I attended high school and college in the 70s. Back then people weren’t criticized for wearing fur, a renewable resource. To make money I trapped muskrats on the Stillwater River behind our home in Old Town, Maine.
Furs brought a good price and I made several dollars a week in late winter and early spring. I usually kept the meat for dog food, and my finicky beagle mix loved it. That is until my grandfather chastised me for wasting such a delicacy. He convinced me to try it and sold me immediately.
Muskrat (Ondatra zibethicus) is a lean meat. Dark like venison, it is tender and mild tasting. I detect no gamey flavor whatsoever. I think part of the reason for the mild taste is that muskrats are total vegetarians. Like venison, any fat should be removed before cooking as should the musk glands for obvious reasons. Their name is not coincidental.
I found the fat easier to remove if I let the carcass partially freeze or at least approach that in the freezer. If it was especially cold, I hung them in the garage while I was at school during the day. When the meat and fat were firm I could separate the two easier.
As for flavor, it is similar to rabbit. Texture is more tender. The grain of the meat is slightly coarser, but still much finer than beef or pork. I found muskrat meat was even better if marinated in a cold slightly salty vinegar mixture for several hours.
Roasting is my preferred culinary method, and I like a gravy spiced heavily with garlic. A little sour cream added right before eating can bring out the flavor too. Younger specimens are good fried with or without breading.
Probably the most important factors in palatability are cleaning and skinning immediately upon catching them. That and being careful not to leave any hair on the meat, just like any other game.
Muskrats have been served in restaurants under the names ‘marsh rabbit’ or ‘gourmet rabbit’. A species of rabbit called marsh rabbit does exist. We call them swamp rabbits around here.
I know of nobody who raises muskrats but wouldn’t be surprised if some niche market sprung up somewhere. Alligator meat is becoming more accepted by the public and at least one farmer in southern North Carolina raises them. The meat is light colored, quite dry and not nearly as flavorful as muskrat. I’ve eaten it.
Muskrats inhabit our ditches in large numbers. They can cause significant damage to farm pond and lagoon levees by making homes burrowing into them. They also can destroy pool liners. Thinning their population is sometimes a necessity, but we usually can coexist.
If you must exterminate muskrats don’t immediately dismiss them. At least during cooler weather try cleaning a few up and cooking them. I have a few recipes. It’s a shame to kill something and not derive any use from it. They may be a lowly rodent, but you’d be surprised how good they are. So don’t hate on the muskrat.
Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School.
1 large onion (sliced ) 2 bay leaves or 6-8 waxmyrtle leaves
3 cups white or cider vinegar 8 whole cloves
3 cups water 2 small to medium muskrats (3 lb. total) cut in pieces
2 tsp. pickling spice ½ cup all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp. salt 3 Tbsp. butter
½ tsp. pepper 1 cup sour cream
1 Tbsp. granulated garlic or several cloves chopped garlic
Combine onion, vinegar, water, seasonings, and muskrat into a large sealable bag. Refrigerate for 24 hours. Shaking every once in a while enhances the marinating process. Remove meat and save marinade. Pat meat dry and coat with flour. Brown meat in an iron skillet in butter. Gradually add
about half of the marinade. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes or bake in cool oven (325 degrees) for 50 minutes. Remove from heat or oven and stir in sour cream. Makes 6 servings.
Baked muskrat with rosemary/garlic sauce
2 medium muskrats cut in pieces 4 large sprigs of rosemary
2 Tbsp. Salt 3 cups vinegar
3 cups water 2 tsp. pepper
4 tsp. granulated garlic ¼ cup butter
1 cup sour cream
Marinate muskrat in water, vinegar, salt, rosemary and half of the pepper and half of the garlic. Refrigerate for at least 12 hours. Drain and place in a greased baking dish with the butter. Discard the marinade but save and strip the rosemary saving a teaspoon or so for the cream sauce. Chop this rosemary and sprinkle most of it over the meat. Sprinkle all but about ½ teaspoons of the garlic on the meat. Sprinkle remaining pepper on the meat. Cover with foil and bake for 45 minutes at 325. Pull off foil, increase heat to 375, and and bake for 15 more minutes. Mix sour cream and remaining garlic and rosemary and spread over meat. Makes 6 servings.