Püthök - Carcass as Crockery Tradition / Ritual in Tahuum Itaqiin | World Anvil

Püthök - Carcass as Crockery (/py.'θøk̚/)

[Content advisory: Includes graphic descriptions and images of animal butchering and meat preparation.]  
I must admit that from the travelogues I'd read, this püthök was a grotesque sight in my mind's eye. Upon observing the process for myself, however, I better understand both its practicality and it surprisingly palatable results. Disembowling a goat and then stuffing hot rocks into its cavities would still not be my preferred method for cooking one, but the method is undeniably effective in such a remote land with such limited resources to call upon.  
- From a journal kept by Saffiya an'Winari, 4130 HE.
  [Content advisory: Includes graphic descriptions and images of animal butchering and meat preparation.]   Relatively few travelers from the Continent's centers of civilization visit the Continent's inner steppes. Therefore, even fewer are prepared for their first encounter with püthök, a preparation of goat or game meat that is popular in the steppes and scarcely anywhere else. Not only is the very concept of püthök absurd to many outsiders—for they would hardly think to cut a carcass open and then cook it from the inside—but the actual process of preparation, which often includes the breaking of the carcass's legs so as to deglove it and fill it with searing-hot stones more easily, is simply more than most outsiders can stomach.   "Their loss," local nomads are inclined to say. Indeed, the seared, fat-streaked meat on the outside and the steamy stew within evoke nostalgia and arouse strong appetites in those who've already given the dish a fair chance, such that those who've grown up with püthök prefer it to other methods of roasting a medium-sized mammal. Further, increasing seasonal variation in steppe diets has led to püthök becoming a popular, nostalgia-inducing dish for multiple seasonal festivals.



  Gloving and deboning a carcass, then carefully inserting hot rocks into the cavity, is a challenging cooking method to learn but not ultimately a labor-intensive or resource-intensive one. The typical process is as follows:  
  1. Rocks of suitable sizes and shapes are heated in a fire pit.
  2. To prepare the carcass, cut the skin around the neck so much of the flesh can be pulled down. You can also remove some of the meat during this stage to reinsert it later.
  3. Break the legs at the knees, if needed, to remove the thigh bones.
  4. Remove the internal organs. The liver and kidneys can be reinserted or cooked separately; other organs such as the lungs, stomach, and intestines are more complex to clean and prepare. These must be cooked separately if at all.
  5. Insert relatively small heated rocks into the upper legs and the larger ones into the main cavity. Also insert any spare meat, salt, vegetables, and seasonings.
  6. Sear the carcass over a firepit or other large, open flame. This both removes the fur (with the help of a knife) and cooks the carcass more thoroughly.
  Show Spoiler
Boodog (real Mongolian barbeque) by Artger
  The carcass is ready when the skin on the surface weeps with melted fat.


Origins and Functions

  As odd—or desperate—as the practice may seem to outsiders in the Revival Era, using heated rocks to cook food has a prehistoric precedent in their use for boiling water by way of first heating rocks of sufficient size, and then dropping them into a pre-filled vessel. For the early nomadic groups in the Gold Steppe, it likely wasn't much of a stretch of logic to try cooking other foods in this manner.   The method soon proved effective for roasting medium-sized animal carcasses with substantial fat on them, most of all marmots and other hibernating animals. Young boars and hogs can be cooked in this manner as well, though young boars are fiercely defended by their mothers and pigs lack a certain flavor which is deemed "gamey" in the palettes of most settled people-groups and delightfully complex to those who are accustomed to hunting and foraging.   Given this, the preparation of püthök was originally commonplace only in the late fall and early winter, when these animals would have the most fat on them. During the past couple of centuries, however, the growing availability of novel ingredients (see Ingredients and Variations, below) has increasingly made püthök the centerpiece of celebratory feasts—even if it is not quite as rich when lacking its pre-winter fat. As fresh vegetables and herbs are favored for this dish yet are only seasonally available, püthök has grown in popularity both in the late spring (when most Haifatnehti crops are harvested) and throughout the fall (when the few settlements of the Gold Steppe and beyond have completed their harvest periods).   While the indigenous pastoral-nomadic groups of the Golden Steppe and the Green Steppe have long since counted püthök among their culinary traditions, the Southfold Trekkers have been more hesitant to adopt the custom in spite of considerable intercultural contact with the former groups. Southfolders are broadly divided on the issue of whether they can consider püthök a "clean" food despite the fact that it doesn't incorporate any of their taboo foods. This is to say less of the sedentary peoples bordering the pasturelands, who deem the püthök preparation process altogether alien.


Ingredients and Variations

  Although goats are most commonly cooked in this fashion, in theory, any other mammal roughly comparable to a goat in size and shape will suffice. The ancient Vihsaln nomads are known to have cooked the marmots they hunted in the same manner for at least long as they were herding domesticated goats.   Relatively few vegetables grow easily in the Gold Steppe and especially the Southfold, thus limiting the range of additional ingredients in püthök. Thankfully, onions, garlic, and cabbages all have the benefits of being quite flavorful as well as hearty in these unforgiving environs. (A few local tubers may also be available as well, though many of these are thin, tough, and have yet to be optimized through domestication.) Multiple languages spoken in these steppe regions have their own words for the steamy scent that arises from a proper stew of these ingredients with a fatty red meat.   Fresh herbs and spices, most often caraway, can be used to enhance the dish when they are available, but they have to be inserted carefully during preparation so that they are not burned due to proximity to the heated stones. Another challenge for the chef is to figure out how to properly incorporate these seasonings into a dish that cooks for at least an hour.
Primary Related Location
Important Locations

The end result of püthök preparation: Show Spoiler
by Tri Thuc & Cuoc Song


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Sage RandoScorpio
2 Aug, 2023 06:39

I read this for my summercamp reading challenge!   This made me think of a bread bowl. Using food to cook other food is always a win in my books, I like that considerations were made for the meat from inside the animals and the instructions for preparation seem easy enough to follow. I wonder if the people of the steppes have ever considered the pit cooking method? I also appreciated the content warning, because while I'm not squeamish about the butchering process I know others can be and this is a good way to let them know before they are shocked in the article.

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Marsin Morrow
Character | Sep 12, 2023
4 Aug, 2023 00:24

Yeah, I was a tad antsy about publishing this one in case of any blow-back for the fairly graphic visuals. Seems as if I made the right call, though.   Pit cooking looks like another practical option for them, and I'll probably add it to their inventory of cooking methods! That said, püthök has a few perks of its own, including retaining the skin (and the fat right under it) while removing the fur relatively efficiently.

"What you know is the stars in the sky; what you don't is the darkness between them."
- Ashley Naftule
2 Aug, 2023 23:04

I like this article a great deal. One thing I would have liked to see is some sort of discussion or argument about why this method is better than ordinary butchering - perhaps a local of the Steppes who argues strenuously that the meat tastes better or something similar. Thanks for sending me the link, I was happy to give it a read.

4 Aug, 2023 00:26

Elaborating on the reasoning behind the method would be a good idea, for sure. I'll keep this in mind for my September edits! Thanks for your input.

"What you know is the stars in the sky; what you don't is the darkness between them."
- Ashley Naftule
12 Aug, 2023 07:13

What an interesting way of cooking, which also has the advantage of not requiring any cookware, which is certainly an advantage for nomads. The idea of the spoiler images, which don't immediately scare off the reader, is also nice.

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13 Aug, 2023 05:35

I always like finding ways to tailor cultural features (art, cooking, whatever) to the local environment. And yes, I was a little sheepish about uploading these at all, so I'm glad the spoilers might do some good.

"What you know is the stars in the sky; what you don't is the darkness between them."
- Ashley Naftule