Moose Moufle

An article in a local rag, Edible Manhattan, told the story of New York’s markets of old.  The article focused on Washington Market, which was on Manhattan’s lower west side.  Apparently the abundance was incomparable and was cataloged by a man named Thomas de Voe, a butcher who worked his way up to be head of the market (read the whole article here).  His book, published in the 1860s, the Market Assistant, contains a brief description of “…every article of human food sold in the public markets of New York, Boston, Philadelphis, and Brooklyn.”  Among those articles of food, Moose Snout.

De Voe says of the moose:  “There is no doubt but the flesh of the tame male either moose or elk, when castrated, could be converted into a dish which the epicure could not resist. The tongue is considered a delicacy, as is also his moufle, the large gristly extremity of its large nose, when properly prepared and cooked. The skins are much used by the hunters for snow shoes and moccasins; for these purposes they are best when taken in the month of October.  Mr Wm Paul had when I saw him on the 7th of February, 1856, in Fulton street New York near the Washington Market, nine moose and two elk which he had brought from Iowa. They were in good condition although killed some five weeks before.” (1867)

An article, from Shield’s Magazine, 1905, says something on the way to prepare a moose noose: “One does not necessarily have to go to the woods for venison; Moose and caribou steaks are far better for hanging several days, but some of the choicest morsels of the moose and the caribou are unobtainable far from the woods where the animals live.  The nose, the liver, and the kidneys though highly esteemed by hunters, are never brought to market.  Moose nose in particular is an exceptional delicacy. The nose of the caribou, though also good, is much inferior to the other, being full of small bones.  Moose nose resembles beaver tail in this respect, that it possesses a delightful flavor distinctly its own and scarcely comparable with anything else. What makes it all the rarer is that it is not only necessary to kill a moose in order to obtain the delicacy, but also to destroy that most beautiful and most highly prized trophy of the chase: a moose head. You cannot eat the nose and have the head too. To prepare the nose for the table, it is cut off the animal as soon as the latter is killed and is then scalded and scraped to take off the hair. Then it is slightly smoked and boiled. ”

I have seen modern reference to jellied nose as well as moose nose soup.  I’m on the look-out for a moufle.

Beaver Bonanza Part II: A Brief History of Beaver

Bloody beaver.

My first challenge after my beaver meat arrived was to put it in some historical context and to see if there was a precedent for beaver eating.  I turned to Thomas De Voe, the man in charge of New York City’s food markets in the middle of the 19th century, who also wrote The Market Assistant: Containing a brief description of every article of human food sold in the public markets of the cities of New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and Brooklyn; including the various domestic and wild animals, poultry, game, fish, vegetables, fruits &c., &c. with many curious incidents and anecdotes. Did he know how indispensable his book would be to future historians?

I checked out his passage on beaver and came to an amazing realization: Victorians weren’t eating beaver, because by the middle of the 19th century, they had hunted it to near extinction.  Beaver pelts were too valuable for their fashion cred, in terms of muffs, coats, and hats.  Here’s what De Voe says:

This animal was once a native here, but civilization and the beaver’s valued skin have almost exterminated the family, although now and then a specimen is taken in our State. It is said the ‘flesh of this animal is greatly prized by hunters and voyageurs, especially when roasted in the skin after the fur is singed off. ‘  This of course is an expensive luxury and is frowned upon by the fur traders.  ‘Care must be taken, however, to examine the herbage on which the animals feed, or mischief may follow an unwary repast.  Mr. Ross’s party were once poisoned by feasting heartily on beaver and some of them had a very narrow escape.  The Indians eat this kind of beaver but they roast it; boiled, they say, it is pernicious.’

Professor Kalm, in his ‘Travels in America,’ in 1748, says ‘Beaver flesh is eaten, not only by the Indians, but likewise by the Europeans, and especially by the French on their fasting days; for his Holiness, in his system, has ranged the beaver among the fish. The flesh is reckoned best if the beaver has lived upon vegetables. The tail is likewise eaten after it has been well boiled and roasted afterwards.

So, according to what De Voe has heard: 1. Beaver is good roasted. 2. Beaver can be poisonous.  (Perhaps not poison, but I suspect, that like bear, the beaver’s diet varies by season from one based heavily on plants and berries, to one based on fish.  The latter can give the meat an unpleasant, fishy taste. ) 3.  A beaver is a fish, therefore it can be eaten on Fridays.  (Good news for you Catholics out there.) 4. Beaver tail is damn tasty.

I know number three to be true, thanks to a great post at the French Culinary Institutes’s blog, Cooking Issues.  Not too long ago, they ordered up some exotic meats from Crizmer’s outside of Chicago, including both beaver tail and beaver flapper, which are two different things.  Of the beaver tail, they said “Beaver tail is straight up fantastic.  It has a woody-musky aroma and flavor that is unique among all meats I have tried…Man, was it good.”  This statement gave me hope, as I prepped my beaver meat for consumption.

Tomorrow: recipes and the big beaver tasting.

Beaver Bonanza Part One: The Arrival

This is going to be a meat adventure.

On Friday, the buzzer rang.  A Fed-Ex man tromped up four flights of stairs and handed me a large package.  Inside, I found the following missive:

Alaskan Culinary Challenge January 2011
Beaver Bonanza!

Welcome to your first Alaskan culinary challenge!

The object of this challenge is to research, prepare and serve…Much like Iron Chef, view this as the “secret ingredient.”   Test your culinary skills and have fun!

1. Shipped item must be consumed withing 2-3 days.
2. Prepared meal MUST be served to at least one person besides yourself.

Using the ingredients in a historical fashion (four pounds flour worthy) is encouraged.

Documentation and feedback/report is favorable.  Future culinary challenges are more likely if previous challenge was given proper attention.

Recipe sharing is also favorable.

Failure to complete this challenge will result in mockery of the highest caliber.

Your partners in crime in the 49th.

Inside the box, five neatly wrapped portions of meat, all labeled “Beaver.”

Stay tuned.

History Dish Mondays: Roast Bear

Roast bear with mushrooms and a hot apple toddy; film still from an upcoming episode of New York Wave.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been shooting a short documentary about my work for PBS Japan, for a show called New York Wave.  They wanted me to prepare dinner for the show’s host and asked if there was anything unusual that I have been aching to cook up.

It came to me like a flash:  Roast Bear.

A few months previous, I had been digging through the massive menu collection at the New York Public Library.  One of their earliest menus, from 1842, was a dinner thrown in New York in honor of Charles Dickens.  Over 3,000 guests attended, and  the menu was extensive (See the original menu here.)

Roast Bear was served that evening.  I thought it was so unusual and fascinating–I had never seen bear included on a menu, let alone in New York city.  After doing a little more reading (in the very handy Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America) I found out that bear was commonly hunted and eaten in early America; in the 19th century, it was still sold in markets in New York.  Until the end of the century, roast leg of bear was served as a delicacy in New York restaurants.

It was decided: we would eat bear for dinner.  So where does one come across bear meat in this day and age?  You cannot sell hunted game meat in America–game sold in markets today is farmed.  The best way to get it is to make a few friends in Alaska, which I happen to have.  It’s legal to hunt bear there, and if you ask really nice, someone will know someone who would be willing to ship you a roast or two.  And if you’re really lucky, about six pounds of black bear rump meat and tenderloin will arrive via airmail to your Queens apartment.

The next challenge was figuring out how to cook the meat.   I consulted Feeding America to see if any recipes for bear had appeared in American cookbooks.  I came up with one hit, from Miss Corson’s Practical American Cookery (1886):

I consulted Miss Corson’s recipe for roast beef; and she recommends searing it, roasting it, and then preparing a simple gravy from the pan drippings.  This method sounded about right; I wanted to prepare the meat simply to get the full effect of its flavor.

How to Roast a Bear

Eating omnivores, like bear,  can give you all kinds of parasites.  It’s best to cook it well done; I used the same temperature guidelines recommended for cooking pork. I cooked a rump roast, but this recipe should work well for any smaller cut of bear.

1 bear roast; 1-4 lbs
Salt and Pepper
1-2 cups mushrooms (or squash, parsnips, etc.  Something earthy and nice)
1 tablespoon flour
2 cups boiling water

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Rinse bear meat and part dry.  Cover generously with salt and pepper.
2.  Clarify the butter: heat it in a microwave until it melts, then gently skim off the fatty solids that have separated to the top.  Pour butter into a cast iron skillet, being careful not to disturb any sediment that may have sunk to the bottom.
3.  Heat skillet over high heat.  Place bear in skillet and sear on all sides until browned.  Add mushrooms to the skillet–it’s ok if the bear is buried in shrooms.  They’ll cook down.
4. Move bear directly from stovetop into oven; roast 10 minutes per pound, until a meat thermometer in the center reads 145 degrees.  Remove from oven and allow to rest before carving.
5. In the meantime, make the sauce.  Pour bear drippings from the skillet into a saucepan and add flour.  Cook over medium heat until the flour is browned, then add water while whisking constantly.  Let the sauce cook until it thickens to your desired consistency–anything from a thin sauce to a thick gravy is fine.
6.  Carve meat into one-inch thick slices.  Serve, topped with mushrooms and sauce.


The gravy is a must because the meat is a little dry; and because the sauce is made with pure bear goodness, it doesn’t detract from the flavor, but enriches it.

After my first bite of bear, if someone had told me it was beef, I would have believed them.  There is a darker, gamier note, but not the stringy, gamey meat I expected.  It was more than edible–its was good.  I ate my whole plate.

Retronovated Recipes: Braised Turtle

I’ve been doing some research on turtle meat for my upcoming Edible Queens article and I wanted to share a great recipe that won’t make it to print.  The reason?  The article is due out in June, and this slow braised, spicy dish is perfect for winter.  The taste of the tender meat will envelop you like a warm hug.

My inspiration was the first printed American recipe for turtle from Amelia Simmon’s American Cookery.   I actually used veal to test this recipe, and I think it would be equally good with a cut of beef or lamb.  This dish is so easy and delicious, you should serve up some turtle meat surprise at your next Sunday dinner.

Braised Turtle
Inspired by “How to Dress a Turtle,” from American Cookery by Amelia Simmons, 1796

1 lb fresh or frozen turtle, beef, or lamb.

2 c. beef stock
½ tsp salt
½ tsp black pepper
¼ tsp cayenne pepper
¼ tsp nutmeg
¼ tsp mace
½ tsp each dried thyme, marjoram, parsley and savory; mixed.
½ cup Madeira wine or sherry
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

2. Rinse meat and pat dry; cut into one inch cubes.  In a bowl, toss turtle meat with salt, pepper, cayenne pepper, nutmeg and mace.

3. Add meat to a baking dish or dutch oven.  Sprinkle with herb mixture.  Pour in Madeira or sherry and beef stock. Cover, and bake for two hours.

History Dish Mondays: Bazmaawurd, Mulahwajah and Juudhaab

Bazmaawurd ready to be rolled.

A few weeks ago, I mentioned the article Cooking with the Caliphs, which analyzed a medieval cookbook from the court of 10th century Baghdad:

“A little over a thousand years ago, an Arab scribe wrote a book he titled Kitab al-Tabikh (The Book of Recipes)… The book has come down to our time in three manuscripts and fragments of a fourth—and what a treasure it is. These are the dishes actually eaten by the connoisseurs of Baghdad when it was the richest city in the world.”

Yesterday, I had a few friends over, and we tried some of these 1,000 year old dishes.

To begin, I presented Bazmaawurd: chicken, walnuts, fresh herbs and lemon (it was supposed to be citron, but I couldn’t find one fresh) rolled up in a Lavash.  I think this was everyone’s favorite.  The flavors were so fresh, light and zesty.  I found it to be a little dry–but it went nicely with some labneh.
Next I dished up a seasoned lamb dish called Mulahwajah, of which I neglected to take any photos (tipsy).  I stewed lamb meat with leeks, onions, a cup of water, and a fascinating spice blend:  coriander, cinnamon, caraway, pepper, and galangal.  The latter is a spice with a light, flowery, almost citrus taste.  And this recipe calls for a lot of spice: 5 1/2 teaspoons for a 1/4 pound of meat.  It covered the meat completely, but lamb has such a pungent flavor it stands up well to heavy spicing.  The result was a dish that blurred the boundary between sweet and savory with flavor unfamiliar to western tongues.
Lastly, I made Juudhaab: “The supreme roast meat dish was juudhaab (or juudhaabah), where the meat was served on a sweet pudding which had been baked at the bottom of the tannur to catch its dripping juices.”   This dish is vaguely similar to Yorkshire Pudding, in that a soft bread is cooked using fat from the meat it is served with.  But the resemblance is remote; in fact, I have never heard of a food prepared quite this way before.
From Kitab al-Tabikh by Abu Muhammad al-Muzaffar ibn Sayyar, approx. 945 AD

Translated by Linda Dalai Sawaya for Cooking with the Caliphs.

1 whole chicken
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons rosewater
ground saffron
1 pound dried apricots
2 fresh lavashes, pitas or other flatbreads, 12″ in diameter (or more, if smaller)
½ cup brown sugar

1. Preheat oven to 500 degrees. Place apricots in small saucepan, add water to cover apricots by ½ inch. Bring to a boil and stew until apricots are soft and the water has reduced to a thin syrup, about 15-20 minutes.

2. In a baking pan or bottom of a broiling pan, place one lavash.  Strew with apricots in syrup, sugar and 1/4 cup rosewater in which pinch of saffron has been dissolved, then cover with remaining lavash.  Cover with a wire rack or top of the broiling pan.
3.  Wash chicken and pat dry. Mix 2 tablespoons rosewater with pinch of saffron and rub on chicken, inside and out. Place on rack or on broiling pan.
4. Bake at 500 degrees for 20 minutes, then turn heat down to 325.  Roast until a thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh reads 160-165.
5.  Carve chicken and serve in slices over the lavash and apricot pudding.
The result was interesting: I wasn’t thrilled with the slightly greasy taste and texture of the sweet pudding.  But my guests tore into it with grunts and “mmm”s.  The lone vegetarian was mortified.  But we still love her.

Check out all of these recipes and more in the original article here.

In the News: Meat, Meat, MEAT

A pig’s head made from newspaper, wire mesh, and clay.  Not your grade school craft project. (

Head’s up! The Brooklyn Beefsteak is back February 20th.  Stay tuned into their blog for updates here, and read my write up of their fall event here.

The New Age Cavemen and the City:  A group of New Yorkers swear by the Paleo Diet, which involves eating and exercising like a caveman. (nytimes)

Historic Faux Foods: “Sandy Levins researches the foodways of bygone eras to create historically-accurate individual faux foods as well as entire period table and room settings. ” Rendered in astounding accuracy–check out her website.

On a Personal Note: Showered with Gifts!

I treasure my new nutmeg grater.

On Wednesday, I braved the rain and the wind to go to Whisk, a delightful kitchen supply store in Brooklyn. I won a $25 gift certificate earlier this month, so I arrived with a list of small items I needed for my kitchen.

It warmed my heart to be able to pick out some tiny treasures. I got: A beautiful roll of brown parchment paper, which I think I may use to wrap my Christmas presents; a cookie cutter in the shape of an oak leaf and a jar of silver sanding sugar (also for Christmas presents); a candy thermometer, a tea ball, and (best of all) a nutmeg grater. I have wanted a nutmeg grater for years, and the one I got at Whisk is truly special. This nutmeg grater is the same make that I used in my other life in 1848. Hanging on a rack of completely modern and ordinary kitchen utensils, its punched-tin design seemed terribly out of place. I snatched it up and cradled it; I love it so.

When I returned home, a package had come for me in mail. A reader of this blog had mailed me some cookbooks: a two-volume set of 15th Century recipes called Take a Thousand Eggs or More by Cindy Renfrow. This reader had bought them several years ago at a renaissance festival, and never got around to using them. She decided they needed a new home.

I haven’t done much work with Medieval or Renaissance cookery, but upon scanning the index, the heading “Spectacle Foods” caught my eye. The first entry: “Appraylere: a false pitcher made of pork, cheese and bread.” What??? Meat Pitcher? Awwwwwesome!

Box of meat! Sarah Lohman, your ship has come in.

Lastly, yesterday morning the Fed-Ex truck arrive with a box of free meat. How this free meat came to be is a long story, but it’s fromD’Artagnan, a local purveyor of elegant products. I got two tiny chickens, heritage breed bacon, buffalo steaks, duck foie gras, and two types of truffle butter. I’ve never even owned a truffle before!

I feel truly fortunate to have received all of these wonderful gifts; they are going to take me on some wonderful food adventures

The Great Alaskan Meat-Off

I just came back from a two week trip to Alaska, where I staid with my friends Chris and Kristina in Girdwood, a suburb of Anchorage. I wanted to share with you some of the food I consumed.

Because of my continuing obsession with sourdough bread, Kristina took me to the local bakery, The Bake Shop. As we arrived, so did a busload of tourists: The Shop seems to be the go-to breakfast stop for locals and tourists alike. I purchased a loaf of sourdough bread, which was surprisingly mild and delicious. Sourdough is associated with gold mining regions, like Alaska and San Francisco, because the miners could make it without taking a “sponge,” or yeast culture, with them. It could be created from yeast spores in the air.

Kristina gifted me with a bag of locally-made sourdough starter, which gets going after you add a can of beer. I’m excited to try it, but I still want to try to create a starter from air-borne yeast.

I also had “Sweet Roll with a Side of Butter,” also made of sourdough, and also delicious. It had cinnamon and almonds, but also mysterious notes of brandy and anise. I had two over the extent of my stay.

Kristina, who was a vegetarian when I knew her in college, took me on a shopping trip to Indian Valley Meats. Another local vendor, they specialize in breaking down and preparing carcasses for local hunters, and sell a variety of locally raised game meats. Kristina selected and prepared a menagerie of local animals for me to ingest:

Clockwise, from left to right: Moose, Buffalo, Caribou, Elk, and Reindeer. Caribou and Reindeer are actually the same thing, the latter being wild and the former being farmed.
I also ate wild boar jerky, which was covered in some sort of garlic glaze I wasn’t too keen on, and salmon that Chris had pulled from the river days earlier. This fish was delicious–and I hate fish.

In my second week, while on our way to Denali National Park, I finally acquired the object of my true desire: The Mc Kinley Mac. I had seen a poster for it as soon as I stepped off the plane, and had fantasized about it since. The Number 12 on the menu, this double-stacked McKinley Mac is only available in this state. Which is ok, because as I excited as I was to sample it, it just turned out to be a big gross burger.

The McKinley Mac and I zoom towards Mt. McKinley, on our way to Denali national Park.
On the way back from Denali, we stopped at a Burger King in Wasilla. The BK menu included a Sourdough Whopper, but after a week in the wild, I wasn’t in the mood to take a risk.

Lastly, I made up a batch of Spruce Tea, after harvesting a few limbs from Alaska’s State Tree. It did not just taste like pine needles, but had a richer, spiced flavour. The batch I brewed was fairly weak, and I wanted to make a proper pot of tea when I returned to New York, but I forgot my bag branches in Girdwood. Perhaps Kristina will be kind enough to ship a few stateside–I’m curious to pass some along to my beer brewing friends, so they can make an authentic Spruce Beer.

At every restaurant we went to (three in the small town of Girdwood alone) the food was excellent, something I definitely didn’t expect when coming to Alaska. Additionally, there were very few chain restaurants; the ones that were there hadn’t even popped up until the last decade. Alaska’s relative isolation seems to have resulted in a bevy of independently owned restaurants with excellent food.

If you’re interested in my non-culinary Alaskan adventures, you should look at my photos here.