Despite spending a good bit of time hunting deer, turkeys, waterfowl and small game in the beaver rich habitat of West Tennessee, I seldom get the opportunity to kill a beaver. Granted, I have never gone specifically hunting for beaver, but you would think the opportunity would present itself frequently given the sheer amount of beaver sign in these swamps. Unfortunately, beavers tend to be very nocturnal and I do not have any experience with trapping nor the motivation to run and check traps. So, when my friend Andrew texted me that he was staring down a beaver on a fruitless, late season deer hunt, I responded immediately that he should shoot, skin and hand over the prized meat. If there is enough beaver to go around, edicate dictates that you share, right?
There is very little info available about cooking beaver. Sure, you have some trapper forums where there is a little chatter about Dale’s seasoning + bacon, but that’s not my style of cooking. I want unapologetic wild game with whole ingredients. After reading Steve Rinella’s excellent book Meateater, I knew without a doubt that we had to attempt roasting the beaver tail to get to the fat inside. This was a delicacy among early American trappers. For the legs, we decided that we couldn’t go wrong with a stew seasoned with simple ingredients. Via group text message, plans came together for the Beaver dinner with no opportunity missed to make beaver jokes. (Feel free to make yours in the comment section. Attempting any serious conversation about eating beaver without making jokes is an impossibility in any social circle).
Using the basic steps of braising venison, the legs were first browned in a skillet then added to a Dutch Oven along with 1 quart of Venison stock, onion, carrots, garlic, rosemary, oregano, thyme, salt, pepper, brown sugar, a dash of red pepper flakes and a Irish Stout beer. I put the pot in the oven at 300 degrees Fahrenheit for about 4 hours. Sweet potatoes were added during the final 75 minutes of braising and seasoning was adjusted slightly.
While the stew was finishing up, we began roasting the tail. I had only a basic idea of what we were attempting to do here, though I wasn’t quite sure if the flesh would completely burn away or if it would just separate from the fat. We spent about an hour hovered over a dual burner camp stove (rather than risk a hot mess on a indoor burner), constantly moving the tail around to get the flame equally distributed.
Eventually, the flesh began to bubble up and separate from the fat inside. With a little precision knife work, I was able to cleanly remove the the burnt crust, revealing a beautiful layer of fat that I cut into thin slices. The fat is best described as translucent with a slight, white fish smell similar to cod. It is very different from most anything I have ever eaten and quite enjoyable. Even though we were eating pure, rendered fat, the texture and experience was more akin to eating fish.
The stew came out excellent as well and was a big hit with our room full of uninitiated beaver diners. Rich, savory and naturally spicy; an ultra complex roast beef. After thinking about it for a day or so, I have concluded that Beaver may very well be the best tasting game meat running around in the woods of the Southeast and I now have many ideas: Beaver Machaca, Beaver Carnitas, Beaver Confit….
Compared to game meat, conventional beef tends to be bland and one dimensional. Beaver, however, has the fattiness of beef with the exceptional richness, earth tones and complex flavors found in game meats. When you compare game meats to domestic meats, Beaver is the best of both worlds with the benefits of both, the shortcomings of neither. I may very well spend more time hunting these bark eaters in the immediate future.