Saturday, July 7, 2012

Xan: Iceland and England (Part 3): Lammykins and puffins and whales, oh my!

Do you know Mark Bittman's minimalist steak recipe?  Salt pepper meat heat eat.

The Icelandic version actually has an extra step: Salt pepper meet meat heat eat.  It is a peculiar fact that in Iceland, I saw most of the animals roaming free before I saw them on my plate.  Lambs, whales, puffins, hot name it. (Joking, Mr. Perkins!  Icelandic hot dogs are made from a mixture of beef, lamb, and pork. Dog is not on the menu...yet).

Lambs are cute...
They don't really belong in this post but look how fluffy they are!
Whales are majestic...
A minke whale, the most common sighting.
Puffins are a little of both...

Lots and lots of puffins.  Binoculars are a necessity here, sorry.

Zoomed way in, you can sort of tell it's a puffin.
Evidently whales and puffins are a bit more majestic than a dinky camera can capture.  You would think they were special, if you saw them with your own eyes.  So it's something to think about, whether you want to eat these special creatures.  Personally, I did think about it, and I'm fine with it.  But your mileage may vary, which is why I decided to be tasteful and not put my live animal pics right next to the corresponding food pics.  It was a strong aesthetic urge,'re welcome, Lin.

By the way, note that sustainability isn't really the issue here. The puffin and minke whale (pronunciation here) are not even close to being endangered.  There are literally millions of puffins in Iceland, and an estimated 100,000 minkes in the North Atlantic alone.  Of these 100,000, Iceland hunted about 60 last year...which if you ask me is a shockingly low number.  They actually have a quota of about 200 whales, but they did not hit it.  Apparently a whale can feed a lot of people.

Okay, let's meet the meat.  Now that I've eaten whale, let me tell you what I think.  I had a "whale burger," but it's really a whale steak in a bun, not ground whale chuck (or whatever the whale equivalent of shoulder meat is).

Sorry I don't have a picture of the inside; it is a red meat that looks a lot like beef.  And it tastes a lot like beef, too, but with a distinctive whaley flavor (gamey? funky? fishy, maybe? don't tell the marine biologists on me) which subtracted more than it added. It was really interesting, but probably the best reason not to eat whale is that it is a more expensive, less tasty version of beef.  At least that is my first impression, based on a single steak from some unspecified part of the giant animal.

The puffin, on the other hand, was excellent.  I'm not a food critic, and I just had a little bit, and it was marinated in something, so I really don't know if I can describe what puffin tastes like...but what I had was tasty.  Not particularly strongly flavored or anything, just...nice.

Marinated puffin with blueberries

So to see these animals off the plate, we caught a whale-watching boat out of Reykjavik.  It first took us past the puffin island pictured above, where thousands of puffins were nesting.  They didn't seem to mind our presence, and we were able to get pretty close.  Very cool!

Then it was out to sea, where we saw half a dozen minke whales, at least one of which is pictured above. (poor taste!  poor taste!)  For comparison, half a dozen is six more than we saw on our family vacation to New Zealand in 1998.  So, pretty successful by that metric at least.

Unfortunately, Catherine has another metric called an "internal thermometer."  It is basically all she really cares about, and it was more than a little cold and windy on the boat.  The sea was angry that day, my friends.  "I'm not going to make it," she said.  I thought we were sunk.  

But the crew saved the day with a supply of windbreaking red "overalls"...and I really do mean overalls.  Here's Catherine all decked out:

And here she has stolen my binoculars to look at puffins:

I call this one "Wall-E"
On Linden's suggestion, I combined this with an old picture of myself hiding from biting flies:

What's so funny, E-va?

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