"I was really excited when I moved to Spokane and realized there were marmots here," says architect Kelly Lerner, who may be the only person in Spokane with a marmot recipe. She got it in the Gobi Desert of Mongolia.
Ah, marmots: Cute, furry, and mmmmm, so tasty.
And who won't get excited about a thousand-year-old Mongolian barbecue that a) begins with instructions to "Shoot the marmot's head off," b) requires vast amounts of cheap Russian vodka for the cook, and c) can explode in your lap?
Way funner than burgers. So spice up your summer with some authentic boodog, a Mongolian cooking style in which the body cavity of a headless small animal -- especially marmot -- is filled with superheated rocks and, if you think of it, some onions or garlic or a spice or two. Then the neck is tied shut.
This is a great recipe just for the following warning:
Imagine you and your friends, swilling cheap vodka on a searing hot day as you crouch, tending to your marmots, and suddenly one just blows. Such jocularity ensues. "Dude, your package blew up all over your lap!" How we laughed until tears squirted from our eyes as we gave Luke such a "joshing." He came back later with a crowbar, but we're sure that was just the vodka talking.
Yes, Lerner says, vodka is key to this recipe. Vodka, she says, is consumed at every step; by the time you get around to eating your marmot, the actual taste isn't much of an issue.
It's a blistering day. You're seriously buzzed. The meat is hot and greasy... what could be better?
So next weekend, invite some friends over and fire up your barbecue to get some really hot coals going. The coals aren't for the meat -- instead, toss in some smooth, round river rocks the size of golf balls or tennis balls. Let them heat until they glow.
As the rocks heat:
1) Go find some marmots. Each one will feed three to five. The Main Avenue Diamond parking lot below the Masonic Temple is a good spot, as is the rock pile at 14th and the bluffs. This might require you to whack off some rounds in the direction of Peaceful Valley when you're drunk... but, hey, it's not like that hasn't happened before.
2) Behead the marmots.
3) You'll want vodka for this next step. Reach your hand into the neck cavity and pull out the guts and organs. Rub the inside with salt. Or what the hell... paprika or cumin or curry or bay leaves, too.
4) Have more vodka. Shudder a bit as you look at the offal pile, then at your hand.
5) When the rocks are glowing orange, drop them into your marmot; poke the smaller ones into the legs. Then seal up the neck. In Lerner's case, it was with rusty barbed wire that happened to be lying around the barbecue site where she was working on a United Nations-sponsored building project in the Gobi Desert. Use similar ingenuity.
6) 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. Skritch, skritch, skritch: Scrape off what's left of the burnt hair with a knife, unless you like eating crispy hair stubble. Please, yes, have some more vodka.
And pretty much there you have it! This is the fun part, Lerner says, when your marmot will begin to inflate like a cartoon animal with a hose stuffed in its mouth: "It can get as big as a basketball with these four little legs sticking out."
Cooking time varies. Considering the vodka Lerner consumed, we won't ask her. The Website 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! It'll put burnt hair on your chest.
Whenever the damn marmot is done, 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?
The hot, greasy rocks go around first, Lerner says. Mongolians believe rubbing the hot grease into their hands and arms is good for the skin, and this step is also a social emollient.
Cut the marmot up and pass it around.
"I got one of the little legs," Lerner says, miming a motion of nibbling a tiny ear of corn. Ew. I need more vodka.
According to the Washington Department of Fish and Game, the yellow-bellied marmots around here are "abundant" - but officials admit that nobody actually takes a head count. In fact, one WDFW researcher is finding that subterranean shrub-steppe rodents like the marmot may actually be in decline.
Hey, Lerner, got anything to say about that? "No," she says, "I can't talk with my mouth full."