We have developed a tradition within a tradition, over the last few years, of having some unusual foods along with our traditional Thanksgiving and Christmas meals. This year for Christmas, along with prime rib, I grilled a whole raccoon. We had Dave and Bonnie Kenison visiting and they are always good sports and willing to try anything. The raccoon turned out to be a lot of work and a little traumatic for most everyone, because, ironically, it looked a little bit too much like a raccoon. I enjoyed it for that very reason, but was getting quite a bit of resistance and ultimately had to cut off the tail, head and feet in order to make it look more edible. It was a good lesson in presentation and how it can dramatically impact the desirability of food.
I ordered the raccoon off the internet and got it in a big frozen solid blob. It was not until it was thawing that I realized it still had the head, paws and tail.
The most shocking aspect of it was the tremendous amount of fat
on the back and hind legs. I pulled out some kitchen shears and began to snip and trim away most of the fat.
There was a prodigious amount.
The raccoon sans much of its fat:
It sort of looked like a small dog.
Then I put it in boiling water for about 30 minutes. Because I did not have anything large enough to submerge it in, I put it in a large roasting pan,
first on one side for about 15 minutes, then on the other side for 15 minutes.That helped remove more of the fat and partially cooked the meat.
After boiling, I let it cool down, then rubbed the entire outside and inside with kosher salt.
I was able to cut off the head with a combination of scissors and a knife,
but those tools were not sufficient for the leg bones which were too thick to cut through. We did not have a saw with a small enough blade, but I finally thought of our tree trimmer which easily cut through the bones to detach the four feet and tail. I put the raccoon on our outside gas grill with the two outside burners on medium and the two inside burners turned off.
The raccoon was thus only getting indirect heat. Because of prime rib and other items cooking at the same time, I did not have access to a meat thermometer and had to guess when the raccoon was ready.
When it was finished, I let it sit for awhile before carving it. Going back to the preparation stage, several raccoon recipes I reviewed provided for stuffing. I made a stuffing which included bread crumbs, onions and garlic, but found that I was not able to sew up the gut sufficiently to put all of the stuffing in and keep it there. From the picture below, you can see that I was able to fit in and retain some stuffing and it actually tasted quite good (there was plenty of fat to moisten it up in the gut).
The meat was all dark.
With the head and limbs removed and the meat cooked, family members started to come around a bit. I started to snitch pieces as I carved and was surprised out how unique the flavor was.
Perhaps more than anything I've ever eaten, it did not taste like anything else I've tried. It certainly did not taste like the proverbial chicken, or beaver, javelina or rabbit for that matter. The taste was quite strong, particularly pieces with a little bit of fat, but it was not livery, and it did not have the type of gaminess you typically get with venison, yet it had it's own unique after-taste. I enjoyed it quite a bit, as did Dave Kenison, but most everyone else was traumatized enough by the preparation that they only sampled small pieces. However, I think everyone did try at least a small piece. Below, raccoon meat on my plate (to the right) next to some prime rib (to the left).
Andrew photo-shopped a Norman Rockwell picture of a family being served a turkey dinner. He replaced the turkey with a raccoon and my head and Judy's head for the parents in the picture. We sent it around to the family by email and had a fun reaction to it. A picture of the raccoon, in preparation, also made it onto Facebook and got some strong reactions, as you would imagine. To say it was an unusual Christmas dinner would be a vast understatement.
I think this was my most unusual cooking experience. I really enjoyed it, except to the extent that it impacted the desire of others to try it. So much of the eating experience is mental. I would certainly eat raccoon again given the opportunity, but I don't think I'll be ordering it off the internet again.