Santa's Next-Day Reindeer Stew

Santa’s Next-Day Reindeer Stew

Season’s Greetings Everyone. I have published this Post on Christmas Day, 2020, not for a recipe, but rather as the story of a meal that I hope might entertain you as your own feast is being prepared. In the interests of full disclosure, however, I will have to confess to a few facts.

First, Santa didn’t make this stew, and the Reindeer did not come from the North-Pole. Rather, they from Baffin Island, up North in the Nunavut Territory, where they are known as Caribou. In any event, read on and enjoy the pictures…

Caribou Foraging
Caribou Foraging

Here is a shot of some Caribou foraging on Baffin Island. I am afraid I did not take this particular picture and had to scab it from CBC. My only decent photographs of Caribou were taken years ago using a film Camera and I cannot now locate the prints.

Caribou Hunters Returning
Caribou Hunters Returning

This picture was not taken on Baffin Island, but on Igloolik Island, in the community of Igloolik. Igloolik Island is very close to Baffin Island and I visited there three or four times a year for many, many years, when I practised as a Criminal law on the High Arctic Court Circuits.

If you look at the ‘4-Wheeler’ you can see Caribou skins folded on the seat. Behind the vehicle is a traditional ‘sled’ used in the Eastern Arctic, which is known as a ‘Kamotik’, or several dozen spelling variations thereof. The family shown had just returned from being ‘out on the land’ and I snapped the shot down by the beach just about 5 minutes walk from the Tujurmovik Hotel.

Caribou Skins waiting to be Cleaned
Caribou Skins waiting to be Cleaned

Caribou skins waiting to be cleaned are a common site in Nunavut. This picture was also taken in Igloolik, but you will see the same thing in just about every community in the North.

Caribou Antler Christmas Tree
Caribou Antler Christmas Tree

It is also common to see Caribou Antlers used as decoration, and I have seen many houses with an entire roof covered with them. For many years, my Christmas Tree was the set of antlers you see above.

 All of the Territory of Nunavut is above the Tree line, meaning that no trees grow there outside a few dwarf Willows in a couple of locations. In Pond Inlet, where I lived for 5 years, there no trees within about a thousand miles, so the branches of the Caribou antler made a good substitute at Christmas.

By the way, that may look like an immense amount of liquor beneath the ‘tree’, but, in those parts, there is no Liquor Store and everything must be ordered with all sorts of paperwork and HUGE shipping costs. As with many supplies, it only makes economic sense to place large orders and make them last.

A Joint of Caribou
A Joint of Caribou

This is the cut of Caribou that was used to make the Stew in question. We had almost a whole Caribou in our freezer and I did the butchery.

Caribou Meat for Stew
Caribou Meat for Stew

Here is the meat for the stew after being taken off the bone. I am fairly accomplished at meat cutting in my own kitchen, but I have to confess that this joint took a bit of time as I was unsure of the bone structure within and had to work by feel.

Anyway, I am sorry I don’t have a picture of the big vat of stew being cooked. I only assisted in the preparation and the dish was not prepared for eating at home, but rather as part of a feast for a group of kids taking part in a week-long Computer Workshop during school vacation.

Onions, Potatoes and Carrots were included, but no ‘exotic’ ingredients like bell peppers or the like were added, thus saving the kids from having to pick out any ‘nasty bits’. The seasoning was also limited to nothing more than plain old salt and pepper, and, since 90% of the kids were Inuit, this Caribou Stew was a very homey and familiar dish. I don’t recall for sure, now, but I believe that Bannock was served alongside.

So… What does Caribou Taste Like?

Well, first of all, I have never encountered the same sort of ‘gamey’ quality in caribou that I have in southern deer. I recall being served moose steak on one occasion and I could have sworn the meat had spoiled despite everyone else raving about how good it was. Diet, of course, plays a big part in this and I have noted this in white-tailed deer which I have found delicious on some occasions and almost unpalatable on others.

The caribou, especially in winter, consume lichen, moss and sedges and, though I would have thought this would give the meat a bitter taste (especially the lichen), this is not the case at all. Basically, I find the meat can be excellent, or not nearly as good, all depending on the cut.

Some cuts, I find, have a very soft texture I find unappealing, and these cuts also have a distinct note of liver about them, which I also dislike. Other cuts, however, are nicely textured and a delicious flavor not unlike an extremely lean beef. Indeed, I fairly confident that if I gave you a taste of it and told you it was beef, you would likely accept that without comment.

Well, anyway, Santa’s Next-Day Reindeer Stew is obviously a bit of a fanciful name for a rather everyday meal of Caribou. It was enjoyed though, and I hope you all enjoy your Christmas day feast in this year of the Pandemic. Cheers!

Comments, questions or suggestions most welcome!