I have a confession to make: I adore furry little beasts. Okay, that’s not much of a confession if you’ve ever heard me talk about my kickass cat and ferrets and how unbelievably awesome they are. However, my love of creatures is often shadowed by the following whispered thought: I wonder what this little guy tastes like.
A few months ago, I started wondering what eating beaver meat might taste like. This may have been sparked by my summer trip to Hamburg, Germany where I found this lovely children’s book entitled Mach Mal Pause, Biber! (Take a Break, Beaver!) and started thinking back to friends who’d mentioned trapping and eating beaver meat. The previous winter, my cousin Steve, who is a fauna technician, had spent part of a movie night preparing a beaver he’d trapped. He’d gotten really excited about his trap lines and would regularly update me on a thieving weasel (r.i.p. robber weasel), issues with someone stealing his traps, and the building of a birch bark canoe. In short, he was living a very different life up in Northern Quebec from what I was experiencing in my bookish Montreal routine.
Once I finally resolved to take-on the beaver challenge, I asked Steve if he could trap one for me and he happily agreed. When I went up north for the winter holidays, my cousin and I drove back down to Montreal together with a hare and beaver in a cooler in the trunk.
The dinner date was set.
As the day approached, my cousin told me that, although he’d already removed the tail and pelt, he hadn’t yet removed the beaver’s head. I was slightly phased but resolute. Part of my new dedication to urban homesteading included the vision of one day owning my own chickens and trying as best I could to eat ethical, local meats. Staring my dinner in the face was an important step. So I went to Canadian Tire and asked one of the employees: “excuse me sir, do you have a cleaver for chopping the head off a small animal?” I got some weird looks as I carried a massive knife and a bunch of cleaning supplies to the register.
Fast forward to the night before the big dinner. I was having a minor freak out because of contradicting information on the internet. My friend Elma had suggested to baste the beaver with pepper water, which seemed pretty simple, but most of my guests weren’t accustomed to the taste of gamey meat. Jamie suggested a red wine and rosemary sprig marinade which would cut some of the gamey taste. Then it hit me like a small inner tidal wave: “Wait, you can barely cook boneless chicken breasts without having an OCD freak out about bacteria, how do you expect to deal with cutting the head off a beaver and the possible blood splatter?” Damn you inner monologue, you are right! Frantic, I called a few friends hoping they could provide moral support as I faced my OCD, which hides beneath the surface of my productivity so well nowadays that I sometimes forget it’s there. No dice. I pulled my hoodie over my head, tightened the stings, put on some latex gloves and began.
The beaver was surprisingly heavy. I took it out of the freezer and tried to put it into the largest roast pot I owned but quickly realized that it didn’t fit. My easy peasy plan to roast the beaver and then cut its head off was foiled. I stuffed it into the pot as best I could, decided to turn the marinade into a semi-brine by adding red wine vinegar and salt then poured it over the beaver. However, I realized that if I let this meat open-air marinate in the fridge overnight, I wouldn’t be able to eat anything else in there for fear of contamination. I resigned myself to cutting its head off, even though it was frozen.
I can imagine what the scene looked like to my neighbours. There I was on a Friday night, hoodie, latex gloves, large animal in a pot, hacking away at its head with a distressed look on my face.
Soon the brine started doing its thing. The meat started to unfreeze and so did the blood. At one point, the beaver slipped from my hands and fell back down in the brine showering me, my stove top, and my kitchen with a mixture of red wine, vinegar, and blood. My OCD shot up to maximum levels. I didn’t listen to it, which took all of my self control, and cut the beaver along the spine so I could cook the lower half for my dinner party. After about an hour or so of sawing and swearing at the Canadian Tire employee who clearly did not sell me the right knife, I succeeded in getting the beaver into the pot with the lid on. Then I cleaned every inch of my kitchen, using a shameful number of latex gloves, and put all of my clothes in a plastic bag and set it on fire. Kidding!
The next morning, I put the beaver in the oven and cooked it for over four hours, basting it often with pepper water. I was relieved when the rather intense smell of the meat and vinegar wine marinade went from overwhelming to smelling yummy. I added potatoes to the mix and proudly served my friends a beaver roast that was falling-off-the-bone tender, savory and fragrant. The next day, I made stock from the beaver’s bones. I plan to bury its remains. I’m incredibly thankful for the nutrition it gave me, the experience I had cooking it, that it inspired me to bring my friends together to share something new, and that I can now take pride in having done something I once thought I could never do.