Some animals are so adorably doe-eyed that it pains us to eat them. Like, say, doe. But such sentimental attachments can be tricky. Take, for example, the issue of seal.
The U.S. and Europe have each banned the import of seal because of the cruel way some people hunt the animals. As far as laws go, it wasn’t difficult to pass. The very mention of seal clubbing is enough to turn most people’s stomachs. But the Canadian government allows seal hunting, saying that it provides a sustainable, healthy meat to many Arctic populations that have no other source of nourishment. Most importantly, it insists seal hunting can be regulated to ensure that it’s done responsibly and humanely.
At Au Cinquième Pêché, in Montreal (the name translates as “the fifth sin,” which isn’t seal hunting but, in fact, gluttony), chef-owner Benoit Lenglet is firmly against hunting seal just for its pelt. Its meat, however, is another matter. He first tasted seal when one of his cooks returned from the rocky, wild Îles de la Madeleine with some harp seal to try. (Seal in French, by the way, is “phoque,” and it’s pronounced just the way you think it is.)
“It was spectacular,” he says of the seal. “The texture, the flavor… it is high in protein and has a somewhat briny flavor. It has no fat, so you can’t cook it for too long.”
He serves the seal as tataki, a filet just seared on the outside, paired with a watermelon salad. He also makes charcuterie with it, including prosciutto and sausage. And seal makes for a lovely tartare, lean and light, like mild beef with a touch of the sea to it.
“The meat is a hot topic,” says Lenglet. “The image we have of [seal hunting] is not a nice one.” But there is just as much potential for abuse with any animals we kill for food, he points out, adding that he has a close relationship with his providers. He knows where his meat comes from, that it’s sustainable and was killed humanely. Harp seals, he says, have a growing population. And while he’s blasé about critics (“I’m not forcing anyone to eat it”), Lenglet is passionate about informing people’s perceptions of seal meat.
“It’s something I want people to discover,” he says. “The natives eat it and the people of the Îles de la Madelaine. This is a product of our terroir.”
It’s a seasonal meat, available from March through September. If you can get your hands on some seal meat, Chef Lenglet suggests you try this recipe:
Seal Tartare Recipe
- 7 ounces of seal loin, diced
- 1 teapoon Dulse (Atlantic seaweed), finely chopped
- 1 teaspoon capers, ground
- 1 teaspoon shallots, finely chopped
- juice of 1 lemon
- salt, pepper and Tabasco, to taste
- In a bowl, combine the ingredients and incorporate well. Season them to taste, and serve.
Would you eat seal meat? Talk it up in the comments.