Thanks to moose-hunting veep candidate Sarah Palin, moose may have become the the butt of a million jokes, but in Alaska the animal is less punch line than dinner.

New York Times food writer Kim Severson traveled to Alaska to unearth the truth behind that state’s appetite for the oversized ungulates (registration required).

Because of Alaska’s size and terrain, moose meat means different things to different communities. In rural, native villages, moose meat is a big part of social events and the animals are hunted for subsistence. In some villages, the nose is the most coveted part, and it’s saved for the village elders. In other rural and urban areas, moose hit on the road are butchered and delivered to families in need.

But even in more upscale enclaves of Anchorage, moose still shows up—just not at the grocery store. Because your neighbor, friend, or co-worker is likely to be a hunter, sooner or later you’ll be eating moose meat, whether it’s Sarah Palin’s favorite dish, moose stew, passed around the office potluck or a slice of pizza topped with ground moose served at a friend’s dinner party.

Severson notes that, like buffalo, moose is leaner than beef. It also has a deeper flavor and, because of its leanness, can be temperamental in the kitchen, prone to overcooking and stringiness.

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