Seal brain, penguin breasts off Antarctic menus

ROTHERA BASE, Antarctica (Reuters) - Once the “delicacies of the Antarctic,” fresh seal brains, penguin eggs or grilled cormorant are off the menu at research bases where chefs rely on imported and often frozen food.

An Adelie penguin is seen near Commandante Ferraz Brazilian Antarctic Station located in Admiralty Bay, King George Island on the Antarctic continent, November 25, 2008. REUTERS/Paulo Whitaker

“You have to use what you’ve got in the store. Frozen stuff, tinned stuff and if you’re really desperate the dried stuff,” said Alan Sherwood, a widely praised chef at the British Rothera base on the Antarctic Peninsula.

“We’re now onto dried onions because we’ve run out,” he said. “You can’t just go out and buy some.”

Rothera gets most of its supplies by ship twice a year -- in December and March -- with the occasional flight from Chile.

The 1959 Antarctic Treaty sets aside the continent as a nature reserve devoted to peace and science and bases have over the years stopped eating fresh wildlife. Seals were shot at Rothera for dog food until 1994 when dogs were banned from Antarctica to protect the environment.

But a 1950s recipe book at the base run by the British Antarctic Survey gives an insight into life as it used to be, with staff making penguin egg omelettes or cooking seal hearts.

“Seal brains ... I would consider one of the delicacies and luxuries of the Antarctic, and was enjoyed by most members of the base when I was chef,” the unnamed author wrote.

In a chapter on seal brains, he listed recipes for fried seal brains, seal brains au gratin, brain fritters, seal brain omelette and savory seal brains on toast. The cook must be a man -- there were no British women in Antarctica at the time.

He also said cormorants, or shags, are delicious. “My advice is if you see any around, take a ... rifle and knock a few off. It is a very meaty bird and one is enough for about six people.”

The author said he did not like penguin but that many also considered it a delicacy. Young penguins taste best, the book says. Some say it tastes like a fishy version of chicken.

Sherwood, aged 49, has giant freezers and stores with tonnes of supplies for the base which can have up to 100 people at a time. He and a colleague make three meals a day and mid-morning and mid-afternoon snacks known as “smoko.”

Choices for lunch at the weekend included pea and ham soup, chicken with pesto, fish in batter, rice, chips, and a variety of salads. Sherwood has worked seven Antarctic summers and in between returns to England to a job as a caterer.

“You look out the window in the UK and you’ve got last night’s empty wine bottles and black bags in a dumpster. Here you’ve got icebergs rolling by,” he said of his view from the kitchen.

The next big meals will be when Dutch Crown Prince Willem-Alexander and his wife Princess Maxima visit in February.

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Editing by Katie Nguyen