Arctic Eats – Seal

The taste of blood lingered for a while. A metallic tingle left as I noticed myself licking my lips oddly craving more. The bulging eyes were staring at me from the ice with a look of blame for what I was doing, yet I held no remorse. This was how it should be eaten… raw and still warm.

Let me take this back a bit. Quite a bit actually. Last year on my expedition to Arctic Bay, Nunavut I got my first taste of this foreign deep red protein. One of the local guides, knowing how badly I had wanted to try it along with the other Arctic Eats, he was nice enough to think of me when he went hunting on his time off. He sent me a care package of liver and rib meat which I ripped open like some carnivorous need.

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Eating seal liver sashimi

Straight to the cutting board to slice some seal liver sashimi, I was full of curiosity, excitement, positive nervousness and bewilderment. Similar to most experiences I have when trying something new, foreign and exotic to the average palate. Edible adventures create memories of a time and place, teach you something new about a culture and this time set me on a quest… a quest to try the delicacies of this animal. I started slurping back thin slices, slowly trying to distinguish the flavours. While the texture left something to be desired, it had a sweet richness to it with an essence of fish. The addition of a small piece of blubber was a game changer giving it sweet fattiness. Unique compared to other livers I’ve had before, but it was time I moved on to the rib meat.

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Eating raw seal rib

I didn’t even bother taking the time to cut a bitesize piece to try. I just grabbed a rib bone and tore at the flesh with my teeth. To some an act of savagery, myself, the best way to go about it. Tender, rich, slightly gamey, I nearly finished off the whole chunk before a local stopped me. They often eat seal when out on the land as not just sustenance, but as a means of keeping warm. The high concentration of hemoglobin giving it the dark red colour also heats the body and apparently can play games with your stomach if it’s not a regular in the diet. As cold as it is here I didn’t want to be leaving the sleeping bag for multiple bathroom runs as I was warned could happen, so I thought I’d heed the advice.

Later just before leaving Arctic Bay for the year, I learnt of the Inuit ‘ice cream’ or ‘yogurt’ (depending on where you are) and that it was generally eaten on the ice. It was the snack to warm the bones while butchering the rest. This left me with an insatiable hunger as I had no idea how I was going to get my hands on it. The crème de la crème, it was now the brain I was in search of.

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Sam preparing the brain

So this year I was in Pond Inlet, Nunavut. About the same distance into the Arctic Circle and eager to continue my quest, my personal mission. I succeeded in a couple other Arctic eats that I did want to try. Caribou in Iqaluit, muktuk (narwhal blubber) and snow goose eggs, but I never did manage to get any seal… until the final evening that is. A guide had just arrived back at the beach with the last loaded qamutik for us to pack away until next year’s expedition. Sure enough, there it was, a baby seal. He called me over to tell me he had gone fisticuffs with it. When able to get close enough they wind up, swing like Rocky and just punch it in the head. He says there is no reason to waste a bullet and it can damage the meat.

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My first sample of raw seal brain

Here I am, my first expedition of 2016 culminating in the best way possible. The animal skinned, head removed and skull cracked open. A crosshatch pattern sliced into the blubber on the inner pelt then a lobe of brain chopped fine over this area like a tartar. Little bits of fat throughout the creamy brain. Still warm with a nutty rich flavour with the addition of the metallic taste of raw blood. I ate as it was offered savouring every last finger full as I knew this was a treat. Something not to take for granted.

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Seal skin parcel containing all the meat

I watched him clean the remainder of the animal. Eyes removed, liver and offal cleaned, intestines braided, ribs removed. Once we had finished with the brain tartar, he handed me a small chunk of the tenderloin, which I graciously accepted before he went about packing the rest up to bring home. He claimed he was making an innovative garbage bag which had me curious. Slicing a thin strip of skin and stabbing holes around the perimeter, the meat was then placed in the center of the pelt. Weaving the strip of skin through the holes it brought everything together into a tight seal fur parcel.

This made my experience feel whole and officially I was ready to leave for another year. My hunger quenched for now, I would have to hold off until 2017.

 

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