Boodog roasting on an open fire

  • BEN GARRISON
 

"I was really excited when I moved to Spokane and realized there were marmots here," says Kelly Lerner.

Spokane, Wash., is - and who knew? - the odd city where Marmota flaviventris thrives in the urban core. And Lerner, an architect big in straw-bale and green building circles, is the odd woman with a marmot recipe. So with the holidays in the offing, let's consider her story.

Picture this: A group of indigenous men and a curly-haired visitor from a faraway land (that would be Lerner) gather by a river meander in the Gobi Desert as a straw-walled school - one that will require a fraction of the coal normally used for heating during the long Mongolian winter - nears completion. Through the barter of precious gasoline, ingredients have been assembled for a fine celebratory meal. It's all here: vodka, mare's milk, cigarettes, rifles ... and fresh-killed rodents. Ah, marmots. Cute, furry, and au jus.

But really, who among your friends and family wouldn't get excited about celebrating gratitude with a genuine Mongolian barbecue? Way funner than the same old Butterball. So spice up your holidays with some authentic boodog, a Mongolian cooking style in which the body cavity of a headless small animal - preferably a marmot - is filled with superheated rocks and, if you think of it, some onions or garlic.

Lerner specifies that vodka is key to any Mongolian barbecue. It is consumed at every step so that by the time you get around to eating your marmot, the actual taste is not so much of an issue. And what does marmot taste like? One Web source says "beefy." "Like wild duck," insists another. Liars, we think. "It tastes like rodent," Lerner says.

So heat up some smooth round river rocks in your barbecue, and just follow these simple steps:

1) Go find some marmots. Each one will feed three to five people.

2) Behead the marmot.

3) You'll want vodka for this step. Reach your hand into the neck cavity and pull out the guts. Rub the inside with salt. Or what the hell ... paprika or cumin or curry or bay leaves, too.

4) When the rocks are glowing orange, drop them into your marmot, poking smaller rocks into the legs. Then seal up the neck.

5) Get a blowtorch, the kind you use to sweat pipes while soldering, and start burning the hair off your marmot. Yeah, you'll want vodka for this, too.

And there you have it! Marmots inflate as they cook - "It can get as big as a basketball with these four little legs sticking out," Lerner says, and might even explode right in your lap. Plus, the cooking time is a mystery. Considering the vodka Lerner consumed in the process, we won't ask her. The Web site e-Mongolia says 90 minutes, which seems long. So I guess you're on your own. You could poke your marmot "until the juices run clear," or get a meat thermometer if you're a pansy.

This is, after all, a meal of the Great Khan. Rrrrrr!

As soon as the marmot is done, whenever that is, open the neck and pour out the soup into cups. Ha, don't you wish now you had tossed in some onion and garlic and even carrots?

At your holiday table, dig out the hot, greasy rocks and pass them around first, Lerner says. Mongolians believe rubbing the hot grease on their hands and arms is good for the skin, and this step is a social emollient as well.

Cut up the marmot and pass it around.

"I got one of the little legs," Lerner remembers, miming the motion of nibbling on a tiny ear of corn.

There is just one hitch to this picture-perfect local food celebration, of course, and perhaps astute Westerners have already spied it: Marmots hibernate. Yeah, the critters have probably been snoring for a couple of months. But Madonna Luers with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife in Spokane has the practical workaround. "Here's what you do," she says. "You shoot your marmots during the year, and stockpile them in your freezer. Look, people are going to be defrosting their Butterballs ... so you could be defrosting your marmots."

We'll drink to that!

Kevin Taylor writes from Spokane, Washington, where he suggests catch-and-release fishing for downtown marmots using Cheetos as bait.

rjlaybourn
rjlaybourn
Dec 24, 2007 08:21 AM

Native or Aboriginal Americans cooked their marmots about the same way. Without the Vodka and with some wild carrots; they singed the hair off over an open fire,much the same way they prepared dogs for dinner.      Meriwether Lewis became so fond of this Indian dog dish that some of his men complained when he kept buying them for himself and not being a good sharer.            I have tried many things from porcupine and prairie dog (very tasty) to Rockchuck or Western Marmot and don't shoot anything I don't eat. Rockchuck stew is a favorite and while I don't advocate indiscriminate killing; even a properly grilled rattlesnake makes fine fare.

John Brosnan
John Brosnan
Jul 18, 2013 03:45 PM
Even though it was a pain in the arse to create an account just to comment on this post, it was worth it. This is hilarious. I found your post because I was reading about Marmots because I was reading about how some sheepherder in Asia contracted the plague about a year ago after eating a dead Marmot he found. I was reading about the plague because I was reading Sinclair Lewis´ book Arrowsmith. I thought it was so crazy that someone would eat a dead Marmot that I had to google Marmot recipes just to see what I could find.

So thanks,

John Brosnan
Kevin Taylor
Kevin Taylor Subscriber
Jul 18, 2013 05:26 PM

Dear John Brosnan,

Thanks for your kind words on the marmot piece. During research into the story (Yes, there was actual research that didn't involve vodka. Keep that under your lid!) I learned that Han Chinese moving into Mongolia for jobs did not have the local knowledge needed to spot plague-infected marmots and would sometimes die, as you point out, if they consumed one. Traditional hunting techniques, according to a Pilot Destinations website, note that a hunter will make wild gestures or shake tassels at a marmot whilst slow-crawling up to it, and will only kill marmots alert enough to make the alarm call, which indicates they are not infected.

Many thanks, Kevin.