As a tradesman, the Skipper is a bit of an unusual breed. He’s gained quite the reputation amongst his crew over the years about the food he brings in his lunchbox. There are always lots of dried and fresh fruit and nuts, and some oddly-coloured vegetarian lentil stews and curries and soups have been eyed with concern by his peers.
His work mates unpack some predictable snacks and junk food, and they are largely meat and potatoes kinds of men. They are generally not adventurous eaters and the Skipper gets lots of ribbing. But there’s a twist.
Most of the meat these men unpack from their lunch boxes looks familiar on the surface: burgers, pepperoni, salami. What’s not obvious at first glance though is what kind of meat it is. Most of these men hunt and fish for a considerable portion of their food. The burgers and steaks are elk (and occasionally bear), the pepperoni and sausage are deer or moose. The Skipper used to claim to be a vegetarian, but he found those elk burgers hard to resist!
Though they may be meat and potatoes guys, and as far from hippie leftist environmentalists (like me! 🙂 ) as you can reasonably get on this coast, they are often deeply concerned about where their food comes from too, and they can be highly suspicious of factory farmed meat. Many of them raise (or have raised) their own chickens and turkeys for meat birds, “so we know how they’re raised and what they’ve been fed.” And some of their wives are AMAZING cooks (and just plain amazing women!).
When we get together with these families, we steer clear of politics and religion and other touchy subjects, but we can all talk for hours about food and the stories of how we caught it, grew it, cooked it, enjoyed it. Anthony Bourdain argued recently that it’s meat in particular that brings people together in these communal connections, but I think food in general can do it. These men know I’m vegetarian; it’s just one more way that I’m a little quirky. But that’s ok.
Which brings us to the moosemeat.
So the Skipper has a friend and colleague who was headed off moose hunting recently, and he tried to talk the Skipper into taking some home. A moose is a huge animal, and there would be more meat than any one hunter can manage without help! The Skipper was more than happy to take some, but he wasn’t sure how I’d react. He brought home 4 steaks and cooked up two on the first night. One was for me! I had a bite or two to taste it. It was fine, tasted a little like liver. It’s incredibly lean meat–almost looked like a kidney in colour! But usually when I taste meat these days, I think, “meh”. It’s ok, not repulsive or anything. Intellectually, I’m fine with the idea of eating meat from these kinds of sources. But when I taste it, I certainly don’t think, “where has this been all my life and where can I get more!”
So the second 2 steaks sat in the fridge for a couple of days, and I didn’t want them to go to waste. I started thinking about moosemeat stew. I thought, if I made a big stew with lots of veggies, then I could happily eat it, and I’d leave the meat in chunks so that they would be easy to pick out and send the Skipper’s way. I headed to google for recipes. Believe it or not, I’ve never made any kind of meat stew! Sarah Palin’s name came up a lot in the google lists.
I dredged the cubes of moosemeat in seasoned flour and browned them in butter. I took them out and carmelized an onion in the fat that remained. I deglazed the pan with some wine, added potatoes and carrots and some thyme all from the garden, some crushed garlic cloves and a bay leaf, some rosemary. I put the meat back in and covered it all with veggie stock. It simmered for an hour or so and then I added a few diced roma tomatoes and checked the seasoning. Simmered the stew for another 45 minutes or so and called up the Skipper to test the meat. It was ready, so I made up some dumplings and added them to the pot, closed the lid and simmered another 15 minutes. Done!
It was AWESOME. I’ve made a lot of vegetable stews in my day, but you just don’t get that flavour right. There wasn’t that much moose in it, but what was there was delicious and added a ton of flavour. I told the Skipper (half teasing) to go back to his friend and tell him that he was allowed to bring home some more. 🙂
I have to say that this was one of the most satisfying meals I’ve made. It was rich with flavour, memory (of stews of my childhood), and human tradition. It is still a unique feeling to me to cook a comfort food meal like this, one that people have made for uncountable generations, with almost no ingredients from the grocery store (butter, flour, salt, pepper).
Moments like these still feel a little strange. I feel deeply connected, unexpectedly, to my ancestors–both immediate and ancient–as I meet these food needs more directly and outside of the food chain that I’m so accustomed to. It’s wonderful, but also unfamiliar. It feels like change. And it’s addictive.