For millennia the Lappish (Sami) tribes of northern Sweden have tended reindeer herds – not too demanding, as professions go. These enterprising animals normally fend for themselves. During the long polar winter they simply nose their way straight downwards through the soft snow to munch on moss and lichen.
Until now. Unseasonably mild weather last month created slushy wet snow that suddenly has congealed into an impenetrable sheet of ice across many meadows – impossible for reindeer to graze and find fodder.
Panicked herders are now purchasing expensive fodder to prevent starvation of an estimated 138,000 reindeer – a staple meat product in the Scandinavian diet. The Sami National Council has appealed to the Swedish Government for 87 million kronor ($12 million) in emergency aid to keep the animals alive during the long winter that can stretch into May. “There aren’t many herders who can afford to go on like this,” says Inger Baer-Omma, chairperson of a Sami village council.
The government reacted quickly over the weekend. “We’re going to prioritize this [emergency appeal] with all deliberate speed,” Swedish Agriculture Minister Eskil Erlandsson told the Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter.
Fit To Be Tried
As kissing cousin to venison, reindeer meat is favored in northern regions of the world like Alaska and Canada and, certainly, Scandinavia, where reindeer have been herded since Year One by the Sami tribes. Not fully domesticated, these free-range animals end up as rack-of-reindeer, chops, and in aromatic stews: last year more than 50,000 tons were processed in Sweden alone. Typically, packaged reindeer meat is found in frozen meat shelves in supermarkets across the Scandinavian Peninsula – and is also sold fresh, of course.
The Scandinavian secret is slowly going global. Last month the giant IKEA furniture chain introduced reindeer delicacies in their in-store cafeterias across Europe. Meantime, powder that’s ground from reindeer antlers is snapped up by potency-minded male consumers in Asia.
An Illinois takeaway offered reindeer hot dogs, just before Christmas, at $8 a shot. “The meat’s a bit firmer than a Chicago Vienna Hot Dog,” explained Fred Markoff, proprietor of Fredhots & Fries in Glenview. “I got the idea after tasting reindeer in Alaska, thought it would go down well here.” Reindeer herds are now raised successfully in the continental US, where anything is possible: in Texas, Mississippi and Tennessee. “Reindeer breeding can be fun and profitable too,” says the US-based Reindeer Owners and Breeders Association.
Fit To Be Stewed
Very little in life makes Scandinavians more content than tucking into aromatic reindeer stew. Here’s an adaptation of a standard Swedish recipe.
Grandpa's Own Reindeer Stew
Makes: 3-4 servings.
Preparation: 10 minutes
Cooking: 20 minutes
- 1 large, deep fry pan or wok
- Spatula and stirring spoon
- 1 package (240g =1/2 lb) frozen reindeer slices OR fresh reindeer cut into razor-thin slices
- About 200g (1/3 lb) thickly sliced mushrooms – ordinary or chanterelles
- 1 yellow onion, sliced or diced
- 4 tablespoons pure butter – or margarine
- 1 heaping tablespoon flour
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- 1 teaspoon thyme
- 3-4 crushed juniper berries (optional)
- 1/3 cup mushroom bouillon/stock
- ¾ cup Crème Fraiche or thick cream
- 2 tablespoons soy
Be sure the frozen or fresh reindeer meat is sliced into razor-thin strips. Now, slice the mushrooms – not too thinly. Slice the onions.
Melt most of the butter or margarine over medium heat in a fry pan or wok. Sauté the reindeer strips very lightly – reindeer meat contains only 3% fat. Remove the strips, add the remainder of the butter, and sauté the mushroom and onions, 5-10 minutes. Now, add the sautéed reindeer and mix everything together. Sprinkle the flour over the stew and stir vigorously. Add salt, pepper and thyme and optional juniper berries – and keep stirring. Add mushroom bouillon and stir. Let everything bubble away for about 5 minutes. Now, add the crème fraiche or thick cream, and also soy, and let the stew simmer vigorously for 3 minutes.
Serve immediately! Can be served with rice – or peeled, cooked potatoes the way Scandinavians do. Or serve with pasta, veggie or mixed salad.