The evening began like so many others. Slices of freshly killed deer were placed in the hot pan and cooked briefly in oil with salt and pepper. The meat was consumed sizzling off the pan. The outside of the meat was seared, the inside raw, the way you sometimes see a piece of tuna served. Chased with slugs of red wine taken directly from the jug, it was another moment of perfection, like countless others that are repeated, with luck, every hunting season.
Back at the cutting board, my buddy FawnSlayer slipped his knife between the backstrap of an antlerless buck and the sheet of silverskin attached to it. Lying on a bright white sheet of butcher paper, the entire back strap was about 18 inches long. While it was clearly red meat, the fawn flesh was a whiter shade of red than, say, the backstraps on the massive whitetail buck still hanging in FawnSlayer’s garage, or his bull elk already in the freezer. The fawn flesh was pale, the way veal, baby cow, is pale. It was flesh born of genes and milk, rather than work and forage. Dead for a week and hung in the cold, Bambi’s flesh was still glowing with life.
Meanwhile, the soaring popularity of sushi has decimated the world’s tuna supply, which is in sharp decline. Sushi without tuna would be like Japan without sushi, and many Japanese are sweating the crash in availability that seems imminent.
Sushi chefs are scouring the world, including the United States, in search of items with which to fill the giant culinary hole that tuna could leave behind. Smoked duck with mayonnaise and a mixture of crushed diakon root and sea urchin are two New York concoctions that Tadashi Yamagata, vice chairman of Japan’s national union of sushi chefs, has “reverse-imported” back to Japan, according to the New York Times.
The Times article compared the looming tuna crisis with a mercury poisoning scare in 1973, when consumers refused to buy tuna. Some chefs, in search of something red, resorted to horse and deer, both of which had precedent in certain regional Japanese sushi traditions.
Personally, even without the crash in fish populations, I have issues with the long-distance air transport of food. It’s a luxury that the Earth simply can’t sustain.
I’m just saying that I have issues, mind you. It’s not that I wouldn’t snort a plate of sushi if it was in front of me, but that doesn’t make it right. Why would I eat sushi when I know it’s wrong? Well, I guess the pull is just that strong. But could deer or horsemeat really fill the big shoes of the footless tuna? Standing at the cutting board with FawnSlayer, I thought perhaps….
When I told FawnSlayer my plan, he said, “Well, yes!”
I took a short leave and returned with wasabi powder, soy sauce, sheets of nori-style seaweed, mayonnaise, gomasio (a Japanese blend of salt and crushed sesame seeds), and pickled ginger (to be used as a chaser, not eaten with the meat).
All of these condiments were artfully arranged on a large plate, including a shot glass with a mixture of soy sauce and wasabi. FawnSlayer and I commenced assembling various combinations of condiments to accompany the thin slices of raw backstrap that lay in a pile like a wilted rose on the butcher paper. Instead of sake, a bottle of red provided a nice counterpart to the red meat, and helped keep the dish situated in Montana.
What happened next was the harmonious collision of two worlds, both of which were already perfect. One of these states of perfection is the full-body ecstasy of the sushi bar, where the carefully chosen components add up to something greater than the sum of its parts. The other state of perfection is the timeless gathering around the butcher’s frying pan, mentioned above. Two perfect worlds became one, as FawnSlayer and I ate nine inches of fawn backstrap.
Although we were drinking Two Buck Chuck, the local Flathead Dry Cherry Wine from Ten Spoon Winery would go well here—not only is it local, but sakura, the Japanese word for horsemeat, also means cherry blossom—and that’s about as close to eating horsemeat as I dare to get, especially around here, lest I be lynched by the angry housewives of 10,000 hobby ranchettes.
Of course, some of the condiments we used were imported, but unlike raw fish, the wasabi powder, ginger, and seaweed can make it over on the slow boat, which is hundreds of times more efficient than air transport.
And like any raw meat, including fish sushi, oyster shooters, steak tartar, or sakura, great care needs to be taken that the animal is healthy, comes from a clean environment, is kept cool and processed cleanly. Pregnant women should avoid raw meat, just as they should probably avoid undercooked eggs, meth, and the shredded lettuce at their local fast food joint.
Ask Ari: Grow sprouts to get your local winter greens
Q: Dear Chef,
My family is trying really hard to do the local foods/seasonal-eating thing. The onions, squash, carrots, potatoes and garlic in our basement were all purchased at the farmers market. My daughter picked the strawberries in the freezer, and says she wants to go hunting next year! This year we went in on a cow and a pig, both from a local farm, with our neighbors.
We follow your “slow boat rule,” so we drink coffee and eat chocolate like normal people, and for the most part our “locavore” diet is fun and satisfying. But the one area where we’re having some trouble—especially me—is in the salad department. I really feel that eating green leaves and raw vegetables gives me something that no other foods can offer. I worry that I’m depriving myself and my family of these nutrients for the sake of an intellectual exercise. Help!
—Jonesing for Green
A: Dear Jonesing,
I don’t think it’s your imagination. Raw, living foods really are good and tasty.
First suggestion: You can make a salad out of those grated carrots, onions, and garlic in your basement. They might not be leafy greens, but they’ll give you that raw foods energy burst.
Secondly, consider making sprouts. Many seeds and grains, from mung beans to sunflower seeds to quinoa to wheat, will easily sprout, and the sprouts have the chlorophyll and vitality of a spring shoot.
Soak 1 tablespoon of seeds or 1/3 cup beans in 1 quart of tepid water overnight. The next day, rinse the seeds thoroughly in tepid water and drain. Place in a quart jar covered with a dampened washcloth. Fasten with a rubber band and store in a dark cupboard. Rinse the seeds or beans twice each day. Make sure excess moisture is drained off each time. Depending on what you’re sprouting, it will take 2-5 days.
And if you have to buy a few salads from California, it isn’t the end of the world. After all, California can’t be that far away, judging from all the darn Californicators around these parts.
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