All week long, Eater National will be running exclusive excerpts from the just-released issue two of Swallow Magazine (available at your finer newsstand or online). Here now, a piece about preparing and eating marmots in Mongolia by Brian Hersey.[Photos: Petri Haggren and Guy Isherwood for Swallow Magazine]
Should you find yourself hungry in the wilds of Mongolia, you may be surprised at the many options available. Aside from the usual foraged assortment of wild berries and the occasional mushroom, there are legions of succulent marmots in abundance. But before you break out your Le Creuset dutch oven and the herbes de Provence, you may want to consider the more traditional Mongolian preparation of this gamy rodent, the largely ceremonial dish named boodog.
The first thing you'll want to do is get fantastically drunk; Exceptionally so. There are many ways to achieve this, but for those seeking authenticity, a quart of fermented horse milk vodka, arkhi, will do the trick. After this, hunting and pursuing your prey will go much smoother (or if not smoother, perhaps more enjoyable). That's just where those berries come in handy—acquire a decent sized handful, place them under a box held up with stick tied to a string—just like you saw in those roadrunner cartoons. Should this take too long, mount up and blast the varmint with a rifle, Yosemite Sam style.
Once you've managed to locate an appetizing specimen, make sure it's not one of the endangered variants as shown on the opposite page. You'll then want to ensure it's dead, either by bashing its little head with a rock or dispatching it with a hunting knife—either method works well. After the beast has stopped with all the twitching and bowel emptying business, remove the head. Next, pull the little guy's vital organs out through the neck and set them aside. Once this is accomplished, take that rock and methodically crush all its ribs with a series of hard downward blows, or if you prefer to do it à la Mongolie, use your fists and get punching. Take care not to puncture the skin, make sure to pound it almost flat—and you thought kneading dough was hard! Now it should be a simple matter of removing the ribs through the cavity, which you'll also want to reserve for later.
Hopefully you aren't too drunk and forgotten to heat up three or four small river stones in a smoldering fire of dung. Don't worry, dung is plentiful in these parts and sourcing some shouldn't prove too much hassle. Which animal's dung you choose to use is open to debate, many claim that horse dung complements the arkhi well. When your rocks are hot enough to sizzle water that's flicked on them, you'll want to use tongs to carefully insert the rocks into the now empty body cavity of the marmot, alternating each rock with bits of the removed guts and ribs. Once this is done, take a stiff gauged wire and tightly shut the cavity so that no juices can escape from the body. Take the carcass and hang it with wire securely from a tree branch. If it resembles an aboriginal talisman to ward off woodland spirits, you've done it right. As with the dung, there is some argument as to torching methods—purists howl that if you're not using a propane torch, you're missing out on some of wonderful caramelization of the fatty haunches that occurs, as well as some palpably bitter notes imparted by the accelerant. You can ignore these pedant fetishists, as any aerosol coupled with a cigarette lighter will work just as well. Just be sure to burn the beast up until there's little to no sign of fur.
Now is the time to partake in further rounds of arkhi. Sit back, pull up a rock and gaze on the delectable feast swinging for the branch before you. Make sure to keep an eye on the critter as the internal heat will begin to blister the body and create oily fissures. Catch as much of the delicious spurting hot fat as you can in a metal cup, delicious as a hearty aperitif, shared family style, before the upcoming main course.
Post grease cup, you are ready to serve. Take down the wire, rub with leaves to remove remnants of fur, and use your trusty hunting knife to cut lengthwise across the marmot starting at its rear end and extending to its throat. As you butterfly the body, you will notice that if you've bashed the thing correctly, a rewarding bouquet of steaming guts , coupled with strands of stringy marmot meat await. Serve al fresco on the forest floor and eat with your hands, making sure to ease each morsel down with a healthy swig of arkhi.
Oh, and one last thing. If you happen to be enjoying this delicacy with Mongolian huntsmen, do try your best to hold it all in, as otherwise you will appear both rude and awkward.
— Brian Hersey