City Paper is not for tourists
While at a party in Mount Pleasant on Saturday evening, an acquaintance of mine walked through the dining room into the kitchen with two foil wrapped containers, muttering something indecipherable to a group of people a couple steps away.
A few puzzled moments later, somebody asked for clarification: “Did he just say muskrat?”
“Yeah, I think he said muskrat,” another replied.
Sure enough, partygoers were to sample some amphibious rodent! Two of the furry creatures had been procured earlier that day in Cambridge on Maryland’s Eastern Shore as a “catch of the day” from a local seafood place—only $4 per muskrat.
We weren’t quite sure if the muskrat was done. It looked raw in parts, but the cook thought we were in safe territory. So, how did it taste?
Eh… to be brutally honest, the soft, chewy meat was very brackish—the critters live in the tidal estuaries of the Chesapeake Bay—and did not taste very appetizing. Visually, having the eye sockets empty and gnawing teeth protruding was not too pleasing, even if a cute cranberry was added for decorative effect. To add to the experience, the muskrat chunk I put in my mouth had some sort of hard bone particle in it. With an unappetizing sample of rodent tucked into a spot between my jaws, I moved to the back patio, where I covertly removed the remaining muskrat.
With so much leftover rodent meat, there were thoughts of pairing it with chocolate fondue for dessert. (That never happened, though. Possibly for the better.)
While muskrat is plentiful in the waters of the Eastern Shore, it’s hard to imagine foodies getting jazzed up about locavorism involving these rodents. As John Root Hopkins, a muskrat cookbook author living in Dorchester County, told PBS’ Independent Lens a few years ago: “The main rule in cooking rat is to overcook to the point where the meat can be easily removed from the bone.” (Perhaps we should have braised ours, instead of roasting it.)
While eating muskrats might be a foreign concept to those in D.C., trapping, skinning, and cooking the creature is common in some Eastern Shore communities during the winter months, when trapping is allowed.
Just make sure you properly skin the muskrat, which can be done in under two minutes if you’re good at it.
Photos of muskrat and roasted vegetables by Michael E. Grass