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Notes on Arctic Cuisine

July 24, 2010

Arctic cuisine is either disappearing or becoming the next big thing according to my research.  Actually, it is doing both.

Yesterday I wrote an entry on this blog about wanting to explore clay pot cooking of the indigenous people of the coastal Arctic.

I Cook the World entry from July 23, 2010:

Argentina is next on my list of countries but I stumbled across an engrossing article today that has me rethinking the next entry on I Cook the World.  I read excerpts from an article in the American Anthropologist Journal entitled TheArctic Cooking Pot: Why was it Adopted? by Karen Harry and Liam Frink.   The article explores the use of clay cooking pots by the aboriginal people of the coastal Arctic.  Yes, I am THAT geeky!  So,  am going to research appropriate ingredients, buy a clay pot and make a recipe that might have been made by this method on the Arctic coastline.  All suggestions welcome!

Empanadas will have to wait.

I expanded my search beyond the coastal Arctic to include the entire Arctic region.  Arctic cuisine of the indigenous people is absolutely disappearing.  I’m referring to food  preparation that is time intensive, such as pickling, fermentation, and drying.  Indigenous people made great use of the food available to them in this region of the world. The ocean, seas, and rivers brought them fish, seals, walrus, whales.  They hunted reindeer, bear, elk, caribou, muskox.  Clay pots used to cook or boil water by some of the people were unfired or under-fired.  They were quite porous and easily shattered.  An article in the Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory presents the possibility that Arctic potters used seal oil and seal blood to give these unfired pots some structure and staying power.  These pots were used for cooking directly over an open fire.  I’m not a potter so I don’t know if the constant exposure to direct flame would strengthen these pots or weaken them.  My guess is the combination of oil, blood, and clay strengthened slightly through heat.

I found an article entitled Alaska’s Vanishing Arctic Cuisine by Zona Spray,  which gives a thorough description of the food and cooking methods of this dying way of life.  If you register with the website you have free access to this article for 24 hours.  Spray also describes how cooking pots were created with clay and feathers and used in one region of Alaska.

How is Arctic cuisine also on the rise?  Apparently, some chefs are embracing what they refer to as Arctic ingredients of the wild and the deep.  Their belief is that food from the Arctic is pure and fresh with flavors unique to the region.  Lamb flavor is mild and vegetable flavor intense and concentrated.  An article entitled Arctic Cuisine: Next Frontier in Food makes for light reading on this subject.

I’ve decided not to make a dish using the traditional ingredients in a clay pot over an open fire.  I couldn’t do it justice.  I am simply happy to have cast a small light on rapidly dying methods of creating food in this cuisine.  I believe that is one of the most important roles in food anthropology.  I am also quite happy to have learned there are professionals and home cooks using the ingredients of this region with great passion and creativity today.

By the way, Expedition Restaurant in Russia is serving up truly creative Arctic cuisine.  If you are in the mood for elk aspic and reindeer hearts, this is your place!  Check out the menu.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. July 27, 2010 6:28 am

    Fascinating!

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