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Eating Seal
by Barry Lazar
The first question you will not have is about the wine; but it was one that occurred to me after I left Réjean Lachapelle's butcher shop, Gival, in the Atwater market with a quarter kilo of fresh seal meat.

After all, seal is a dark meat, as black and shiny as anthracite, so red wine seems appropriate. On the other hand, it comes from the sea, so white wine with sea food, no?

But that is probably not the question you are asking yourself now.

First, you may be surprised that fresh seal meat is available in Montreal. Réjean has it regularly. Last week he had a shipment from his wife's home, in Iles de la Madeleine.

Gival is a specialty butcher shop. That's what the sign says on the market wall. The word "specialty" when adjacent to the word "butcher" should set off a little warning bell. In Quebec, it is often code for a seller of horse meat.

Gival sells horse; and also grain fed chickens, smoked lamb, boar paté, terrines of bison mixed with crushed oranges and cranberries, their own smoked salmon - just what you'd expect if Radisson and des Groseillers were your neighbourhood purveyors.

In this company, seal isn't a total surprise, but I wouldn't expect to see it at Provigo soon. Gival sells it for $27.99 a kilo, near the elk steaks ($64.99 a kilo) and caribou ($40.00 a kilo). At those prices the blueberry and wild boar sausages ($1.79 a piece) look like a bargain.

Frankly, a small amount of game goes a long way. This is meat with an intense flavor and little or no fat. Seal has the texture of steak and tastes like mild beef liver. It's not bad fried with onions, grinds up nicely for meat balls to simmer in a spicy tomato sauce, and holds its shape in a basic Iles de la Madelaine four root (onions, carrots, potatoes, and turnip) stew.

The black colour is a magnificent counterpoint to the red of the tomato sauce or the subtle orange, gold and white of the vegetables. Nature has provided for an incredible spectrum of food colours but black is sorely lacking. Purely from aesthetics, seal meat makes for an unusual addition to the table. However, this was probably not what you were thinking of either.

You might be wondering "why would he eat the stuff?" I could answer "in the interests of science" or that "this is the type of important investigative inquiry for which journalists enter the profession." This is all, of course, true; but I did not do it merely in the interests of science and The Gazette does not have "Lazar will eat seal meat" in my contract.

And it is not just because I am worried that the economy will not survive unless we support Canadian industries and our natural resources. There are abysmally few jobs for those in eastern Quebec and the Maritimes. Inuit could use the income and Newfoundlanders are facing another fishless year. Why not help a great many people by switching to a diet of nutritious, no fat seal meat?

Seal, a favorite of Inuit, the meat that could ease Maritimers out of the UIC line, a dish that is less dangerous to our national health than turbot is about to make the jump from "bas" to haute" cuisine. When this happens, a fundamental question will have to be answered.

In the interests of science and to help the economy, I can now tell you the answer. It's not bad with white and it's fine with a full-bodied red; but it is perhaps most memorable as it was once served to me in Newfoundland, with copious amounts of extremely potent rum.

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