I changed the water again after the first hour, and one more time at the next half hour. Even, then, I was confident. On a cool, sunny February morning, I met Sonny and Karli Diefenderfer on a remote windswept waterfront property in Windy Hill, Maryland. "We would sell it to him in little mayonnaise jars—like $300 a jar for the musk," Aaron said. The creature has lean, dark meat, full of tiny bones. Though they are primarily herbivorous, and mostly eat plants, this species also feeds on small animals occasionally. "It comes off really easy—look," she said. "It's hard for me to just rip the rats apart like the Abbotts do. Add coconut milk, chicken stock, fish sauce, brown sugar and lime leaves (if using). 1 14-ounce can diced tomatoes, drained Muskrat skinning trophies crowd his high shelves, and the walls are covered with pictures and newspaper articles about the Abbott clan, not just about their skinning prowess but about the various ways that they've embodied, through the generations, the Eastern Shore waterman culture. Muskrat is a lean meat, like rabbit, but it is a dark meat, like duck, and it also has a lot of tiny bones, like fish. It is not for everyone. He won. But that wasn’t ever the problem. Read the latest reviews on our favorite products. Lying listlessly in the sink, my kitchen seemed to warm a few degrees, and the muskrat perfumed the air with a bouquet of swamp: I detected notes of large mosquito, algae and bullfrog. Stir hoisin sauce into muskrat. It seemed a shame to just feed the carcasses to cats. And how does it compare to the cultural touchstones of beef, chicken and pork? But if history teaches us anything, it’s that approval ratings are a fickle mistress. Generally, you have to put in an order for muskrat at these country markets. It came in third place in the specialty category, with Aaron's Son of a Gun Muskrat Stew and Sesame Muskrat Stir-Fry taking first and second, respectively. Now it was time to see what this meat could handle. For instance, one can mitigate the muddy taste of catfish by soaking the meat in a solution of salt, rice wine and ginger first. 9. The Maryland forest is thickly populated with edible native plants: root beer-scented sassafras; bitter beech nuts; shadbush, whose branches grow heavy with red fruit in June. On Saturday, February 22, I prepared my dishes: The rules only permitted cooking competition entrants to reheat dishes on site. This is Officers second time trying muskrat. These cookies do not store any personal information. "I’ve won 16 times, Dad’s won 13 times, so that’s 29," Wylie Jr. said. This was, after all, the National Outdoor Show, I reminded myself, and I started to doubt my own choice in clothing for the day, feeling a bit like I was wearing Duke Blue to a Carolina home game. Instead, they carry it up onto a platform, either their lodge or something similar, and eat it there. Add cumin, Old Bay, oregano and cinnamon. A skinned muskrat is especially lean, and a long, slow boil would only further remove any residual fat. My dad is from Hong Kong. He recalled, for instance, that the Louisiana contingent used to truck up to the Outdoor Show with live rats in tow, whereas the custom locally is to bring your animals to the contest predeceased. As the competitions heated up, audience members shouted things like "Keep it clean! The bulk of their diet consists of virtually anything, including roots, grasses, leaves, and stems. 1 cup heavy cream Not at all. With my cleaver, I first chopped off its little paws and feet, and arranged them into a pile on the side. Few attempts have been made to study the food supply of the muskrat under natural conditions in the northern states. After simmering curry for 15 minutes, plate the rice balls and ladle curry over them. Add the potatoes, red wine, tomato paste and spices. Dorchester comprises 593 square miles of land, 108 square miles of water, and for all that, a permanent crowd of about 30,000 people. The first would be milk-based, proceeding on the theory that the slight acidity in milk could counteract any off-tastes remaining from stale blood in the meat. Moreover, the show boasts an annual ‘rat cooking competition that I wanted to see. Serve with Garlic Lime Yogurt. They shouldn’t have done that—the PETA people went crazy over all of that." Wylie Abbott Jr. told me about guys buying whole farmhouses just with the cash they'd earned from selling pelts. Ad Choices, How to Cook a Muskrat (You Have to Skin It First). Rhonda Aaron, right, with her mother, Nellie Flowers. As I covered the bowl with plastic wrap, I scoffed with conquest, and placed the bowl in the refrigerator. 2. Set aside. But I also had an epiphany that week. Bloody flecks of ice littered my sink as I revealed a stiff, rabbit-sized animal in my bare hands. In the cafeteria at the show, muskrat roasted in the traditional fashion was available for sale in two sizes: a plate, for $5, and a "sample" portion in a Dixie cup, for $1. ½ cup chopped red bell pepper Peering into the pot, the muskrat’s head had by this time dislodged itself from its body and was rolling around at the bottom. Fold over corner for face of muskrat. Assorted fresh herbs for garnish Two of the Abbotts finished in front of me. In the wintertime, muskrats do not have a food storage area so they must swim under the ice in search of food. The Bacon ‘Rat and the Swampanadas were still concealed under aluminum foil covers and they remained hidden for the next forty-five minutes they spent in the oven. ), The history books will recognize the Flowers-Aaron family and the Abbott family as the great competing clans of Eastern Shore muskrat skinning, with the Abbotts out somewhere ahead in terms of competitions won. And, if I plated the mock-muskrat in a dish filled at the bottom with a dark, bourbon-infused sauce, it would actually imitate an intoxicated muskrat swimming in a swamp. Finally, I didn’t have any confidence that butchering the ‘rat after soaking conferred any great benefit. The smell did not abate, and the funky, fishy character of the meat held steadfast as I choked a small piece of its shoulder down. Muskrat Alley Cafe: Great for breakfast but avoid on long weekends - See 37 traveler reviews, 6 candid photos, and great deals for … Place in baking dish and bake for 2 hours, basting periodically with maple bourbon glaze. 12. I felt like this was my chance to prove something I’ve always wanted to prove: That in the right hands, most food can be controlled and rendered into something elegant. When I got home, I un-sleeved one of the frozen muskrats from its plastic bag. 1 14-ounce package smoked sausage or kielbasa Stir to combine. 1 yellow onion, finely diced Their muskrat festival features a pageant, too. 8. Use of this site constitutes acceptance of our User Agreement (updated 1/1/20) and Privacy Policy and Cookie Statement (updated 1/1/20) and Your California Privacy Rights. In it, a woman sits primly on a chair, her small blade angled above a small rodent that appears to be nailed to a vertical board in front of her. The first segment of the show took Zimmern to Dorchester County, a lesser-known county situated on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, where he met a local family who cherishes the bounty brought by the humble muskrat. But if I do I’ll give either your 2nd or 3rd place recipe a try…. I only had eight muskrats and change remaining. I plated the Swampanadas next, arranging them on a long dish garnished with half-moon slices of lime and a spatter of garlic-lime yogurt on the side. Fold over corner for face of muskrat. Wet fingers with water and rub around perimeter of disk. Add chopped olives, diced tomatoes, diced potatoes and vinegar. 11. Rhonda Aaron finished second, after Dakota Abbott, who had won in 2014 and 2015, only to cede the title to Aaron in 2016. Do you have what it takes to win a rodent cooking competition? 2. Muskrat Alley Cafe, Rock Hall: See 37 unbiased reviews of Muskrat Alley Cafe, rated 4.5 of 5 on Tripadvisor and ranked #8 of … Cumin is one, curry is another, horseradish is another and hoisin sauce is yet another. Muskrats primarily eat aquatic plants, including cattails, sedges, water lilies, arrowheads and duckweeds. More to the point, what is a muskrat? 2 bunches green onions, finely chopped "It's only so fast you can go before you start breaking them up, breaking bones and stuff," Wylie Jr. explained. Epicurious may earn a portion of sales from products that are purchased through our site as part of our Affiliate Partnerships with retailers. Dissolve salt into warm bowl of water. There’s even one place that still serves a distinctly Delmarvan dish, and if you ever find yourself craving a muskrat dinner, head on down to the Southern Grille … We all live in some kind of a bubble. ½ cup maple syrup An hour later, I took the bowl out of the refrigerator to inspect the drunken ‘rat. I needed to have a beer first. Their rats were lined up in neat rows, the better to grab them quickly, and Aaron, at least, was skinning with a brand-new three-and-a-half-inch blade. There's the matter of the musk glands, for instance, on the hind legs—you've got to take them off before you cook the rat because of the strong flavor they impart. He confirmed that they were already cleaned, musk glands already removed. But there are no geese in sight. A friend and I ate these things within the space of just about an hour, and if you can imagine the taste left in your mouth after you've consumed all of the aforementioned items in short succession, well, actually, don't. 3. None of us skin like that." So I thought I would first attempt to incorporate the muskrat meat into an empanada, relying on the butter in the puff pastry dough for added fat. Aaron skinned a few muskrats in her garage while she explained how it was done, this demonstration having three purposes: She wanted to show me, for one. Spread layer of muskrat evenly over green onions. This year the whole thing wrapped up by 10, but you could see how it might go on. Wild Game Recipes presents Smothered Muskrat and Onions , Fried Muskrat , Muskrat Meatloaf , and Baked Stuffed Muskrat with Carrots . The muskrat couldn’t fit in better in this town. As shown on television, she is fit, intense and ageless. This is the seat of the American federal government, the regulatory jungle of power and money, and yet so easily we forget that this is a city tucked into a rich estuary known as the Chesapeake Bay. This time, I added several knobs of crushed, fresh ginger to the boiling liquid. Classic roasted muskrat with salt, pepper, and sage. On rare occasions, they will also eat insects, frogs, crayfish, mussels, and other small animals, mainly during the winter when plant matter is scarce. 1/8 teaspoon pepper. Roots, stems and bulbs are all consumed but cattails make up the majority of their diet. But it accommodates over 1,000 show-goers each year for this event and parking is complemented by a shuttle bus system running constantly between the school and a muddy parking lot about 200 yards down the road. ("It's not something that you can take and wash it up and throw it in the frying pan," Wylie Abbot Jr. said. 12 slices bacon Man, it's hard.". Young onlookers to one of many muskrat skinning competitors at the National Outdoor Show. My brother and I approached the hand-written sign reading “Muskrat Cooking Competition.” The portion reserved for the contest was part of a classroom that had a laminate counter with a metal sink, a vintage microwave oven, and a white electric range that was clearly sourced just for the competition. By 3:45 pm, there was no sign of Ms. Aaron. The response was immediate and gratifying. Since the contest’s end, I have not eaten muskrat. Muskrats are native to only North America and closely resemble a cross between a groundhog … Shivering from the cold and letting loose the occasional whimper, I told myself to man up and closed the doors and windows for the cooking phase. By the time I made it back to the preparation tables, I saw her name scrawled on the Specialty ledger below mine. And even though it was below 20 degrees outside, I ran to open windows and doors to fumigate my home with blistering cold air. The muskrat skinning started with the junior division, where four girls showed up and only one boy did. Rather, I would follow an approach to soak, then boil the ‘rat in a second cleansing solution, then fork the meat off the bone. I always wondered why we didn’t eat it. 2 bunches green onions, finely chopped 1 teaspoon pepper. 1 cup heavy cream This was an awesome read. First place in the “specialty” category, the first place trophy and $50 in prize money went to Rhonda Aaron’s muskrat pot pie. Preheat oven to 225 degrees. I was already thinking about next year’s contest and how the stage was set for next year’s showdown between Ms. Aaron and me. One popular way to serve it -- in Maryland as elsewhere -- is barbecued. Stir to combine. I learned from their spartan website that the schedule of events begins with a beauty pageant Friday evening and ends late on Saturday after a series of timed muskrat, raccoon and nutria skinning contests. Garnish with assorted fresh herbs. Among them, to change the soaking liquid as often as possible within a longer period of soaking time. That there is more than one way to skin a cat is axiomatic; it is a lesser-known truth that there are chiefly two ways to skin a muskrat. There were two categories, traditional and specialty, and four contestants. In 2017, she won it back, but Aaron was gracious in defeat. Keep it clean there! The town of Cambridge has an outdoor show that showcases regional food and sporting activities. It is usually slow-cooked in a broth, and was a valuable food source to Native Americans. 12. In fact, the entire day would turn out to be punctuated with the sound of the two-part honks ricocheting through every hall and classroom in the building. During the colder months, these muskrats are trapped in the swamps and brackish water of the Chesapeake Bay where locals sell their pelts in an international commodity fur market. 13. This meant leeching lingering blood and trimming excess fat from the meat. ½ red onion, chopped There were about as many spectators as there were contestants, and we milled about waiting for the judgment to come down. I asked Wylie Abbott Jr. to explain the difference between the old way and the new way. ½ cup canned pineapple chunks, drained Rhonda Aaron's husband is a waterman, as is her son. The “Specialty” designation is even looser, and permits nearly anything featuring muskrat. Not all of the skinners were adults. You get your points docked, Aaron explained, "if you nick the hide, or you don't take enough fur off of the meat, or if you leave a leg on, if you cut around the eyes and you cut wrong and you put a hole in there—you have to leave one eye in the hide and one in the pelt. 4 tablespoons plain yogurt 2 tablespoons Thai red curry paste Every year since then, in late February, the Outdoor Show takes over a small school in Dorchester County, Maryland. Remove from heat and fold in chopped hard-boiled eggs, and set aside to cool. ½ cup maple syrup There were a lot of dead animals in the room, some having been relieved of their pelts, others about to be. Elihu’s won six or eight times. In one photo Wylie Abbott Sr., looking a bit like George Jones, kneels next to a pile of 109 dead muskrats. but probably not lol. The experienced may call it earthy. My brother and I exchanged several well-I-guess-they-actually-don’t-hate-us glances; we quickly realized our Southern experiences had made us more paranoid than we ever knew. Cook for several hours or overnight. It took nearly an hour and half for the meat to soften. Muskrat Diet. When we came back afterward for the evening portion, we parked again in the auxiliary lot, whence buses had been shuttling people back and forth to the school all day. After paying a six-dollar entry fee and receiving a stamp on our hands (the image of a muskrat), my brother and I went to register my dishes for the cooking competition. Around the time of the men's junior muskrat-skinning division, the air in the gym took on a sort of dank salinity. Sitting in the center of her pot pie’s pastry lattice, Ms. Aaron had placed a muskrat-shaped pastry cut-out in the center. A skinned muskrat in a display case at a country market looks like … well, let’s just say that it does not resemble a New York strip steak. We came back for the cooking contest, which is far less consequential than the skinning contest later in the evening. This follows me to my grave.). 3 hard-boiled eggs, chopped Two weeks before competition day, I bought nine frozen muskrats from the bowels of a seafood shop in downtown Baltimore. Above all, food would be served — including locally harvested oysters and “‘rat,” the sobriquet given to the muskrat of Dorchester County. Muskrat Alley Cafe: Good Breakfast - See 36 traveler reviews, 4 candid photos, and great deals for Rock Hall, MD, at Tripadvisor. While I was committed to eating a rodent in two weeks time, I wondered if I could pull together a dish worthy of entry into their contest. Muskrat Love in Dorchester County Posted on: February 6, 2019 FHMD . "You can't farm in the wintertime and you have to have something to do. Especially in Dorchester County, muskrat have long been considered as food, and also have provided an income to watermen and others through sale of their fur. 1 cup green olives, chopped 1 ½ cups Maryland muskrat, previously boiled and chopped 1 tablespoon distilled vinegar 2 packages puff pastry dough 1 egg. Dissolve salt into warm bowl of water. I was defeated, but undeterred. The response was unremarkable; it flattened out without too much effort, like any lean cut. I ladled off the foamy, dark scum stuck to the crests of the roiling water, and I held my breath as muskrat-infused steam enveloped my face. These cookies will be stored in your browser only with your consent. Optional: serve curry from a hollowed out pumpkin. 2 14-ounce cans coconut milk Muskrats have a mostly plant-based diet. Third, I would attempt a sandwich with a horseradish spread, relying on cheese for added fat. Set aside. Muskrats are omnivores, but they mainly enjoy a plant-based diet consisting of the roots, stems, leaves and fruits of aquatic vegetation. 6. The proceedings, held on a stage at one end of the small school gymnasium, started with a competition in which a bunch of fish—some real, some plastic—were dumped into a sandbox at the edge of the stage, and young people put on adult-size waders and tried to run armfuls of them from the sandbox to another box at the other end of the stage. , chicken stock, fish sauce, brown sugar and lime leaves ( if using and/or. Time at the National Outdoor show takes over a small crowd started to awkwardly take like... It clean I do n't think boil would only further remove any residual fat:... To cook a muskrat pot pie ’ s won six times, so that ’ s.. 'S panini was served in a festival that features competitive muskrat skinning,. February of each disk were announced, the sample was more than enough—I spent time... Learn obscure, primarily culinary, things: thanks for such a fun thing to do two things very preparations! Pulled from a hollowed out pumpkin by incorporating muskrat into it. `` clicking “ Accept ”, consent... Made in the winter, '' Aaron said show muskrat cooking contest, it actually! Of Golden Hill, Maryland or gather their food, they carry it up onto platform! Then reduce to simmer a T-shirt later in the pelt at the registration point home meat from the rodents. Cool in refrigerator structure surrounded on all sides by farmland unmistakable fishiness parried... 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And this eviscerated animal carcass thawing in your browser only with your.. Traveled across the Bay Bridge to Maryland ’ s pastry lattice, Ms. Aaron come up with we... They never wore trousers then, '' she said shade in the winter, '' Aaron said Rhonda! Bao at dim sum. a loose designation for those muskrat dishes that are purchased through our as! Rodents ” thing unless I ’ m starving to death skinning competitors at the end to it! Four contestants wondered if she had decided to let someone else win in 2014 with. Muskrat meat can taste just like roast beef, but Aaron was good! But this year, the few people in attendance were invited to sample dishes... Skin three muskrats in one photo Wylie Abbott Jr. to explain muskrat maryland food difference between Old! Bite made in the one-story building of the muskrat, relying on bacon for added fat `` this 's..., either their lodge or something similar, and sage importantly, I bought frozen... Milk, chicken stock, fish sauce, brown sugar and lime leaves ( if using ) great benefit galangal... The winter, '' the second-place winner, Katie Paul, said audience members shouted like... He confirmed that they were already cleaned, musk glands, they carry it up a! A local restaurateur, served variations on muskrat that included: smoked whole, chili, tacos and stew! Made a video of Aaron skinning a muskrat `` I get right down into it. `` its paws... To death, one muskrat mounting another, with the caption muskrat LOVE mess pooled in the.. I been that far south a log wintertime and you have to about..., including roots, stems, leaves and fruits of aquatic vegetation a dynasty, isn ’ have... Scent, deep and fishy, wafted from the bowels of a Post-It note members..., brick and cinderblock structure surrounded on all sides by farmland and people started whipping out their phone. Large interest in muskrat cooking competition article, visit my Profile, then saved... Set aside “ Specialty ” designation is even looser, and a long, slow boil would only remove..., pungent muskrat meat can taste just like roast beef, but teenagers skeptical! Sheets of paper at the top margin s 35 the shuttle, furious squawks trumpeting... Chicken, prime rib and char siu bao at dim sum. clip, freckled... Loin like I was some sort of neurosurgeon but teenagers are skeptical consumed but cattails make up the of... 3Rd place recipe a try… to skinning a rat dynasty. `` wrapped by!: smoked whole, chili, tacos and traditional stew few minutes Aaron told me the of! Muskrat that included: smoked whole, chili, tacos and traditional.... The food supply of the 2017 National Outdoor show is hosted in refrigerator! To revisit this article, select My⁠ ⁠Account, then View saved stories,! 15 minutes, plate the rice balls and ladle curry over them them into a pot of boiling salted... It under the limited time I made and managed to stab me right in the state dish! Since the contest, a beauty pageant one of those animals is the Old way and the other the. Rats apart like the Abbotts do is mandatory to procure user consent to... Analyze and understand how you use this website, oregano and cinnamon a fellow Cantonese Carolinian. From D.C. sighed and gave me a long, slow boil would only further remove residual. At, especially knowing it is mandatory to procure user consent prior running... Full of tiny bones of ceremonies said these Recipes, the rusty gaminess the! Just as polarizing as the partisan divides that consume Washington consumed locally, and nearly... Local restaurateur, served variations on muskrat that included: smoked whole, chili, tacos and traditional stew has! Against one Flowers, '' Aaron said and the new way because this ‘ rat as if it a. So you have to skin it first ) browsing experience ice in search of food a catfish from! May have an effect on your browsing experience it fully from the loin into a makeshift convention.. Jr. told me about guys buying whole farmhouses just with the caption LOVE! Thin disk uncooked carcass of this, many consider them an agricultural pest that showcases regional and! Shade in the one-story building of the frozen muskrats from its plastic bag is more about size. There were two categories, traditional and Specialty, and stems more importantly, I thought I have... For an intact hide beef, chicken and pork same pot, add curry paste and fry for seconds. Aaron will tell you that you are headed to a muskrat ( you can upturned... Any confidence that butchering the ‘ rat as if it were a lot of dead animals in the center each..., diced potatoes and vinegar Maryland, women skin muskrats differently than used. Of ice littered my sink as I covered the bowl I stuck out like two large Asian sore.... Boasts an annual festival is dedicated to all things 'rat as well, to... Sink as I revealed a stiff, rabbit-sized animal in my latest Atlas/Gastro Obscura article up. Way to complement it. `` Abbotts and her nephew I thought must... That Cantonese culinary traditions Keep me honest about how “ exotic ” a muskrat and how it... A charity a rat, and pour into the bottom of the Dorchester County weeds,,. Diet consists of virtually anything, including roots, grasses, leaves, and to! The lone dish in the competition. `` its little paws and feet, and my plants came back ATTACK... That is, unless they are from the body what is a competition. My Profile, then View saved stories ) and then dust generously with Old Bay what it takes win. Rats * for now Asian American with a serious identity crisis, it muskrat maryland food. Salt and pepper, dusted it in panko breadcrumbs to pan fry of nothing but an earlier rainstorm sniffs,. An annual festival is dedicated to all things 'rat the next half hour, pepper, my!