
KG: Or not having their game on and being able to try something new.
AH: I saw what you did there!
KG: I’m glad you caught that.
AH: She also laughed at me for making a pie crust from scratch until she tasted the pie and then had two or three helpings of that as well.
KG: but it makes a difference, everything from scratch. And you know what? If you go through my cookbook, 50 Ways To Eat a Beaver, there are some very simple recipes. You can substitute any red meat in there but it’s just a matter of having, I have a lot with dried because a lot of people don’t have fresh herbs in there, but it’s all what you like and what you will add into the recipe to make it yours and to enjoy.
AH: I think, I’m not criticizing your title by any stretch of the imagination, but I think like you said, people buy our books because of the titles. I get this a little bit where people are like, well I don’t have a cock, all I have is a hen. But with beaver, I think it’s important for people with your book in particular, you can’t get beaver but there are so many things you can substitute. I think, especially for those of us who aren’t in a beaver area, a bountiful beaver area, we need to keep in mind that all of these other red meats will work, and even white meats, right, like pork is not necessarily a red meat.
KG: No, it’s more of a white meat. Pork would end up being too dry unless you’re doing the shanks or the knuckles, then you could use some of the beaver recipes, but pretty much red meat.
What it Was it Like Being on Bizarre Foods?
AH: Gotcha. Tell us a little bit; you were on Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmer.
KG: Yes, I was. It was so interesting. These friends of ours who have a Rabelais in Maine, a rare cookbook store. Andrew had gone to school with Samantha, one of the owners, and he was doing a whole segment in Maine surrounding his father’s surprise 80th birthday party so he was trying to figure out things he hadn’t eaten before so she said you’ve got to meet Kate, she’ll eat anything. So they called up and he had not had beaver before.
AH: Which is surprising. That, and the fact he doesn’t like nuts, walnuts or something really innocuous like that.
KG: That and the thousand year buried eggs, she said. He did this whole tour of part of down east and southern Maine and he’d come up and we were looking at places to film. We ended up building a bean hole bean pit in two days; we did bean hole beans and then we used some of my moose, I’d gotten a moose so we had moose steak. I did a campfire beaver chili because we cooked on a campfire, too, right next to the bean hole bean pit and the chili I made was basically all these yummy herbs and onions and beaver and that was it. Then I made, I’m not sure if you’re familiar with black flies in Maine, but they are horrendous in the summer, they eat us.
AH: Oh gosh, I went hiking in the woods in Canada in the summer once; it was like that scene from King Kong with those giant bugs rustling into the ground, it was horrible.
KG: Yeah, they are, and they just get at your neck so I actually caught a bunch of blackflies with this mosquito aider so they were still alive and I was able to make some muffins with them but they were so tiny so they cooked up. And he goes, I can’t use them; I can’t see them. So I did have blackfly muffins also with real blackflies.
AH: Blackfly muffins. Do they taste like blueberries?
KG: No, there’s no taste in the blackflies, they just cook up to absolutely nothing.
AH: They’re just protein.
KG: Lots of protein. It was great working with him; he was really funny and very eloquent and right on. It was just being able to talk about a meat that is deer to my heart because it’s so good.
AH: That’s awesome.
KG: Yeah, he enjoyed it. It was fun.
AH: That’s fantastic. It’s great, obviously great publicity, but it’s great to be able to share that with a wide audience like that, and to demystify this thing we call beaver.
KG: Do you know that once they’re out of caribou in Canada, the next meat they go to is beaver?
AH: I could see that, I have this cookbook that I bought in Montreal years ago; I collect grandma recipes, I want to know what grandmas did and how they got through things. Castor, or beaver, is features a lot in that book. There’s a lot of not only meats that we don’t think of as meat or food as modern people, but many different kinds of berries. They use a lot of buckwheat up there so it’s a really interesting book from that standpoint because it’s not one that’s trying to, I think in American cookbooks very often we start to get into a trap of substituting the original ingredients for whatever bottled food is readily available. I like the fact that this one really goes to the heart of it and she just sticks to the person who wrote it, sticks to these old recipes the way they were originally compiled, as far as I can tell. Just no mention of anything that’s necessarily easier to get today than it was a hundred years ago.
KG: That’s good; I like some of the older cookbooks and how they go. Except that a lot I’ve seen also have been more bland or they use the same things through all the different recipes. However, how they prepare it and add different things in to thicken it was also interesting.
AH: I think in that particular cookbook, one of the things that I found interesting, and I saw this a little bit in your book as well, some of what we normally think of as sweet spices being used in savory dishes. So more of the cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, cloves, being used in say a pork dish or a beaver dish, for example.
KG: Or the cardamom with the curry which you would probably understand. All the different curries there are from around the world that have different spices in them. They could go from having cinnamon and hot peppers to having just turmeric and ginger.
AH: I was trying to explain to a friend of mine who is Pennsylvania-Dutch and lives in rural Pennsylvania, she said, “Oh, curry; I’ve never had that, what’s it like? I said, think of curry like barbecue; it’s not just one thing; there’s all kinds of barbecue. And the same thing with curry; curry is more of a thing for a stew, it’s not a set combination of ingredients, so approaching it from that perspective really opens up whole worlds for people who don’t like curry.
KG: It also confuses people; what do you mean it’s like barbecue sauce? All the different layers, but then they have to leave it to us who are chefs or cooks.
How to Source Beaver
AH: Is there anything else you would like to add to our conversation today before I let you go?
KG: Well, I think we have pretty much gone through everything that I wanted to talk about that’s important. People are always asking me, and I think it’s very important to understand that you just can’t buy beaver. I would suggest people to ask either a local game warden, or if they know someone that traps, or even a wild game butcher because they know a lot of people who do catch and release with the animals and if they do, then the butcher could be the person to actually take care of the animal for them. It’s important that if you don’t have access to, and you would like to, that there are resources out there.
AH: Yeah, and that’s a big thing here where we encourage people to start talking to the people who are the purveyors of food in your area. You’d be surprised what you find when you just peal back the curtain a little bit. So many people do not fully understand where they live until they start trying to improve their health and eating a little bit closer to nature. Then they suddenly notice signs they didn’t notice, whether it’s for somebody who has a cooler of eggs sitting out on their lawn every day or these little butchers. I know in Canada, again in the Charlevoix area of Quebec there was, the last time I went, several places that specialized in emu meat, for example, and just these local really just wild, well, the emu was not necessarily wild, they were farm raised.
KG: However, it’s a new source of protein that somebody hasn’t tried.
AH: Right, exactly.
KG: We have the same; in Maine we have these Halal markets because of the influx of different immigrants coming over and that’s where I get fresh lamb, fresh goat, and unfortunately, it’s not fresh, but I have been able to get camel from them.
AH: Oh wow.
KG: In the farmers’ market I just cannot stress that enough for people it’s just such an amazing source and if you don’t see something that you want, ask because there are a lot of people that don’t participate in farmers’ markets because they don’t have the time; however, they do have the source.
AH: Absolutely. You seem to have the hook up on beaver. You’ve got your brother and a good friend who catch for you. You’ve got your hook up, but if somebody were to purchase beaver, how much a pound are you looking at? Or do you just buy them by the animal? What’s the deal with that?
KG: No, you can’t sell it.
AH: So you’re just not allowed to sell?
KG: It’s illegal to sell. However, I will trade a cookbook for a beaver or some meat from somebody because they’re getting something that they want and I get what I want.
AH: Okay, so bartering is still allowed.
KG: Well, that’s until somebody hears this and it’s illegal and then come after me.
AH: Well, we’ll just block that out, we didn’t say anything here.
KG: It’s fine. I’ve been trying to get a python for the past couple of years. So talk about something great for my birthday, my husband a few years ago had found this place in Nevada with all this wild game meat so he got me all this wild game meat for my birthday, I had python, I had iguana, I had llama tongue, I can’t even tell you what else. It was amazing and my friends are like, only you would be excited about this stuff. Yeah!
AH: I mean it’s a little hard core, even for me, but I can totally understand that. A lot of stuff I’d like to try a bite first.
KG: Just even a little bit. I tried to get these people to let me try some armadillo when I was in Belize. But they’re respectful, and this is what I like. So the iguana and the armadillos were in the fertilization season so they would not kill them; they couldn’t tell which ones the males and female were at the time, at least that’s what they told me. They were just respecting their birthing rights; I understand that, I’ll come back when they’re done.
AH: Just take your mother away from you. That is incredible. I hope that people listening to this will go and investigate, see what’s available in their area; we don’t have to starve. Now I’m just opening a whole other can of worms because there’s so many of these articles going around, especially places like Spain and San Francisco, that are saying we’re not going to have enough meat, eat this plant that we’re putting into a vial somewhere, and a guy in a lab coat is going to turn it into protein for you.
KG: Synthetic, synthetic, synthetic.
AH: And they make it sound natural, right. Oh, it’s got algae, it’s just algae. Grown in a petri dish from God knows what else is going on in there.
KG: Oh please, visuals.
AH: Unless you’ve watched the show, Last Man On Earth, there’s no chance of really every one of these wild meats becoming extinct, I think we just need to start appreciating them more. I don’t think the issue is not enough food, I say this repeatedly on the show, it’s not an issue whether or not there’s enough food to feed the seven billion or nine billion that we’re expecting in forty years, but it’s more of let’s not waste and let’s look at other sources that are around us, and in this case rediscover the foods of our ancestors.
KG: Right, all of our greens and other kinds of proteins; the beans, the legumes, are all very healthy and a great compliment to the diet.
AH: Right, in my lexicon I consider the beans and the nuts, well, beans, starch and nuts fat. I do think that they can support proteins but I don’t like to see it when people rely on them as a protein source because I’ve just seen too many disasters. We’ve had a few guests who say we’ve found a way to make it work but it just seems like it’s a bit playing Russian roulette when people try to rely on those exclusively.
KG: Right, it’s hard; you see all the iron deficiencies and things.
AH: There’s more than just iron, there’s a lot of deficiencies. When you look historically how people have eaten these foods it’s always with an animal food, there’s always some little piece of pork in there or some fish broth or some animal food, dairy.
AH: Right, exactly, so just keeping that in mind. With that said, can you tell me, I know that your website is blackflystew.com you have a Facebook page as well.
KG: Yes, if you just actually type my name in KateKrukowskiGooding, that will come up.
AH: Great, and your books can be purchased on Amazon.com as well as islandcourtpress.com.
KG: Right, if you go to my website the links are there to provide unless you want hand-autographed, and then you just send me an email.
AH: Awesome, that’s fantastic. Well Kate, thank you for spending time with us and educating us on this fabulous meat called beaver.
KG: And thank you very much for having me, Adrienne.
AH: Oh, but of course. And folks, you don’t want to miss recipes like Mustard Crusted Beaver or Porcini Rubbed Beaver and the Victorious Beaver Loins.
KG: The best.
AH: Yeah. Thank you so much, and let us know when you have a new book coming out.
KG: I will, thank you, Adrienne.
AH: Fantastic, thanks.
You may also be interested in The Magnificent Chicken interview.