SALEM — South Jerseyans are known for their hunting and trapping, as well as eating some critters that many outside North Jersey folks might find a little, well, odd.
Take the Lower Alloways Creek Fire Co. in Salem County, which has held its annual Muskrat Dinner for nearly 80 years — the event sells out every year.
Deer, rabbit, even squirrel can be found on some dinner plates when the meat is in season, but the Fraternal Order of Eagles Aerie #1966 in Salem are taking curious cuisine to the next level.
Saturday, the Eagles will host their first-ever Wild Beaver Dinner fundraiser. The dinner is $15 and is available for take out between 5:30 and 6:15 p.m., and for eat-in at the club at 6:30 p.m.
But why beaver?
Jamie Fisher, Eagles member and wife of Steve Fisher — a beaver trapper himself — said the club has hosted wild game dinners, with several meats available for tasting, for the past five years.
“We cook three beavers,” she said. “(The meat) goes fast, and they wanted more.” Eagles President Tink Boone said he had never eaten beaver meat before the first wild game dinner, but once he tried it, he “couldn’t stop eating it.”
Because the meat is so popular at the annual event, the club decided to put the wild rodent in the spotlight.
Here are a few more critter questions we needed answered:
Where do the beavers come from?
Since the meat of three beavers is consumed so quickly at the wild game dinners, the Fishers decided to cook up 13 of the flat-tailed mammals for the beaver dinner. Steve Fisher said trappers are required to have a New Jersey state permit to catch beavers, and can only trap eight animals per season. The beaver meat that will grace the platters at the fundraiser were all trapped in Salem and Gloucester counties and purchased from local trappers, he said.
Trapper and Fraternal Order of Eagles Aerie 1966 Steve Fisher cleans a wild beaver in preparation for the first-ever Wild Beaver Dinner. (Kelly Roncace | For NJ.com)Kelly Roncace
What parts of the beaver are edible?
After the beavers are trapped, Steve Fisher skins them and sells the skins to several different furriers in the area. He said the skins will be made into items such as coats, hats, mittens, and even blankets. Once the animals are skinned, they are cleaned and butchered. Steve said the beavers are sectioned similar to a deer — loins, back-straps, and quarters.
Most of the fat is removed with the pelt, because the fat makes the meat taste differently.
“If you leave the fat, the meat tastes like wood because they eat wood,” Jamie said.
Whatever blubber remains after the skinning process is complete is removed when the animal is cleaned. The tails are removed and sold to a tanner who uses them to make wallets. “The tail skin feels just like leather,” Jamie said.
Very little waste is left behind after the beaver is butchered. “We try to find markets for everything,” he said.
How is it prepared?
Once the beaver is cleaned and butchered, the meat is soaked in salt water either overnight or for several hours. The sections are then put into a slow cooker with beef broth, onions, carrots, and celery — similar to a roast beef preparation — and cooked for six hours.
“Low and slow is best,” Jamie said. After the lengthy cooking time, the meat literally falls off the bones.
“We cook it down then pull it like pulled pork,” Jamie said. “We serve it with barbecue sauce, gravy or plain, in the juices it was cooked in.”
A pan of cooked beaver meat for the upcoming Fraternal Order of Eagles Aerie #1966’s Wild Beaver Dinner. (Photo provided by Fraternal Order of Eagles Aerie #1966)Fraternal Order of Eagles Aerie #1966
What does it taste like?
When something is as foreign as beaver may be to someone’s palate, people may say it, “tastes like chicken.” However, beaver is a dark meat and tastes just like — or better than — roast beef. Jamie compared beaver meat to an eye roast, and said it is “very tender.” Boone said, because the wild beavers “don’t eat junk,” and aren’t given additives like other meats, the meat is very natural.
What best accompanies beaver meat?
With the beaver meat slow-cooked in beef broth with vegetables, the perfect sides are common ones such as mashed potatoes and gravy. The beaver dinners at the Eagles event will indeed come with mashed potatoes, gravy, pepper cabbage, corn, rolls and butter, and dessert. There will also be a cash bar with drink specials. The Fraternal Order of Eagles club is located at 232 East Broadway in Salem. For more information and tickets, call 856-935-2357.