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Oxford Companion to Food

Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

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reindeer Rangifer tarandus, a large deer inhabiting the northern regions of Europe and Asia, especially well known as a food in Sweden, Finland, and Russia.

The meat from a reindeer, which is better than that from its close relation the caribou, is cooked and eaten in many ways (roasts, stews, etc.) in the countries where it lives in the wild. It has become increasingly available, often as smoked meat, elsewhere. Reindeer tongue is a delicacy. However, the praises of reindeer meat have been sung in the most melodious and informative manner by Anna-Maija and Juha Tanttu (1988):

The reindeer is a way of life in Lapland. It’s both a pack animal and the tourist’s darling. Its skins are made into boots and furs. Its horns are made into souvenirs. But above all reindeer are the Lapp’s cattle. The Lapp lives on and from reindeer meat.

Reindeer meat is wonderful. It has a slightly gamy taste, is rich in nutrients but not too fatty. It’s easy to digest and can be served in a variety of ways. The reindeer tastes so good because it eats good food itself: first it’s fed on its mother’s milk, later it forages for its own moss, in the unpolluted wilds of Lapland.

Reindeer dishes combine old Lapp folk traditions with modern meat technology, quality controls, and inspections.

You can make anything out of reindeer meat, from soup to stews. But Lapland has its own delicious specialities.

The Lapp serves smoked reindeer roast in thin slices as an appetizer and on sandwiches. Reindeer tongue is delicious cooked and also makes an excellent paté.

One of the simplest, tastiest, and perhaps most famous reindeer dishes is reindeer stew. The meat is cut into slivers while still frozen, put into a pot with a bit of water, and simmered until tender. Experts have different views of what ‘real’ reindeer stew should be. Some say that fatty pork should be added to the pot. It’s a matter of taste. The stew is served with mashed potatoes, seasoned with butter and onions, and lingonberry purée. (Some purists leave that out, too.)

Reindeer meat has its own special taste and doesn’t need any ‘fancy’ spices. The most common seasonings are green and black pepper, allspice, bay leaves, and salt. Suitable accompaniments are onions, carrots, celery, parsnips, and pickled cucumbers. Reindeer meat doesn’t suffer if you cook it with cream or sour cream, either. It also gets along well with mushrooms and berries: lingonberries, cranberries, rowanberries.