Seal flippers are a time-sensitive delicacy: they are fresh and available around this time of year. Andie Bulman bought her seal meat from the Treats from the Sea seafood truck. (Paul Daly/CBC )
Seal meat is hard to describe—it’s dark and marrowy, gamy and fishy all at once. While the fat in pork and beef is marbled and intramuscular, seal fat is an omega 3-laden liquid oil that permeates the meat, which means the whole thing is rich in nutrients and has a silky-smooth texture.
The market for seal meat is relatively small. Thousands of seals are killed for pelts, and that healthy seal fat is transformed into oil and capsules, but only pockets of people are enjoying the meat.
Sure, the stigma surrounding the hunt might be scaring off potential consumers, but I think most folks are just intimidated by the unusual texture and are unsure of how to cook with it.
My instinct, when presented with a flipper, is to make a pie.
My go-to with a loin? Probably a roast studded with cherries from my freezer, braised in wine, and served with crusty bread.
That’s me. There must be other things you can do, right?
I reached out to chefs and harvesters for some new ideas, tips and tricks for cooking with seal.
Let’s curry some favour
A few years back, a friend waxed rhapsodically about an amazing seal curry they had tried. Jerry Joy, the owner of Indian Express, was the man responsible.
Joy has been operating out of Beachy Cove Café in Portugal Cove for the last two years but is plotting a move to Hunt’s Lane in St. John’s. He’s aiming to have the new food truck up and running for the first of May but suspects that things may end up getting a little delayed.
Jerry Joy has drawn praise for his seal curry. Submitted by Jerry Joy
“There are permits and other things that delay opening so that I may miss the rest of the seal season, but don’t worry,” he told me. “My seal dishes will be back.”
Joy’s seal curry is celebrated, but he also has created a seal vindaloo and a seal hakka. “Hakka is a type of fusion cuisine that combines Indian and Chinese flavours — it’s predominantly Chinese, but it has Indian earthiness,” he said. ” For that dish, I batter and fried the seal and tossed it in a Manchurian sauce.”
While the curry dish was the top seller, Joy preferred the vindaloo.
“I think the acidity of the vinegar and the garlic cuts through the gaminess of the seal. It just works well.”
Cozy vibes, and low-and-slow cooking
Amy Anthony has catered on film sets, worked the line at Mallard Cottage, ran the kitchen at The Ship, and launched the menu when Bannerman Brewery opened. While she hasn’t made the official announcement, she is gearing up to open her own restaurant.
“I am renovating and re-working the space in the old Big R on Harvey Road. I’m going for a vibe that’s a bit mid-century and a bit cozy shed,” she said. “I want brunch, live music, warm tones, all the things I love best about cheeriness and food.”
Chef Amy Anthony, left, serves guests at a 2018 fundraising event. (John Pike/CBC )
Anthony is no stranger to working with seal meat, either.
“My favourite way to cook seal is slow and low with a pile of hot chilis, ginger, turmeric, garlic, kefir limes leaves,” she said. “Then pull it like you would pull pork [and] throw it in a homemade corn tortilla with spicy aioli, pickled red onion, and fresh cilantro.”
Back when Anthony was the head chef at the Ship, she featured seal in a memorable popcorn dish. “We served that with cilantro aioli. I could eat that until my face fell off.”
She has similar plans for her menu at her new business. “You will see all kinds of game on the menu,” she said, adding her sense of humour may play into the menu, too.
“I was trying to figure out how to come up with a ‘club’ house sandwich the other day involving seal because I think I am hilarious and am welcoming PETA and protests outside my not-yet-open doors … to educate them, more than anything else.”
‘Don’t be scared to try something new’
Taylor Reid from Chapel Arm is a unique 17-year-old. She’s an avid hunter and has been going into the woods with her father from a young age. In fact, Reid does the pageant circuit and writing essays about sustainable hunting is one of her talents.
Reid just took and passed her seal harvesting course and will be heading out on the water soon. “I’m really looking forward to it — I’ve been helping my dad with the hunt since I was about seven, but having my own licence is special,” she said.
Reid loves working with the tender meat and looks forward to the feast all year. “I like putting the seal ribs in a Dutch oven, adding some salt and pepper, fatback, butter and a little bit of water to the bottom,” she said.
She then cooks the whole thing at 350 degrees F “for a long time” to make “everything really tender.”
She’s also a big fan of jerky. “I like to take the piece of seal meat that I want and cut long strips that aren’t too thing or too thick. I season with honey garlic, but you could use anything really, so long as the flavour works for you,” she said. “I keep it in the dehydrator until it’s chewy.”
The biggest tip Reid has to offer people who are new to seal meat: “Don’t be scared to try something new.”
She adds, “Don’t be put off if you don’t like it the first time. Sometimes you just need to figure out what works for you and play around.”
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