Bootleggin' BBQ (1933 Washington Blvd., 314-241-5999), the downtown Kansas City-style barbecue joint that opened in October, wants to help you properly observe Lent this year in the traditional Catholic way: by eating some beaver.
"Apparently back in the 1800s the Catholic church decided that since the beaver spent 70 percent of its life in water it is considered a fish, and is therefore acceptable to eat for Lent," says owner/pit master Brenton Brown. "So we're going to serve beaver." It'll be a special throughout the month.
Brown references a 2013 Scientific American
article entitled "Once Upon A Time, The Catholic Church Decided That Beavers Were Fish."
It explains that in the 17th century, the Bishop of Quebec argued to his superiors in the church that his flock should be allowed to eat beaver on Fridays during Lent, despite the fact that meat is forbidden. He said, essentially, that since the semi-aquatic animal is a skilled swimmer, it should be counted as a fish. The church agreed.
And that classification apparently still stands today. Though it does not address the animal specifically, the United Conference of Catholic Bishops' online "Questions And Answers About Lent And Lenten Practices"
doesn't rule it out, either. It explains that abstinence laws bar meat from animals such as chickens, cows, sheep or pigs — all of which live on land. Even birds fall under that rubric, and moral theologians have traditionally taught that we should abstain from animal-derived products, including things like broth or consomme.
Fish are a different category of animal. Salt and freshwater species of fish, amphibians, reptiles and shellfish are permitted.
And since a beaver is not a chicken, cow, sheep or pig, nor is it a bird, you may be golden.
Brown says they intend to prepare the
fish a couple different ways. With the beaver's tail they will make a gumbo. They will also smoke the beaver and serve it "like a regular meat." There will be beaver tacos, too. Brown can't help but giggle a bit when he mentions that last one, though we're not sure exactly why.
The beavers themselves will come from Harr Family Farms, already a favorite at the Soulard Farmers Market, and the dishes will be served every Friday during Lent.
"I do not know of any other place [in the country] that regularly serves beaver," Brown says. "From the research we've done, it used to be very popular because there were like 400 million beavers around back in the 1800s, but they just got trapped so much that they're down to like 20 or 30 million. But they used to just be part of the daily diet — which I think is part of why the Catholic church said, 'We gotta allow this to happen.'"
The question remains: How does beaver taste?
"Beaver is very much akin to beef but more of a texture consistency of venison — and that's similar to how it cooks, too," Brown says. "And I promise you, the beaver will be shaved before you eat it."
We get it now.