On Monday, October 3rd, the Hungry Native team attended the 3rd annual Martha’s Vineyard Local Wild Food Challenge. The Event took place at the Martha’s Vineyard Rod and Gun Club in Edgartown, a perfect venue for this type of event as it looks out over Sengekontacket Pond, where one could easily find many of the “wild” ingredients featured in the various dishes.
This young contestant was especially proud of her delicious looking Farm Institute sourced burgers.
Judges Albert Lattanzi, Billy Manson and Hal Ryerson sampled 47 entries this year before declaring Dan and Meg Athern’s (of Morning Glory Farm) dish of Sedge Grass Nut Crusted Venison Loin Served with Local Lobster, Scallops and Jerusalem Artichoke Puree this year’s winner.
Free to enter, and open to anyone, the only rule of the challenge is that each dish must contain at least one “wild” ingredient. Contestants must prepare at least one entree sized dish, but are encouraged to make extras for the tasting table, where the public can sample the creations as well.
The contest is open to all kinds of food, whether hot, cold, solid or liquid. This homemade Sassafras soda was lightly carbonated, with a sweet, slightly medicinal quality, like what we imagine root beer tasted like a hundred years ago.
These peirogi were made from chestnut flour and filled with a combination of onions, potato, Jerusalem artichoke and ricotta cheese. Served with a duo of sauces featuring concord grape and autumn olive, they were sautéed in brown butter with sage. The peirogi had a sweet, nutty flavor and a bit of chew, kind of like a good thick corn tortilla that had been toasted in a skillet. Topped with a sprinkle of chestnut flour that added a bit of crunch, they were one of the favorites with our circle of friends at the event.
Chris Fischer won the “Wildest Ingredient” category with his plate of Braised Wild Squirrel. Stuffed with puffball mushrooms, fennel and chestnuts, it was served alongside a salad of hermit crab, whelks, blueclaw crab with fennel fronds, lemon sorrel, lemon juice, watercress and fried seaweed. Not surprisingly, this dish created quite a stir when it arrived at the tasting table. The crowd seemed to fall into two camps, the “Oh my god, that looks like a rat on a plate!” camp and the “Oh my god, that looks like a rat on a plate! I have to try it!” camp. Suffice to say, we fell into the latter. Honestly, we were too excited at the prospect of trying squirrel meat to even notice the salad. Also, because the tasting portions are quite small and the event was pretty crowded, it can be hard to secure a taste of everything offered, we settled on a couple small pieces of squirrel meat and dug in. This was one instance where the old “tastes like chicken” adage actually applies. The rodent did indeed taste a bit like chicken. A more stringy and greasy perhaps, more akin to dark thigh meat, but nowhere near as funky as expected. Think rabbit combined with chicken and you’ll at least be in the ballpark. After sampling the squirrel, we seriously wondered why you don’t see this abundant food source used more often. Perhaps, like rabbit, Americans just want to go through the trouble of cleaning an animal for a relatively (compared to modern, giant chickens) small yield of meat.
The second squirrel dish of the night arrived in the form of a meat pie sporting a squirrel shaped cutout in the crust, just in case anyone was unclear about just what kind of meat was contained within. Rich and full of Christmasy spices, this squirrel tasted closer to a braised beef short rib with a bit of squirrel “tang.” The flavor was much “darker” than the previous squirrel dish, but still surprisingly good. Combined with the flaky, doughy pie crust, you could have easily served to unsuspecting guests as a “meat pie” without arousing suspicion. When asked where the squirrel had come from, the contestant responded with a a matter-of-fact, “My back yard.”
Avid fisherman and all around awesome guy Justin Lavigne made this Blueclaw Crab Green Curry. Packed with spicy curry and succulent crab meat, it also had fresh bay scallops, rice, various vegetables and locally harvested sea beans.
Along with all the food served at the tasting table, the restaurants located in Edgartown’s Harborview Hotel, North Water and Henry’s, were also in attendance serving up dishes in the spirit of the contest, including grilled bluefish and tautog, wild boar chili and various types of shellfish.
North Water’s wild surf and turf charcuterie plate consisted of fish roe, scallop mousse, venison, a cold smoked striped bass that was a bit like smoked salmon, some really delicious rabbit rillettes, and fun pairings of pickled sea beans, as well as chutneys made of autumn olives and beach plums.
We’ve cooked with Japanese Knotweed before, (see our foraging post) but this Knotweed pie was better than any of our attempts to cook with this invasive species. Sweet and toasty, it was made with acorn flour which gave a distinct wild graham cracker flavor to the crust.
Not Your Sugar Mommas brought a sample of their homemade, organic raw chocolate doused with healthy chunks of sea salt that really brought out the dark, earthy flavor.
A dish of roast turkey served with a deconstructed oyster stuffing made an appearance at the tasting table, but was consumed so quickly that we didn’t get a chance to sample all of it. The turkey was moist and juicy, but the scallops had already been devoured. To our surprise, when we were making our way back to our car, we stumbled across the contestants who made said dish continuing to cook from the tailgate of their truck. They were more than happy to share a scallop topped with stuffing, cranberry and a chunk of cheese. Tasting like the best combination of Thanksgiving and the briny flavor of the sea, it was great last bite to cap off an afternoon filled with interesting and adventurous food.
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