Creamy smoked reindeer pasta


It’s been a crisp and sunny autumn day with air full or earthy aromas. I went to get some Rosemary and Thyme from my garden as the sun was setting and I could feel and smell winter in the air. So I thought it’s the perfect night for some Arctic comfort grub.

I found a packet of smoked reindeer in my freezer and decided on a creamy autumnal pasta with goat cheese and mushrooms. The sauce was a combination of bold flavours  – maybe too many for some, but that’s my kind of cooking. Too much is better than not enough in my opinion.

Lots of people in UK are a bit squeamish about eating reindeer. I’m not sure if it’s because people think of them as pets, Santa, Rudolf and all that, or because they are quite cute. Or it might be an animal rights issue to some who think that these are wild animals who are captured to live in cramped, prison like farm conditions or hunted from helicopters. I am all for animal rights – I was vegetarian for 20 years because of my love for animals. (I have now slipped back to my carnivorous ways mainly because I love cooking for my husband and enabled by the growth of organic food industry.)

I don't know what goes on in other countries, but in the Nordics reindeer are not wild animals, neither are they pets. Well there is always the odd orphaned calf who is taken in and brought up by humans. I remember a story of such an abandoned calf called Aatu in Rovamiemi who was raised by humans and never learned how to be a proper reindeer. Now he likes watching telly with his human family and apparently his favourite program is Heartbeat!!! Which is lucky for Aatu because Finnish TV seems to be broadcasting endless reruns of the series. 

The reindeer we eat are semi-domesticated animals who year round roam free in the open taiga with their hoofed buddies grazing on lichen. Yes eventually before hitting our tables they end up in the slaughterhouse which obviously is not ideal for the animal. But the reindeer I aim to buy is reared in this traditional way.

In the northern part of Fennoscandia (Norway, Sweden and Finland) and the Russian Kola peninsula live the  indigenous Sami people, sometimes called Lapps. Long before the arrival of the nasty new Finns and Swedes and the Viking era the Sami lived in nomadic harmony with the hard Arctic nature and particularly the reindeer. Over time they domesticated this gentle and beautiful animal from the wild reindeer that still also can be found in some of the Sami-land.

See! They even go to the disco every Friday
By Jürgen Howaldt (Own work ) [CC BY-SA 2.0 de
via Wikimedia Commons
The Sami people have herded reindeer for centuries and it is still the most important source of income in the far north. Reindeer are kept not just for the meat, but also for the antlers and hides and in smaller extent for milk. Unsurprisingly in the thriving aphrodisiac market of far east there’s a great demand for powdered reindeer antler.

I don’t have a problem with eating reindeer meat when it has been produced this way – modern times may have brought other, less natural methods of farming or hunting reindeer which I don’t approve, but the traditional Sami way of the Nordics is probably one of the most ethical ways to produce meat.

Reindeer meet is very tasty. It’s extremely lean and therefore very healthy. It does have a strong taste of the wild. Much more so than our venison here in the UK for instance. 

I always bring some when I visit Finland, or you can also find smoked reindeer in IKEA sometimes. That’s what I used in my recipe today.  I must say it’s nowhere near as good as the stuff I buy in Finland.

The amounts are a bit approximate as in my cooking usually, but this recipe is quite a robust little rock star, you can’t really ruin it by improvising a little. Or a lot.

Smoked reindeer, goat cheese and Chanterelle pasta (for 2)

100 g smoked reindeer
1 red or yellow onion
1-2 garlic cloves
½ bell pepper
Mushrooms ( ideally chanterelles or other wild mushroom, but any mushroom will work, chestnut etc)
Glug of white wine or I have used sherry also
Water / chicken stock
Chunk of goat cheese (just to give a little twang, not to overpower)
Fresh (or dried) rosemary
Fresh (or dried) thyme (or you can use other herbs of your choice
Salt and pepper
Vegetable oil

Chop the onion, garlic, bell pepper and mushroom. Fry the onion in the vegetable oil with a pinch of salt for a few minutes, add the garlic. Fry another minute. Add the peppers and mushroom and fry (medium heat until they start to soften. Add a generous glug of white wine or sherry and let it simmer a minute or two and then add water or stock, around half a cup. Let simmer until mushroom and pepper are cooked. Add chopped reindeer, cream and goat cheese..

Serve with any pasta of your liking – I always use whole wheat because it has more bite and taste. With this recipe it goes particularly well because of all the earthy, full flavours of the sauce. And a sprinkling of parmesan never hurt anything.

Pair with your favourite red wine – I had a Hungarian pinot noir which worked very well indeed. 

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