Citizens, my sincerest apologies for going dark this last week – your beloved Generalissimo has spent a long-overdue vacation in the furthest Arctic North, as is his custom in the winter time! ☺
Every year, my wife and I go aurora chasing, seeking to view the elusive Northern Lights from a different country of the North – this year, it was in Lapland, in the Ultima Thule of the Finnish Arctic Circle!
It was here that I first sampled the glory that is reindeer, which may in fact be my all-time favorite meat. It is unbelievably tender and lean – read about what alternativefinland.com says about it:
Reindeer has been common on menus across Scandinavia for many decades. Other countries however have taken a little longer to get used to the idea of consuming Rudolph and friends with a nice cranberry sauce and dumplings.
Six years ago there was an outcry in the UK when it emerged that the Swedish furniture giant IKEA was selling salami containing reindeer. However, things are changing and reindeer meat is rapidly gaining in popularity outside of Finland and Sweden.
The exotic meat supplier Kezie reports on its website that demand for the “tender and succulent” meat is so high that it now offers it all year round, selling everything from reindeer sausages and reindeer steaks to reindeer meatballs and reindeer mince. So just what is making the demand for reindeer meat so high despite its somewhat high price?
Well, first and foremost, Reindeer meat is fine-textured, tender and tastes great, with the delicious but distinctive taste of game meat. It has some of the characteristics of venison but is a much milder-flavored meat, although still dark in color. It’s also, like much game meat, extremely low in fat content (and like much game meat, with the low fat content, you need to make sure you don’t overcook it).
Reindeer meat is also ethically sound – reindeer are pastured in the forests enjoy almost complete freedom, unlike factory-farmed beef or pork. The fell reindeer’s diet is a natural one, without the drugs that the diet of factory-farmed animals is all to often laced with – in the winter the reindeer dig lichen from the ground while during the summer, reindeer eat more than 300 different plants .
Twice a year the reindeer are gathered together and those to be slaughtered selected. Which brings me to my next discussion point: sourcing your reindeer meat. Now while in Europe reindeer meat is relatively easy to procure, Finnish Reindeer meat is not exactly an off-the-shelf product in my local (Canadian in Toronto) supermarket, so the first task was to source some Reindeer meat at an affordable cost.
Before I start, if you live in Europe, Reindeer meat is becoming more widely available and you may find a local supermarket that stocks it. Otherwise, you should be able to find an online supplier easily enough. For North Americans, Reindeer is a little challenging but keep in mind that Caribou is the same as Reindeer – just not Finnish (and Finnish reindeer may well be from Russia in any case….).
Wild caribou and domesticated reindeer are actually the same species throughout the world – so for North Americans, just look for a source of caribou meat.
Despite what you may think, Finns don’t eat reindeer very often – in fact it’s quite scarce, expensive and sometimes hard to find (you can buy reindeer in any supermarket, but if you want something really good you need some “contacts”).
The most typical dish of Lappish cuisine and a top recipe of Finnish gastronomy is poronkäristys, braised thin-cut reindeer served with super creamy mashed potatoes and lingonberries.
The main part of this meal is the “käristys.” The word käristys refers to a method used in Lapland for cooking the meat. When still partially frozen the meat is cut into thin slices, fried in the pot and then cooked for several hours on low heat, in butter and/or beer if available. It is most often made with reindeer meat but other meats like beef or elk can be used as an alternative.
This will be the best “meat and potatoes” meal you’ll ever have, especially made the TFD way! In the original Lappish recipe, the reindeer is sautéed in butter and cooked with just water, salt and black pepper.
My version includes bacon, onions, beer, and a hint of ground juniper as well as using beef stock in place of water for a richer gravy. I also happily adopt the recipe for the world’s best mashed potatoes, from the ultimate French chef, Jöel Robuchon, to make this truly special! You can of course use regular old mashed potatoes, just add plenty of extra butter and cream to makes them very rich.
Battle on – The Generalissimo