In 2013 a Youtube video by Ylvis called "What Does the Fox Say?" went viral and, as of today, the video has almost 561 million hits. Even the Youtube of their visit on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon has over 22 million hits. As a result, Youtube videos that show what the fox really does say have become relatively popular. For example, "Fox Calls" has almost 6 million hits and "What The Fox ACTUALLY Says!" has over 7 million hits.
|A gray fox I photographed in Painted Canyon in the Mecca Hills.|
I got an email from Anshu Pathak, the proprietor of Exotic Meat Market, recently, indicating he had a fox carcass and asking if I was interested in purchasing it. It came from a trapper in Florida, the first fox he's ever had available for sale. I immediately responded, "yes" and picked it up from him a short time later. A month or two went by and I got an email from Anshu asking me when I was going to cook the fox? Thanksgiving was coming up and our children were not available, so with my wife's consent, I invited Anshu and his wife over for Thanksgiving dinner, indicating we would cook the fox as part of the Thanksgiving meal. He accepted the invite and offered to provide a turkey. We invited several other friends to join us for the Thanksgiving meal as well.
|Gray fox in Painted Canyon.|
So the questions, "How do you cook a fox?" and "What does the fox taste like?" became practical concerns. Googling "fox recipe" was not much help. Diane Kochilas wrote an article, "How To Cook A Fox" which was posted on Zester Daily. She noted that "[b]rining is said to do the best job of tenderizing this swift little scavenger's tough meat. Sea salt and water..." She adapted a recipe for wild mountain goat from the website Wild Man Wild Food which required pan boiling because the "flavour is extremely similar to fox." A more helpful article was "How to Cook Fox Meat" by Kristin Dorman on livestrong.com. She said, "for best results, tenderize fox meat by soaking it overnight in salt water." Her suggested brine consisted of one cup water and one tablespoon salt, multiplied until the meat is completely submerged. She suggests adding extra spices to the brine such as bay leaves, pepper, ginger, rosemary, thyme, lemon juice and apple cider vinegar. The acid from the lemon juice and the apple cider vinegar help tenderize the meat. Brine the meat for 12 hours, then rinse it before cooking. Her recipe was very similar to Diane Kochilas's. These are the materials I used to go forward.
In preparation for this post I did a little more Googling and came up with some other helpful information. ifood.tv has a section on "Fox Meat" which says eating fox is not common, but does give some helpful information: fox "can be quite tough and gamey", it "produces a strong unpleasant odor during the cooking process", '[t]raditionally, the meat was soaked overnight in [a] running water stream to wash away the odor and to soften it", "[g]ourmets suggest soaking the meat in a salt and vinegar solution overnight to achieve the same effect". This site also suggests using apple cider vinegar to tenderize the meat. It also indicates that farm-reared foxes from Denmark and Sweden are infrequently sold in UK butcher shops and that the meat has a "minty flavor but...is quite tough."
When I Googled, "what does the fox taste like" I got "Breakfast Links: What Does The Fox Taste Like?" and a Youtube video "How Does The Fox Taste?", both relating to news of a Wal-Mart in China substituting fox meat for donkey meat. Anyway, on to my fox preparation.
The fox, a gray fox, was missing its head and tail, but still had four furry feet to flag that it was a fox.
|Gray fox carcass|
It had a little fat on the back and sides that I decided not to remove because it was so lean.
For brining, I cut off the four furry legs using a tree trimmer and separated each of the legs from the body, and then the ribs from the backbone, the flap meat by itself, and finally the backbone was by itself.
|Fox sans furry legs.|
|Backbone and other pieces.|
I put the fox pieces into a large plastic bowl with a lid that could seal it and started to fill up the bowl two cups at a time, with two tablespoons of sea salt. I knew the fox would be tough and gamey, so I added the juice of five or six Meyer lemons from our lemon tree, about a quarter bottle of apple cider vinegar, a tablespoon or more of chopped ginger and about 12 or 15 juniper berries. When I've used juniper berries before I've ground them up with a pestle, but forgot this time. I'm not sure how much of a difference the grinding makes. I put the lid over this concoction, shook it up well, and placed it in the refrigerator over-night, about 12 hours. I shook it up once before going to bed and another time an hour or so before I pulled it out of the fridge.
|Strong brine concoction covering the carcass.|
The fox meat was much more pale looking, more of a gray than the pink it was before the brining, but I didn't really notice much blood in the brine when I emptied it.
|After brining and rinsing.|
I've brined wild meat before that contained significantly greater amounts of blood in the brine when completed. Next I rubbed the pieces in sunflower oil, put on a liberal amount of salt and pepper, and briefly fried them in a frying pan to brown the outsides of the meat.
|Browned hind legs|
At the cooking stage I decided to try it several different ways to see which way was best.
First, I took one piece of flap meat and fried it in sunflower oil in the frying pan. There were several problems with this. First, it was still quite tough. I chewed and chewed what little bit I had. Worse, it was extremely strong tasting. I couldn't quite isolate the taste. I wondered if part of it was the great volume of lemon I used in the brine, and I think that may have been part of it, but I also think fox is just a strong tasting meat. That raised my concerns about how any of it would turn out.
|Flap meat fried in sunflower oil.|
Second, I took the front legs and the backbone and decided to sous vide them at 60 degrees centigrade. For the front legs I used butter, bay leaves, sage and thyme. For the backbone I rubbed on olive oil, then salt and pepper, creole seasoning and cayenne pepper. I left them in the sous vide for nine and a half to ten hours. My favorite of all of the fox meat was the backbone cooked with creole seasoning and cayenne pepper. Part of it was that the backbone is the best piece of meat on the carcass, the most tender. And I liked the little bit of kick. Friday morning, the day after Thanksgiving, I warmed up what was left of the backbone and gnawed on it. It was great. The gaminess I noted from the fried flap meat was mostly gone.
|Front legs with pieces carved off.|
|Backbone with pieces carved off. This was my favorite.|
Third, I took the larger hind legs and one slab of ribs and the other flap meat and put it in a crockpot on low. I put them in a mixture of 2 cans of golden mushroom soup, about 20 ounces of beef stock, two sliced red peppers, two sliced Anaheim chilies, basil, salt and pepper. I cooked it about nine hours. This was Anshu's favorite. Again, the gaminess was mostly gone. The crockpot meat was very tender, it just fell of the bones, and the soup and vegetables made a nice supplement. I think if I had to recommend a way to cook it in the future, this is the method I would suggest.
|The crockpot version just before starting the cooking process. Note the crushed garlic I added at the last minute.|
|One of the back legs and a rib rack just pulled from the crockpot.|
|The back leg carved into pieces. It was very tender.|
Finally, on Saturday I put oil, salt and pepper on the remaining rack of ribs and roasted them on my outdoor gas barbecue. I was not surprised to find the meat still very, very tough and the taste still fairly gamey. Most of these ribs found their way to the garbage can.
|One side of the ribs.|
|The other side.|
A couple of things to learn from this. First, brining by itself is not enough to soften up the meat and take the gaminess away. But it helps a lot. Second, a long slow cooking process is still necessary, and that process can and does take away much of the gaminess.