My lovely boyfriend who has been working in Nunavut for the past four months recently came home for a much needed visit. It was a great opportunity to try the seal meat that he sent me that has been patiently waiting in my freezer… Although seal meat never quite freezes solid as it is permeated with a thin oil throughout.
We decided we wanted to try it raw first for a comprehensive experience. It was a rather large vacuum-sealed slab weighing around 3 lbs that had set him back $26 at a country food shop in Iqaluit. We think the species might be ringed seal.
Looking at the frozen slab, I could see light areas as well as very dark, almost black sections. Upon defrosting, I could see that the light areas were a thick layer of fat covering one side, while the dark areas were the meat itself. I also noticed that there was a section of ribs included, a lot of blood and a watery-thin oil slick sitting on top of everything.
When the package was opened, there was a faint fishy/ocean smell. I sliced some very thin pieces of meat for trying raw, then briefly sauteed some small steaks in butter with grey salt and pepper. I also prepared some small chunks of the fat and browned them on all sides. Looking back, I don’t think the butter was necessary as the fat and oil should have done the job nicely.
The raw meat had a very rich, gamey flavor, reminiscent of quail. There is also somewhat of a metallic hint that you might compare to liver or filet mignon. I think this is due to the high iron content. It has a slight fishiness and would not be out of place on a sushi platter. Blindfolded, I’d compare it to a nice piece of tuna with a more slippery and firm texture. It should also be noted that the thin oil coats your hands when prepping seal and makes them feel very soft and smooth.
Once the meat has been seared, the fishy flavor seems to disappear entirely. What you’re left with is a very tender, juicy and delicious rich steak flavor. It basically tastes like the finest aged beef tenderloin. The chunks of fat brown very quickly but stay white and soft on the inside. They disintegrate in the mouth with a floral creaminess and a slight fishy aftertaste.
My conclusion is that seal is super delicious and probably some of the best meat I’ve ever tried. The “fishy” flavor I keep describing is really more of an “ocean” flavor, which is very hard to describe. It fills your nose in a different way than actual fish. It reminds me of being on a tiny boat in a storm fishing for salmon.
I’ll probably use the rib section for a pie or a stew, and I will likely eat the rest simply seared like a steak. There is a substantial fat layer covering one side that I’m not entirely sure what to do with, but I would like to attempt turning it into fermented seal oil, which is a common seasoning in Inuit culture.
If you ever get the chance to try seal meat, don’t pass up this unusual vittle. You’ll be glad you didn’t!