Rocky Mountain sushi

by Ari LeVaux

The evening had begun quite normally. Slices of wild game – fawn in this case – were placed in the hot pan and cooked briefly in oil with salt and pepper. The meat was consumed, sizzling, off the pan. The outside of the meat was seared, the inside raw, the way you sometimes see tuna served. Chased with slugs of red wine taken directly from the jug, each bite formed a moment of perfection, like countless others that are repeated, with luck, every hunting season.

Back at the cutting board, my buddy FawnSlayer trimmed the silverskin from one of the baby buck’s two backstraps. Lying on a bright white sheet of butcher paper, the entire backstrap was about 18 inches long and about as big around as a beer bottle. Clearly it was red meat, but nonetheless a whiter shade of red than, say, the tenderloins we ate the day before, which came off the massive whitetail buck still hanging in FawnSlayer’s garage. Nor was the fawn flesh dark like the flesh of the bull elk in FawnSlayer’s freezer.

That pale, glowing meat gave me an idea.

I’ve been reading about how the soaring popularity of sushi has hammered the world’s tuna supply, which is in sharp decline. Sushi without tuna would be like Japan without sushi, and many Japanese are sweating the crash in availability that seems imminent.

Meanwhile, sushi chefs are scouring the world, including the United States, in search of items with which to fill the giant culinary hole that tuna’s demise could leave behind. Smoked duck with mayonnaise and a mixture of crushed daikon root and sea urchin are two New York concoctions that Tadashi Yamagata, vice chairman of Japan’s national union of sushi chefs, has “reverse-imported” back to Japan, according to the New York Times.

The same Times article compared the looming tuna crisis with a mercury poisoning scare in 1973, when Japanese consumers refused to buy tuna. Many chefs, in search of something red, resorted to horse and deer, both of which had precedent in certain regional Japanese sushi traditions.

Personally, even without the crash in fish populations, I have issues with the long-distance air transport of food. It’s a luxury that the Earth simply can’t sustain.

I’m just saying that I have issues, mind you. It’s not that I wouldn’t snort a plate of sushi if it was in front of me, but that doesn’t make it right. Why would I eat sushi when I know it’s wrong? Well, I guess the pull is just that strong. But could deer or horsemeat really fill the big shoes of the footless tuna? Standing at the cutting board with FawnSlayer, I knew what I had to do.

When I told FawnSlayer my plan, he said, “Well, yes!”

I took a short leave and returned with wasabi powder, soy sauce, sheets of nori-style seaweed, mayonnaise, gomasio (a Japanese blend of salt and crushed sesame seeds), and pickled ginger (to be used as a chaser, not eaten with the meat).

I arranged these condiments artfully upon a large plate and prepared a shot glass with a mixture of soy sauce and wasabi. FawnSlayer and I commenced assembling various combinations of condiments to accompany the thin slices of raw backstrap that lay in a pile like a wilted rose on the butcher paper. Instead of sake, a bottle of red provided a nice counterpart to the red meat.

When we started eating, we experienced a harmonious collision of two worlds, both of which were already perfect. One of these states of perfection is the full-body ecstasy of the sushi bar, where the carefully chosen components add up to something greater than the sum of its their parts. The other state of perfection is the timeless gathering around the butcher’s frying pan, mentioned above. Two perfect worlds became one, as FawnSlayer and I ate nine inches of fawn backstrap, sans the pan.

Although I’ve heard that the horsemeat sushi is really good, I’ve decided not to go there. Even if I had a supply of horsemeat, it would still be too risky. I’d be lynched by the angry housewives of 10,000 hobby ranchettes by sundown. Nonetheless, between our ungulates and our horses, we have what it takes to make a mean cowboy sushi, right here at home. On dry land.

Of course, some of the condiments that FawnSlayer and I used were imported, but unlike raw fish, the wasabi powder, ginger and seaweed can make it over on the slow boat, which is hundreds of times more efficient than air transport.

And like any raw meat, including fish sushi, oyster shooters or steak tartar, great care needs to be taken that the animal is healthy, comes from a clean environment, is kept cool and processed cleanly. Pregnant women should avoid raw meat, just as they should probably avoid undercooked eggs, meth and the shredded lettuce at their local fast food joint. •

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