Once those chilly early mornings of venturing out with your rifle, of moaning like a cow moose in heat and sitting there in anticipation, waiting for the “uh” of a bull to come through the quiet of dawn, have paid off and you’ve shot and butchered, felt grateful to the animal whose life you ended, and taken the meat home – that’s when the true size of a moose liver begins to dawn on you and might start to feel a bit overwhelming.
After all, how much liver can a person eat? At least that’s how Sam and I usually begin to feel around day three after shooting a moose. Maybe the moose liver wouldn’t seem so huge, so unconquerable if we had four kids to feed or if we had neighbours we could share it with. But we don’t have either and giving what we can’t finish ourselves to the dogs feels like a crime. So Sam and I began looking into what else we can do with that big slab of organ meat.
Moose liver sausage was an obvious choice. We’re both fond of liver sausage, maybe even more so because our trips out are infrequent enough that the groceries we bring back are surrounded by an aura of rarity. Things to be savoured, to melt on the tongue because without a fridge or freezer, they won’t last long in the summer heat and won’t be replaced for weeks or months on end.
There was the slight problem of casings – we had no hog casings or artificial ones on hand. It is possible to make sausage casings out of muslin; sewing it into bags and dipping the stuffed muslin casings into hot paraffin, we found out. This was not an option due to the lack of muslin, if not paraffin in our household. Also, we were doubtful if, considering the soft consistence of liver sausage, it would even work. Maybe using the intestines of the moose was possible – but it’s one of those things we didn’t really want to experiment with, for fear of failure.
Canning jars, however, we had aplenty. Why not make a fake version of the cute little delicatessen pots of pate de foie gras? Never mind the lack of truffles, pistachios and cuteness, we’re talking the Yukon big game version here. Sifting through our cookbooks and the internet turned up a bewildering variety of homemade liver sausage recipes, all of which seemed to have two things in common: refrigeration and only a passing mention of liver on the ingredients list, just to provide the liver flavour.
In order to make some headway on the moose liver, we would have had to either fill a crazy number of jars with sausage containing only a few morsels of liver or else throw the recipes out the window and experiment with liver as the main ingredient. The only ingredient, except for the spices. Since we were hoping to make enough to last us a year and with fickle winter weather as our only refrigeration, the recipes that called for cool storage didn’t seem promising anyway.
That’s how we’ve ended up with plenty of jars of what’s basically canned liver. The cookbooks all cautioned against overcooking the sausage, against herbal spicing that would turn bitter if processed too long, at too much heat, but we were more interested in preserving the liver than a gourmet moose de foie gras. Still, it’s a crumbly, livery affair, our sausage in a jar: a difficult thing to spread on bread, better suited to adding to a cooked meal. Putting a bit of liver in with some of the meat in other jars actually seems like a tasty option for the future. At least we can’t detect any of the bitterness that, according to most recipes, should have come from processing the herbed mixture for ninety minutes in the pressure cooker.
This fall, we’ll be canning moose liver “sausage” again, but trying a few different ingredients for each batch: adding some bread, more broth, other meat cuts or grinding it finer in the hope of hitting on an either more spreadable or else a sliceable version. At least, the liver won’t seem as daunting anymore as it used to – provided we get a moose this year.
Lisa Hasselbring is a writer who lives at the headwaters of the Yukon River south of Whitehorse.