I have worked in kitchens long enough to have experienced many different diets: vegetarian, vegan, pescatarian, raw food, gluten-, dairy-, nightshade-, salt-, nut-, and shellfish-free. While working at Saltoluokta Fjällstation, I experienced a new eating preference: vilt (wild). These are vegetarians who will eat wild fish and meats. I have never run across one of these in the US, though I have met several people who are vegetarians but will eat animals that were raised sustainably.
To be a wildfoodatarian in the US would hardly be worth explaining. Unless you or someone you know hunts wild game, you will have trouble acquiring wild game. So what about that buffalo burger, or fried crocodile, pheasant breast, or elk steak you ate on that one vacation? They probably all came from farms. Laws in the US prohibit hunted meats from being served in restaurants, as the animal must be inspected prior to slaughter. Wild fish is still fair game (no pun intended). The laws, put in place in the 19th and 20th centuries, worked as a preventative measure to protect wild animal populations, which had been severely depleted by commercial hunting (read more here).
Today it appears that the only way to get real wild meats is to go to the local Food Bank during hunting season. For example, in West Virginia, hunters can donate their deer to local meat processors who will butcher everything and donate it to the Mountaineer Food Bank. It’s an excellent program, but it raises awkward questions: why is uninspected meat okay for the poor? Could hunters earn income from sales of hunted deer – an income that could perhaps help economically depressed regions?
Sweden has different laws concerning wild meats, and one regularly sees moose, wild boar, and many types of game birds on menus. Wild game is served in other European countries, as well. All these countries simply require the game to be inspected and processed in a certified facility, post-hunt. Reindeer occupy their own category – as semi-domesticated animals that must be slaughtered in a certified facility – a complicated system Amanda is still trying to understand for her research.
Strangely, the wildfoodatarians I encountered didn’t require much menu modification due to Saltoluokta’s game-based menu. All of our proteins for the main courses were wild foods: moose, reindeer, smoked whitefish, trout, and arctic char. Occasionally we used a bit of pork belly, but who wouldn’t? Even our lunch menu used ground reindeer and moose meat for things like lasagna or pasta bolognaise.
It was a great experience to work with all these wild foods. Reindeer innalår (tender top round) marinated, grilled, and then finished at high heat in the oven was supremely delicious, crusty and slightly charred on the outside, tender and deep pink on the inside. Moose innalår received the same treatment but the meat is lighter in color and milder in taste while still remaining distinctly wild tasting.
The fresh caught and smoked sik (whitefish) from the lake were moist and succulent—excellent served with a sour cream caviar sauce and boiled potatoes. Röding (arctic char) and öring (brown trout) were often served whole, after roasting in a bath of white wine, butter, and a showering of almonds. Lax (salmon) is not easily found in Sweden, but it is abundant in nearby Norway. We wrapped exotic asparagus in thin slices of cold-smoked Norwegian salmon and served them up with a chive hollandaise.
Northern Sweden becomes a blanket of wild berries during the summer: lingon, blue, cloud, and crow berries found their ways into the menu from accompanying souvas (salted and smoked reindeer meat) to cloudberries sitting below mascarpone cream in a tiramisu. Havtorn (Sea buckthorn) is known as the tropical fruit of the north. It is quite acidic but when sweetened can taste similar to sour orange with hints of mango or pineapple. We used it as a coulis to drizzle on desserts or add a bright taste and color to appetizers.
While mushrooms are abundant here, there is not much of a mushroom eating culture. Still we served a mushroom soup which contained a mix of wild mushrooms in addition to button mushrooms. A morel mushrooms cream sauce made an appearance alongside the roasted moose, and pickled chanterelles livened up a few appetizers.
Avant-garde Swedish cuisine is becoming popular for using wild ingredients such as birch leaves, lichen, sea buckthorn, pine tips, bark, reindeer hearts and tongues, and many other wild foods. Ironically, in the US, it appears one might only be able to approach this experience by going to a soup kitchen in West Virginia or DC where a local hunter has graciously donated his or her deer or the National Park Service is culling the deer population.
Recently, Amanda and I joined Eva Gunnare from Essence of Lapland for an impromptu wild edibles class where we made a delicious meadowsweet saft, ate birch leaf crackers, and checked out wild salad greens. Stay tuned for a description of that meeting.
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