Journalist raves about the meat and defends the hunt after an in-depth profile
Seal meat has a new, influential fan - the food writer for Canada’s largest circulation newspaper.
“It was delicious,” The Toronto Star’s Michele Henry said. “Honestly, I don’t understand why foodies across the country are not clambering to get their hands on seal meat. To me, it was so delicious.”
Ms. Henry and Star photographer Randy Risling recently spent seven days on the Magdalen Islands compiling an in-depth piece on seal, following the hunt from the ice to the plate.
A 6,000-word feature appeared in the paper’s life section April 20. As well, a recipe and videos were posted on thestar.com, the publication’s website.
The plan now is to turn the feature into an e-book that’ll include more recipes.
Ms. Henry pitched the idea to her editor after thinking it’d be interesting to write about the seal hunt and the Magdalen Islands in the Gulf of St. Lawrence - topics The Star hasn’t delved into for years.
“I had a curiosity about a food and the controversy surrounding that food,” she said.
The Star duo touched down in The Maggies - as the islands are known - on a Saturday evening, and the next morning, Ms. Henry made a beeline to a butcher shop that specializes in seal.
“I said, ‘Give me every kind of seal,’” she said.
The Toronto-raised journalist was soon eating smoked seal, seal jerky and other products.
“Before I could pay for it, I tore open the plastic freeze wrap on these things and I ate it. It was delicious. No apprehension whatsoever.”
Throughout the week, she tried seal prepared in numerous ways - tartare, breaded and braised, and seared.
“They apply French cooking to seal,” Henry said.
The seared filet “was phenomenal. It had the texture of filet mignon, and it tasted so mild. People say it tastes like liver, but I didn’t get that.”
She even tried seal liver and heart.
Ms. Henry said her article didn’t generate the feedback she was expecting, which irks her a bit.
“I take this topic and I look at it from the other side,” she said. “I feel we’ve heard a lot from the detractors, but not from the people who actually eat the darned stuff.”
Ms. Henry suggested the reaction was muted because her feature didn’t appear on The Star’s website, and it was published during a busy news cycle, the day after the Boston bombing suspect was captured and days before the arrest of two men in conjunction with a plot to blow up Via Rail trains in Toronto.
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The journalist also observed part of the hunt and spoke with sealers.
She said words like “barbaric” don’t fit the description of what she saw. Instead, she considers it a kill like any other animal that’s farmed or hunted for food.
“It’s not pretty or nice to see, but that’s nature and that’s life and that’s it,” she said.
Ms. Henry said she feels there are points of debate in any kill, and she calls longtime anti-sealing descriptors like “baby killer” ridiculous.
“I laugh at that now, because it’s so positively untrue,” she said.
“When I heard these things, it spurred me to look even deeper. ... The misinformation is so big and so bad, it’s sort of shocking to go to this place and see people - and Newfoundlanders, as well - struggling against this oddly incorrect perception.”
St. John’s chef Todd Perrin isn’t surprised to hear a Toronto food writer raving about seal.
He recently attended an event in the city where he prepared smoked seal loin for other chefs and food writers.
“Everyone was like, ‘Wow, this is not what I was expecting,’ or ‘This doesn’t taste anything like I thought it would,’ and “This is really good.” So, it’s a question of exposure and being prepared properly,” he said.
Mr. Perrin, who is restoring Mallard Cottage in Quidi Vidi Village and plans on having the restaurant open in June, believes seal meat is experiencing a bit of a local renaissance.
“It’s on people’s map and, Newfoundlanders being Newfoundlanders, they’re saying they’re going to support it because it’s from here. And people are going, ‘This is not as bad as I remember as when I was a kid,’” he said, noting there are a lot more ways to prepare it than just by making stew or flipper pie.
Mr. Perrin plans on serving seal dishes, when in season, at his restaurant.