You never know what you might find when you do research.
It's a cliché in fantasies that characters tend to go off into the woods and live off rabbits (one of the four food groups in FantasyLand™, namely — bread, cheese, stew, and rabbit).
Much of the culture of Zannib, in the Chained Adept series, has analogue roots in the culture of Mongolia (with some rather significant differences, such as wizards). So when it's time for me to lovingly dwell on some particular activity, I start by looking at Mongolia to see what they might have to say about it.
Right now, in Mistress of Animals, our heroes and their friends/enemies are traveling and about to be snowed in by a blizzard, and two of them have just come back to camp from a hunt for fresh meat. Antelope and marmot suggested themselves as appropriate catches, and now we have to butcher and cook them, preserving what meat we can.
Well, I know how an animal is butchered, but I thought I'd just look to see what the Mongolians do with meat preservation. In particular, I was wondering how they dry thin strips of it under shelter in wet weather while traveling, since that can take several days.
Let me introduce you to borts, the famous preserved meat of the Mongolian steppe. Turns out, this is one of those comfort foods that Mongolians take with them when they visit foreign lands, for a taste of home.
As winter approaches, your family of three or four is going to require 1-2 cows and 6-7 sheep to make it until spring dairy foods begin. So preserving the meat of the autumn slaughter requires turning the aforementioned critters into a great big pile of thin strips of muscle that must be dehydrated.
Well it turns out that you're living in this nice, dry, well ventilated place, called a yurt (or ger, depending). So you might as well just string it up along the rafters and let it dry there, where it's out of the way. Famously, you should be able to dry all the meat of a cow until it shrinks enough that the cow's stomach could hold all the result. (Boy, I hope I haven't dragged too many vegetarians this far into this post. Warning — it gets worse. Me, I like meat.)
This took care of the antelope our hunters shot. Rendered into a joint for the firepit, skewers of fresh meat and liver bits over the fire, and sliced heart fried up over the stove in a yurt, and all the rest sent round the yurts for drying as borts.
So far, so good. I'm from the mid-West — I could eat this. I like my meat just barely cooked anyway.
Then I decided to check the Mongolian recipes for marmot.
WARNING — don't continue if you're not intrigued by exotic cuisine.
The marmot is another traditional dish, but the cooking method is a little unusual.
I won't go into vast detail (Boodog recipes here, and the hilarious American vodka-facilitated version here), but basically you take your marmot, remove the head, and pull out the innards through the neck cavity, maybe the ribs, too. (Just keep repeating “Butterball turkey” to yourself the whole time).
Then you pick your heat source (fire pit, gas stove, whatever), heat up some rocks, stuff them into the cavity, and sew it shut. Removing the hair from the hide seems to be optional, but torches (propane or otherwise) are recommended. The pit or oven cooks it from the outside, and the hot rocks cook it from the inside.
You can add veggies to it and serve directly from the, um, bowl.
Adding to the adventure is a certain element of risk. If you misjudge the cooking time or seal your marmot too well, apparently it might explode from the steam.
I'll just leave you with one thought — they cook goat this way, too.