Porcupine Meatballs

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This article appeared in the September 14, 2016 edition of the Seward Journal Newspaper, and has been heavily edited.

In Alaska, hunting and fishing permeates our various cultures, whether you’re an Anchorage dwelling vegan or a whaling captain out of Utqiaġvik. This becomes profoundly obvious during the summer and fall months, even in the most concrete urban corner of Anchorage, when folks are heading out to fill their freezer. Over the past two weeks, Moose hunting season launched, and as is usually the case during hunting season, the only Moose I’ve caught sight of are limited to the antlers from a successful hunt tied to a camouflage four-wheeler, strapped to a trailer, hitched to a truck driven by someone who hasn’t showered in a week.

Earlier this week, I was having a conversation with a co-worker about our respective dinner menus and she mentioned she was having porcupine meatballs. As you might imagine, my first question was not, in fact, “What’s a porcupine meatball.” Rather, my inclination was to ask her what porcupine tasted like and where she got it. Instead, I decided to act as though I already knew everything there was to know about meatballs, porcupines and where to get them, and what they taste like, and every which way porcupines might be rendered into meatballs and cooked. I went with the very safe “Oh, that sounds good,” before she went on to describe the recipe in some fuzzy detail. The key ingredient was not, as I’d assumed, porcupine. It was hamburger.

The lack of porcupine meat in the meatballs should have been obvious, but I just figured that I had a skewed opinion after so many years working for Fish and Game. One of the things you learn working for an outfit like that is that anything containing fat or protein is a possible menu-item. Around the point where we’d gotten around to the merits of using wild rice, another one of our coworkers approached. Now, it’s important to note that this particular coworker is from somewhere in the deep south and is not a hunter. His response, in tones suggesting he had never been one of these folks, was “Oh, sounds like when folks would cook opossum back home.”

At this point, my coworker having porcupine meatballs had to clarify that they are porcupine meatballs not porcupine-meat balls. We all had a good chuckle and went home and I spent my commute wondering what porcupine-meat balls would taste like. I don’t know if I’ll ever find out, but on the bright side, I can always have porcupine meatballs, and if you’re one of the lucky un-showered hunters or spouse of said un-showered hunter, you can use ground-moose -After you’ve had your shower.

Update April 14th, 2017

I returned to my post at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in late November, 2016. Shortly after my return, we had a luncheon pot-luck, and I decided to make porcupine meatballs. As with my initial reaction, everyone expected it was made of porcupine and was extremely disappointed when they found out I’d used boring old ground turkey.

What you need:

  • 1lb ground meat (not necessarily porcupine)
  • 1/2 C. Raw rice
  • 1/2 C. Milk
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 3 Tbsp. Italian seasonings
  • 3 Tbsp. chopped onion
  • 1/2 C. chopped Mushrooms
  • 1 Can condensed tomato soup
  • 1 Can water

Preheat oven to 350F. Mix the hamburger, rice, milk, salt, pepper,
Italian seasoning, onion, and mushrooms. Shape into about 9 balls and
place in a 9x9x2” baking dish. In a small bowl, mix soup, water & a
bit more salt. Pour the soup evenly over the meatballs and place in
the oven for 1 1/2 – 2 hours.

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