While horse was just found in IKEA’s Swedish meatballs, and fish fraud runs (swims?) rampant, there’s nothing but truth in advertising at the Wild Game Dinner at the Harvard Sportsman’s Club. This year, the 11th annual meat-up in Harvard, Illinois (34 miles northwest of Navy Pier, in bucolic McHenry County) saw hunters add muskrat cacciatore, squirrel in cream sauce, and catfish balls to the menu. Muskrat was the real prize.
The muskrat, also known as marsh rabbit, actually tasted a little fishy. So much so that Kevin, the club member who cooked them in the style of the classic Italian hunter’s stew, almost threw it all out. “They’re supposed to taste like rabbit or squirrel,” he said. The flavor might have been from diet or handling, he added.
Though this shouldn’t have come as a total surprise. Muskrat has historically been allowed by the Catholic Church during Lent, the reasoning being that the rats, as they’re called, live in water. We’ve missed the seasonal muskrat dinners in Southeastern Michigan, but there’s still one coming up in Ontario.
Or catch your own. It’s legal to trap muskrat in Illinois, as WBEZ’s own Alex Keefe reported in 2011. Plus, the demand for muskrat fur in Asia has driven the price of pelts up to $10 each. The “poor man’s mink” has sold for as little as $3 each, if at all.
Before you set out, you may want to watch Muskrat Lovely, a documentary film set in the Chesapeake Bay community of Golden Hill, Maryland that attempts to answer “how a beauty pageant and a muskrat skinning contest came to co-exist.”
So the muskrat tasted fishy this time, but the squirrel tasted squirrely. That is to say, like rabbit or duck. Served in a light cream sauce, it you could actually taste the meat itself.
Whereas the catfish balls, while tasty, were hidden in breading. But they could give Fish McBites a run (swim?) for the money. Plus they’re a wild, local, sustainable, organic option.