We Ate Reindeer Over the Holidays: Why You Should Too
We know a lot of chefs over here at Clean Plate Charlie.
So when we get a crazy idea in our heads, we know who to contact.
Just before Christmas, we decided we wanted to get some ideas on how to eat Santa's favored mode of transportation for the holiday. And yes, we're fully aware that our sense of humor is slightly morbid.
To help us drum up some ideas, we reached out to The Dubliner's executive chef, Greg Schiff, who is quite the wild game enthusiast, to walk us through different ways of preparing reindeer.
Little did we know at the time that he would take that idea and run with it; after hanging up the phone with us, Schiff ordered up some reindeer sausage and stew meat to whip up in the restaurant.
Obviously, we had to get in on that; we dined on reindeer right around Christmas. As disturbing as it may sound -- sorry, Rudolph -- it's actually a more environmentally friendly, healthy, and humane animal protein to eat than anything you'll find in your corner grocery store.
To take out some of the gamey taste from the meat, Schiff created a dry rub with rosemary, smoked sea salt, and peppercorns before adding it to the stew of onions, carrots, Brussels sprouts, potatoes, and parsley.
In terms of flavor and texture, it could probably be compared to venison or even grass-fed pasture-raised beef: firmer and gamier than regular corn-fed beef found in supermarkets, but by no means overpowering.
Obviously, reindeer is a slight departure from the normal "American diet," but that's what makes it a better option from an ethical point of view.
Most of the reindeer you'll find for purchase is semidomesticated; for centuries, Arctic and Subarctic people have been raising and herding them as free-ranging animals feeding on a natural diet of grasses, herbs, and lichens. They live on the tundra, eating, walking around, and pooping, thereby fertilizing the ecosystem.
The vast majority of reindeer roam free until the day they are killed for consumption.
Sure, it's Blitzen, but there are cultures that regularly dine on reindeer, such as the Norwegians, who consume about 300 grams a year. And, because it is not industrially farmed, in comparison to the cow that created the McDonald's burger you ate for lunch today, it's like comparing a death row inmate to someone who dies suddenly in an accident.
Look at intensive beef production:
For about the first six months of life, these steer live on grass pastures near their moms, supplementing their mother's milk with their natural diet of grass -- that's what their complex ruminant systems have evolved to digest.
From there, little Bessie is brought to a Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO), in which hundreds, if not thousands, of bovines are packed into a small area where they are switched to a diet of corn, protein, and fat supplements to help them grow as quickly as possible.
Because their bodies were not designed to digest anything other than grass, they tend to get sick with issues ranging from severe bloating to extreme heartburn (so severe it can actually can kill the animals) to liver abscesses. Just think about what happened to Morgan Spurlock when he ate McDonald's for a month -- cows eat that way for the majority of their lives.
To counteract all the ailments, the cows are given a cocktail of drugs and antibiotics, which have been widely acknowledged for the evolution of antibiotic-resistant superbugs.
Wait! Those antibiotics also have another purpose.
Normally, a cow eats its grass, defecates, and the remaining material -- i.e., manure -- gets churned up, decomposes, and fertilizes the grass; the process creates a closed loop ecosystem that nourishes itself. Sounds gross, but it's worked for centuries.
Due to the high density of animals on relatively small parcels of land, the natural process of fertilization doesn't happen. Because there are too many animals in a confined space, the land cannot manage to reabsorb the nutrients from the excrement; grass cannot live, and the runoff is redirected into ponds that contain levels of nitrogen and phosphorous that are too high to even use in concentrated form for fertilizing crops or other plants. Throw in some of those leftover antibiotics and hormones and you have quite the environmental concoction.
The cows are living in their own crap and creating toxic cesspools that leach into the waterways. That must be a lovely -- and environmentally friendly -- way to live.
So it may go against Christmas code, but you should probably give reindeer a chance.
The Dubliner will be running caribou -- Dasher's cousin -- as a special periodically. Call for details.
The Dubliner is located at 210 SW Second St. in Fort Lauderdale. Call 954-523-1213, or visit dublinerfortlauderdale.com And at 435 Plaza Real in Boca Raton. Call 561-620-2540, or visit dublinerboca.com.
Follow Sara Ventiera on Twitter, @saraventiera.
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