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Food Detective: A bite of the wild side at annual raccoon fest

For uninitiated raccomeis stringy like pork but with beef-like flavor. | PhoCourtesy David Hammond

For the uninitiated, raccoon meat is stringy like pork, but with a beef-like flavor. | Photo Courtesy David Hammond

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Updated: February 26, 2012 8:01AM



In the ’70s, I was a graduate student living in a commune in a Kenwood mansion formerly owned by Sears magnate Julius Rosenwald. We had a huge kitchen but few cooking skills, so we hired a cook: Mary, from Mississippi.

One day, we asked Mary to make us some home-style foods. She prepared an unforgettable dinner of chitterlings and raccoon. The chitterlings were somewhat challenging to my citified palate, but the raccoon was dark and stringy like pork, with a pleasant beefy taste. I had seconds.

Few of us, from the North or South, have sampled raccoon. It’s old-time country vittles — like possum or squirrel — wild, lean and clean of antibiotics.

Eating in South Australia last year, I was thrilled to taste genuinely feral meats like kangaroo, emu and other creatures born free, hunted wild, sold to restaurants, and served to customers who prefer low-fat game meat.

In the United States, most once-wild meat-animals, like deer and rabbit, grow up on farms under strict controls.

But even in the Midwest, there’s wildness to be savored if you look for it.

Every year at the Tom McNulty raccoon feed, hunter-caught raccoon is enjoyed by eager fans of this undomesticated meat at American Legion Post 196 in Delafield, Wis.

Event organizer Craig Hoaglund explained, “Raccoon carcasses are provided by local hunters who want the pelts and would normally just throw out the meat.”

Though raccoon may be generally considered little more than road kill, the critter has fans.

Catherine Lambrecht of Chicago Culinary Historians attends the Delafield event every year because, she says, it’s “where I can enjoy a raccoon feast without anyone thinking it’s weird.”

Having prepared the varmint at past events, Lambrecht advises to “remove all the fat and scent glands to avoid a gamey flavor,” then, “cook it slowly with lots of moisture like a pot roast; it’s too lean to roast.”

Jason Mousseau, chef de cuisine at Hearty, hunts. He’s bagged the beast and eaten it. “After a brine, a smoke and a sweet glaze,” he wryly observed, “it’s edible.”

The 85th annual raccoon feed is Saturday. Dinner starts at 5 p.m. Admission is $12 for adults, $6 for kids. For information, call (262) 646-3930.

David Hammond is an Oak Park writer and contributor to WBEZ (91.5 FM) and LTHForum.com.
E-mail detective@suntimes.com.



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