Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Recipe for Maaqtak

An iceberg the size of an aircraft carrier
This is the final installment of this years field work in Scott Inlet (here are links to the first, second, third and forth).

A small boat from the community of Clyde River was supposed to come to Scott Inlet with our replacements (three of us were scheduled to leave), then ferry us to town. The small boat could do the trip in about 3 hours verses 12 hours for the Nuliajuk. Another bonus in my mind was that small boats don't make me sea sick. It was a good plan in theory, then we got the weather forecast. Four metre waves were predicted.

At 7 pm we got in touch with the small boat driver (who also happened to be the mayor of Clyde River) to confirm it was too rough to make the trip in his boat. My flight was scheduled to leave at 9 am the following morning. The decision was to take the ship south – a night time sprint down the coast through bumpy seas while dodging ice bergs.

Before we hit the forecasted 4 metre seas, I climbed into my bunk – a sea sickness avoidance plan that worked wonderfully. Although, the sea wasn't as bumpy as predicted, I still was forced to spend the night wedging myself into my bunk to prevent being tossed out of it. Sleeping was impossible. When I got up at 6 am Clyde River was just coming into view.

Groggy from lack of sleep, my field gear randomly shoved into my duffle bag, my steel-toed rubber boots handed off to an incoming scientist who's luggage went astray, I arrived at the airport with plenty of time to spare.

While sitting in a moulded yellow plastic chair, one of perhaps a dozen in the airport, a rather large man in a green plaid shirt sat beside me. I couldn't help but stare at his absurd moustache, he had shaved it in the middle exposing his philtrum. I didn't work up the nerve to ask why he made the effort to shave like that. I would assume we were about the same age and I wasn't wearing my wedding ring (I don't even take it to the field). My colleague was in the washroom, so who knows what this mountain man's intentions were but, he wanted to talk so much I didn't get a word in. I'll call him airport-guy.

Airport-guy shared his knowledge of the finer parts of the local cuisine. He told me all about maaqtak.

Earlier in the trip, when we had dropped off supplies to the hunters, they had shared some of their catch. Two cuts of caribou, a meaty scapula and a chunk of leg, plus a patch of narwal skin with blubber. I tried raw caribou and found it much milder than I expected (I had expected it to be gamy like venison), I'd happily have it again. One of the inuit crew members explained to me that the caribou was more like a snack, as it didn't have enough fat content to keep you warm. The real food was the maaqtak, that is narwal or beluga skin with blubber. She gave me a small piece to try. Her advice was to chew it slowly, so I did. An hour later I was still chewing and the skin had developed the flavour of old gum.

According to Airport-guy, maaqtak is sorted into different grades depending on if you intend to eat it raw (like I did) or cook it. He was very precise on how to go about cooking it. First cut it into small pieces and boil for 12 minutes before fishing it out. The result tastes like escargot and is equally good with garlic butter. He went on to suggest a side dish – a brown seaweed available in the north. Boiled for a few minutes in a broth and it turns bright green and tastes like wilted lettuce.

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