First, an editorial note: it's a little impossible to write about beaver without sounding... euphemistic. So, we acknowledge the great reserve shown by Jamie Carlson, which must have been challenging. Rock on, Jamie!
When I first read about eating beaver it was in a book called Mountain Man by Vardis Fisher, which later became the basis of the Robert Redford movie Jeremiah Johnson. Early settlers and trappers of the American West enjoyed beaver and treated beaver tail like a fine delicacy because it's so fatty and full of flavor. I never really thought about beaver, mostly because I don’t trap, but more importantly, I have never had access to the animal. It's not like you can find it at Cub Foods.
Over the past few years, I'd become more interested in cooking beaver, but I never seemed to have the motivation to figure out how get one. Then, in an episode of Anthony Bourdain’s show Parts Unknown, French-Canadian chef Martin Picard trapped and cooked a beaver and the dish looked so good that my interest was sparked again. As my cooking abilities improve, so does my desire to try new things and be more adventurous in what I cook. I enjoy the challenge of turning something that most people would never eat into delicious table fare. But where was I going to get a beaver?
I spend a good amount of time in the woods and out in swamps so I thought I could just shoot one and bring it home. Although I saw one while duck hunting, I didn't want to take a shot then and end up having to pick steel pellets out of the meat. So, I just did what I always do when looking for odd meats to cook: I posed a question on Facebook and waited for someone to come through. Obviously, I have a unique circle of friends, considering that they've helped me before with wild boar heads, duck gizzards, and snapping turtles. So why wouldn't it work for beavers?
Imagine the inappropriate responses I received within only a few hours.
But then, one serious response showed promise. A friend referred me to his nephew, Hayden Adams, a high school student who traps on the Mississippi River near Wabasha and had recently trapped some beavers and muskrats. It wasn't long before I was in possession of a 30-pound beaver.
I really had no idea where to start when it came to cooking. I figured that the first thing I should do was to brown some with salt and pepper in a little butter, just to get some idea as to what beaver tasted like. The texture was a little tough and chewy but the flavor was wonderful and pleasant, like a nice grass-fed beef with just a hint of liver aftertaste.
When I butchered the beaver, I removed the back legs and the two back loins that run down the spine. I then cut the rest of the meat off the front legs and neck. I used the two back loins for my first dish; I wanted to use the best cuts for the first dish to get the best results. The result was a beautiful, braised beaver with mushrooms and cream that was cooked perfectly and fork-tender. The mushrooms and cream sauce complemented the meat's flavor.
Adapted from a recipe for brandied rabbit in the L.L. Bean Game and Fish Cookbook, this recipe serves four and goes well with boiled potatoes.
Braised Beaver with Mushrooms and Cream
2 lbs. beaver meat cubed
6 tablespoons butter
5 shallots, thinly sliced
4 cloves garlic, Minced
2 oz. scotch whiskey (preferably something smokey like Highland Park 12 year)
1/2 cup duck stock (or any other type of game stock, chicken stock would work as well)
1/2 cup dry vermouth
2 tsp Worcestershire Sauce
1 herb bouquet (parsley, tarragon, basil)
8 oz cremini mushrooms, sliced
3 egg yolks
1 1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon sherry
- In a heavy pot or Dutch oven melt 4 tablespoons of butter and brown the pieces of beaver.
- When the beaver is browned on all sides add the onions and garlic and soften 3-4 minutes.
- Add the scotch and then ignite to burn off.
- Add the stock, vermouth, Worcestershire, herb bouquet, then salt and pepper to taste. Cover and simmer for 45 to 60 minutes.
- While the meat is simmering, melt remaining 2 tablespoons of butter and sauté the mushrooms, add them to the meat in the last 5 minutes of cooking.
- Warm the cream in a small pan but do not boil. Beat the egg yolks and then add some of the cream to the yolks, stirring constantly. Add the yolk cream mixture to the rest of the cream.
- Remove all of the meat from the large pot and set aside, add the cream mixture to the pot and stir until smooth. Do not boil the cream, just heat it.
- Add the sherry to the pot and then add all the beaver back to the pot.
- Serve over noodles or boiled potatoes, garnish with parsley and enjoy.
Jamie Carlson lives in Burnsville with his wife, Amanda, and their two kids, Eleanor and Charlie. He works as an RN at the Minneapolis VA hospital and enjoys hunting, fishing, foraging, and of course, cooking. He believes that all food can be tasty if it's prepared with care, and he writes about his adventures cooking everything from pickled venison heart to roasted dove on his food blog, You Have to Cook it Right. Follow him on Twitter at @youcookitright.