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Hunting for Dinner: Consider the Beaver

Beaver in cream sauce

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!

 

You never know where inspiration liesYou never know where inspiration liesWhen 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. 

 

Hayden Adams, local trapper, with his catchHayden Adams, local trapper, with his catchBut 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 

 

 

  1. In a heavy pot or Dutch oven melt 4 tablespoons of butter and brown the pieces of beaver.
  2. When the beaver is browned on all sides add the onions and garlic and soften 3-4 minutes.
  3. Add the scotch and then ignite to burn off.
  4. Add the stock, vermouth, Worcestershire, herb bouquet, then salt and pepper to taste. Cover and simmer for 45 to 60 minutes.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. Add the sherry to the pot and then add all the beaver back to the pot.
  9. 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.

Comments

I am setting aside the temptation for double entedre because my comment is a serious one.

When Lee Zukor founded this website, he wrote that its purpose was to promote humanely produced food. And, as former editorial director of SGT, I can vouch for the fact that every piece of content that got published here passed the "humane" test.

But not this one.

I'm sorry, but I can't imagine any instance in which animal traps are considered humane. According to BornFreeUSA, an wild-animal advocacy organization, "leghold traps and snares cause serious injuries and extreme suffering to trapped animals." In addition, traps are infamous for inflicting "collateral damage" on unintended prey, such as dogs, cats, even threatened and endangered species. 

(Read "Exposing the Myths: The Truth About Trapping," here: http://www.bornfreeusa.org/facts.php?p=53&more=1)

Please be careful about your content selection. Although the provocative title of this one could prompt legions of shares on Facebook and retweets on Twitter, it does not appropriately represent the stellar reputation of Simple, Good and Tasty as a champion of food that's procured with compassion. 

Thanks for letting me vent.

Shari

 

Shari,

Thanks so much for your comment, and I think you bring up some valid concerns about trapping that I'll let Jamie address since I think his experience on this issue would be far better than mine. I will say that as an organic farmer and friend to numerous ranchers, hunters, and even trappers, I'm very aware of the importance of humanely raised and compassionately dispatched animals. Like you, I think this is important to always keep in mind when we choose our own food, and I also consider it when evaluating content. I do want Simple, Good and Tasty to continue its tradition as a champion of locally produced, sustainably grown, humanely raised food, so I appreciate you taking the time to start the discussion!

Elizabeth 

Hi Shari, I understand your concern as well. However, I think you are making assumptions here. We don't know the method of trapping utilized. It appears you assumed leg traps were used. There are whole traps which do not physically damage the animal - only keeping them in a cage for the short amount of time until the trapper checks the trap. I think they check traps daily. Now, I don't know what method was used here. But, would you agree that this is more humane than a feedlot cow? Wild animals live in their natural environment, eat normal diets, and move around as they would do normally. I'll take that over factory farm animals any day.

Hi, Jessica. Thanks for your reply. I agree it would be good to know what kind of trap was used, how often it was checked, and how the beaver was killed. I hope Jamie will let us know.

As for your comment comparing this to feedlot cows, you are presenting a false dilemma. I agree that feedlot cows suffer greatly and needlessly. But this does not justify a lesser cruelty elsewhere. ("The cow suffered for its entire life; the beaver only suffered the last 12 hours of its.") 

Shari,

I agree with Jessica that you are making assumptions, only I feel the assumption you have made is that trappers can not be ethical. All of the problems you stated are of course possibilities, however as an ethical trapper the young man I got the beaver from has spent countless hours scouting areas for trapping and learning how to set traps in areas that all but eliminate those issues. As far as the type of trap used he uses Dukes 330's which have been deemed humane by the US Fish and Wildlife service and are capable of dispatching an animal instantly and his traps are checked daily. Leg traps and snares are still used today but many states have banned them and most trappers have moved on from them to use other types of traps that are more effective.

I have spent a good portion of my life hunting and work very hard at being good at what I do. If you have read any of my other post for the series Hunting for Dinner you would see that they all have one thing in common and that is that something had to die in order for me to make the featured dish. This is a responsibility that I do not take lightly, see my post about practice, http://youhavetocookitright.blogspot.com/2013/09/the-most-important-ingr....

I assure you that if I am involved in something like this all efforts for a quick death were made. Killing is a necessary part of what I do and I do my very best to honor each animal that I kill by using all usable part of the animal and ensuring none goes to waste. If you have any question about hunting or what I do I would be happy to talk with you any time you would like and if you ever wanted to go hunting I would be happy to take you.

Jamie

 

Quick note about comments: it appears that we're having an issue with comments not posting from the Firefox browser. So, if you try to comment and it doesn't go through, know that we're working on it, and if you can comment from Chrome or Safari, those seem to work fine. Thanks!

- SGT

It's great that we have an ethical cook and an ethical trapper working together here; but let's not overdo it with claims of traps "deemed humane by the US Fish and Wildlife service and capable of dispatching an animal instantly."

 

I'm going to make the assumption that the trapper is referring to the Best Management Practices (BMPs) of the Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies (AFWA), based upon the work of the Fur Institute of Canada for the Agreement on International Humane Trapping Standards (AIHTS).

 

Fur Institute of Canada's web page on the AIHTS: http://www.fur.ca/AIHTS.php?id=objectives

 

The actual criteria for AIHTS trap certification (for instance, when testing a Duke #330 body-gripping trap on beaver) are that the trap is capable of causing a loss of consciousness in 80% of the beavers tested (n >= 12) within five minutes.

 

Here's a key portion of the AIHTS definition of the word "humane":

 

"... Although welfare can vary widely, the term 'humane' is used only for those trapping methods where the welfare of the animals concerned is maintained at a sufficient level, although it is acknowledged that in certain situations with killing traps there will be a short period of time during which the level of welfare may be poor."

 

We each define the word "humane" in our own way. If a person is happy with the AIHTS definition, that's okay for that person; if not, then it might be time to find different sources of the food, etc. that we don't really need to get from animals.

I've been a hunter for a long time, and know quite a few trappers like the one that Jamie knows. I think the conversation about what's humane is important, but I think trying to get into the nitty gritty on the language is skipping one important thing, and that's: know your source.

Like Jamie, I only get animals from people I trust, and that means responsible practices. Just like I take my responsibility as a hunter seriously, I expect the trappers I know to do the same. I think this extends to any kind of purchasing when it comes to meat, even if you're buying beef or pork: do you know who's responsible for that animal? Do you know how it was killed, and the level of care and humanity shown? Is that important to you? I think it should be.

If Jamie had gotten the beaver online from some stranger, for example, then I'd also jump in to the debate about what's humane and what's not. But he sourced with care, and that's what we need people to keep in mind, in my opinion. Labels and definitions are one thing, but when it really comes down to it, we each have a personal responsibility in what we eat, and that's just what Jamie was showing. 

Thank you for your comments Scott and Roger. This is a conversation that is difficult to have in a comments section of a blog. There is so much here for debate. Scott all of the info you gave is spot on. Although the body style trap is capable of killing instantly it does sometimes take up to 20 minutes, a lot of this is dependent on the size of the animal in the trap. That may seem barbaric to some but compared to leg traps and snares that is a significant upgrade. 

One point I would like to make and may have misrepresented myself on is, humane killing. I really don't feel like those two words belong together ever. The definition of humane is having or showing compassion or benevolence. Killing is killing no matter how we want to dress it up, and Scott I agree whole heartedly with your last statement that if you are not ok with that there are many other sources of food out there. I just don't like the idea that because someone buys grass fed beef or free range pigs somewhere that those animals didn't suffer in the end. We have found very efficient ways of slaughtering animals but in the end they all are killed. I have just chosen to take that step on myself and I am OK with that.

There is a great quote by Aldo Leopold that I believe applies here  

 

A peculiar virtue of wildlife ethics is that the hunter ordinarily has no gallery to applaud or disapprove of his conduct. Whatever his acts, they are dictated by his own conscience, rather than by a mob of onlookers. It is difficult to exaggerate the importance of this fact.

Excellent points, Jamie - thank you, and I agree completely.

Yes, excellent discussion everyone; thanks!

The author is thoughtful about his practices, and it’s often true that body-gripping traps deliver a quicker death than snares or leg-hold traps. The trapping of beaver using #330 body-gripping traps in water far from humans and dogs using beaver-specific lures is one of the most species-specific methods of trapping there is. That is, it usually kills only beavers, and relatively quickly.

But while a loss of consciousness at times within half a minute and sometimes within about three minutes is faster than some other methods of killing, it also is fairly safe to say that generally animals who die in a body-gripping trap do not drift off in a painless, low-anxiety state. And there are situations, too, that can leave animals suffering for prolonged periods of time, for example the less-frequent trap tending that's generally allowed for body-gripping traps (3 days in MN).  

 

--Christine Coughlin, MN Voters for Animal Protection

This is interesting, i didn't know that beaver can be eaten because there were a video I've seen long time ago about massive killings of beaver. They just skin the beaver to get the fur then all are waste. If they only knew how to cook this they will definitely change their mind.

Yes, beaver have always been a staple food of Native Americans.

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