Alaskatarian: Make No Moosetake

Hoping for more moose in my future

When I first moved to Cordova, over ten years ago, I was a vegetarian.

In fact, I had been vegan for years, eating no animal products. It was a big part of my identity. As a food writer, I had written for vegetarian magazines, and I had raised my kids on a plant-based diet. I didn’t eat meat in Cordova for some time, and as my first winter and potluck season crept in, I observed that our “local vegetables” came in the form of salmon, halibut, moose, and venison. I remember being at a potluck early on and circling the table looking for veggies to fill my plate. There was a big bowl of spinach salad, and I grabbed the tongs getting ready to dig in before I realized there was red meat scattered amongst the greens. “Oooh, moose!” said the woman behind me. I moved on to the scalloped potatoes. Later, my diet evolved from herbivore to locavore, as I added fish and then wild game into my meals.

This year, with luck, there will be more moose in my future, and freezer, so we’re clearing the way and making room using up what’s been saved from seasons’ past. The last few weeks of our beautiful fall, I watched, amazed, as the moose started to arrive in the back of trucks and show up hanging in garages. I stopped the car in the middle of Power Creek Road just by the air strip a few weeks ago to ogle a moose hanging in the doorway of an airplane hangar. It took up the entire height of the hangar doorway. “Mom!” My son Jay Jay said from the passenger seat, worried about me stopping “traffic.” As I drove away, the car behind me paused to look too. These giant creatures feed so many families during our long winter, and it takes the work of so many hands to carefully prepare and preserve the hundreds of pounds of food. I’d guess, after all of that work harvesting and butchering, and wrapping and freezing, sometimes getting creative with cooking might be the last thing on your mind.

“Moose is so good, it doesn’t need any special preparation.” Kris Kokborg says that moose was her favorite meat until she got a taste for local blacktail deer. Nonetheless, she still loves it and can’t resist simple preparations like steak (or moose salad?).

She has a secret barbecued rib recipe I’m still working out of her, but in the meantime, she shared her favorite method for moose heart. “Oh, you’re a vegetarian, so you probably don’t know you need to soak it in salt water.”

True enough. Soak the moose heart in salted water overnight, then rinse with fresh water to remove the salt. Kris cuts out the ventricles, arteries, and anything tough before stuffing the inside of the heart with whatever stuffing she feels like—bread stuffing, rice pilaf. She says if you just have half a heart, you can lay the stuffing in the bottom of the pan and set the heart on top. Wrap everything tightly in foil and bake until cooked through. While we were chatting we came up with a new stuffing idea: Cooked Alaska barley with onion, parsley, seasoning, and low-bush cranberries. It’s something we’ll both be trying this fall.

During busy evenings of my job as chef and chauffeur to a hungry teenage boy, we’re always looking for meals that fit a few important categories. 1) Makes lots, including leftovers that can be foraged from the fridge at any hour. 2) Can be made ahead and kept ready or reheated easily. 3) Quick and easy to prepare with things that are usually in the pantry. We’ve been using our electric pressure cooker (Instant Pot) a lot to make meals, and it’s perfect for making a big pot of moose spaghetti sauce which leads to some of our favorite leftovers ever: Spaghetti Pie and Sloppy Joes.

Amy O’Neill Houck’s older son Theo Houck enjoys a Sloppy Joe at home. (Photo by Amy O’Neill Houck/for the Cordova Times)

Instant Pot Spaghetti Sauce

1 large onion, diced

3 T olive oil

1 t dried oregano

1 t dried basil

1 t dried thyme

1.5 pounds ground moose, thawed

1 28 oz can diced tomatoes

1 28 oz can tomato sauce

1/2 cup red wine

1 T sugar (optional)

Salt and pepper to taste

Using the sauté setting on the pressure cooker, sauté the onion in olive oil, and add the herbs. When the onion is translucent, add the moose, and continue to stir until the meat is mostly cooked through. A little pink is ok. Add the tomatoes and tomato sauce, and the red wine. Cover, and cook on high pressure for 10 minutes, natural pressure release. When the sauce is cooked, add the sugar, and salt and pepper to taste. Serve with pasta and grated parmesan or Romano cheese.

Spaghetti Pie

Coat cooked spaghetti with leftover sauce. (Add 1 beaten egg, and a cup of ricotta or feta cheese, crumbled. Pour the mixture into a greased square baking dish and top generously with grated parmesan or Romano Cheese (mozzarella is also delicious). Bake at 375 until everything is bubbly and the cheese is golden.

Sloppy Moose Joe’s

Reheat leftover spaghetti sauce, add ketchup and Worcestershire sauce, and more cracked pepper to taste. Serve over fresh hamburger buns or toasted bread. Sprinkle on some grated cheddar cheese.