Top 5 Tasty Furbearers: Muskrat Stew and More

muskrat stew is really tasty
Stewed muskrat “really is a damn good piece of meat.” Photo: Stefanie Staelens / Munchies.

The fur trade is criticized by activists for killing animals “just for their fur”, when in fact the list of by-products is long and diverse. Carcasses are made into fertilizer, bio-fuel, pet food and crab bait, while rendered fat is used in leather tanning and cosmetics. And don’t forget (cue drum roll) muskrat stew!

City-dwellers find it hard to swallow that furbearers taste good, and in some cases they’re right. Opossum, skunk and coyote will never make it onto a gourmet menu. But there’s still plenty of fine dining to be had!

So without further ado, here’s our list of Top 5 Tasty Furbearers.

#5: Roast Bear

roast bear is really tasty
Smoked black bear ham. This one had been eating acorns so it should be yummy! Photo: David Draper / Field & Stream.

At number five in our countdown comes bear. We’d rank it higher because just one animal can feed a village, but laws governing the sale of wild meat mean you can’t just walk into your local store and buy bear.

Eating bear has a long history in North America, and “roast bear was on the menu for more than a few state dinners during our nation’s youth,” writes Holly A. Heyser in The Atlantic. But beware. The saying goes, you are what you eat, and it’s never truer than for “insanely variable” bear meat. “Eat a bear that had been dining on berries and manzanita and you are in for a feast. Eat a bear that had gorged on salmon and it’ll taste like low tide on a hot day. Ew.”

But there’s a bonus, no matter how your bear turns out. Save the fat because eggs and beans fried in bear fat – yum!

#4: Scrumptious Squirrel

squirrel stew is really tasty
Old-Fashioned Squirrel Stew “allows for a lot of creativity in the kitchen.” Photo: Raschell Rule, MissHomemade.com.

In fourth place comes squirrel. We like these critters because they’re really dual purpose, providing fur and food for a lot of people. Nine percent of all furbearers trapped in Canada are squirrels and 5% in the US. Squirrel fur is not that valuable, but feeding a lot of hungry mouths gives them added value.

Old-Fashioned Squirrel Stew is said to be “downright delicious” and looks it too! Or get creative with these recipes for pot pie, fried squirrel, and baked squirrel.

#3: Mouthwatering Muskrat

muskrat stew is really tasty
Oooo … traditional muskrat stew! Photo: Andrew Grygus, www.clovegarden.com.

Coming in at number three is muskrat, for two reasons. First, because muskrat stew tastes great. And second, because North Americans consume so many of them. Muskrat fur is not as wildly popular today as it once was, but it’s still the most trapped furbearer, accounting for 35% of animals taken in the US and 28% in Canada.

Just remember that muskrats are named for their musk glands. Fail to remove these properly and you’re in for an “unpleasant dining experience”, but clean it right and cook it right and it’s “delicious”.

#2: Succulent Seal

seal meat is really tasty
Unlike in the US, the Canadian government knows when it’s on to a good thing. Here, seal meat is served in the parliamentary restaurant on Parliament Hill, Ottawa. Photo: National Post.

At number two comes succulent seal, and it might have come in first if it weren’t for one sad fact: Americans are not allowed by law to enjoy this culinary delight.

What we really like about seal meat is that it’s not a “by-product” of harvesting fur, but a product in its own right. Seal meat has been an important source of protein for Canada’s Inuit since the dawn of time. It’s also important to the economies of all sealing communities, especially since the EU joined the US in banning almost all seal products.

With very little fat, seal meat is extremely healthy, and its mild, briny taste means it can be prepared in many ways – smoked, tartare, seared top loin, mixed with pork for a sausage flavour, and so much more. So it’s also growing in popularity with city-dwellers looking to combine healthy living with fine dining.

#1: Beaver Tail

beaver tail is really tasty
Cooking beaver tail is tricky. Do it wrong, and you’ll think you’re eating Styrofoam! Photo: Photo: Bob / Cannundrums.

And at number one in our countdown comes … beaver! Once a favorite of Mountain Men, it’s still popular today and widely available. We also like that one large animal can feed a family. And provided you take great care in removing those smelly castor glands, it can pass for brisket. Here’s a recipe for beaver stew, and one for pot roast.

But the clincher for us in naming beaver our favorite furbearer feast is the tail. It’s made almost entirely of fat, and is the part Mountain Men wanted most of all to keep them warm through the long winter nights. We must be honest, though; part of its appeal is that it’s notoriously easy to mess up. Do it wrong, and you’ll think you’re eating Styrofoam, but cook it right and it will melt in your mouth like butter!

Bon appétit fur lovers!