Squirrel can make for gourmet mealPublished 8:27pm Friday, November 22, 2013
I’ve told this story several times this week and I’ve heard a number of different responses: everything from wrinkled up noses and a sharp, “Uuuuuuuugh!” to a curious, “Really? How was it?” to fond memories from childhood like, “My grandmother used to cook them for me, and they were great.”
Mary Lyman spent last weekend on a girls’ trip with some high school friends, an annual event that gave me some time alone.
I went down to my hunting camp in Camp Hill where I did some cleaning to get the camp ready for deer season – enough to actually claim I did some cleaning without stretching the truth much – and then I took a .22 rifle out into the woods in search of supper.
I found one of America’s great game animals, a kitchen staple for much of our country’s history, the gray squirrel.
I’ve got to admit here that I’ve never done much squirrel hunting. I’ve done less squirrel eating. And I’ve never done any squirrel cooking.
So this was a real adventure for me.
And I’ve got to report that I had a great time.
During the last hour of daylight Saturday, I walked into a place we call The White Oak Woods, sat down under a tree and quietly started looking for movement in the trees.
By the time the sun dropped below the horizon, I had four nice, healthy squirrels in the leaves below my feet.
I tied them up with a piece of cord and walked out of the woods with the ingredients for supper, field dressed with without any trouble and realized I had no idea of what to do next.
I knew that Brunswick stew is a dish that was traditionally made with squirrels, though I’m sure store-bought chicken has replaced busy-tails in most kitchens these days.
So I found a good recipe in a wild game cookbook and used three squirrels to make the stew.
For the fourth squirrel, I decided to experiment. I have a friend in Mobile who says that squirrels and dumplings is one of his favorite meals, and I was thinking about trying that – but before I did, I took a chance and googled “gourmet squirrel recipe.”
Believe it or not, the first recipe that came up was from Bon Appetit magazine, which is a very good place to start.
The photo of the finished dish looked terrific, but as I read through the recipe, I saw the following disclaimer at the bottom: “This recipe has not been edited or tested by the Bon Appetit Test Kitchen.”
But on the plus side, I discovered that I had almost all the ingredients in my kitchen … so I went to work.
One of the first things I learned about cooking squirrels is that it takes a while to make them tender.
The second thing I learned was – three hours later – if you cook them right, squirrels can indeed become a gourmet meal.
I’m not exaggerating when I report that I would have happily paid for the meal in a restaurant.
Here’s the recipe:
- Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a heavy pot.
- Add ½ a chopped onion and 1 chopped carrot and brown.
- Cut the squirrel into serving pieces – front and back legs and the saddle – cover with 1 ½ cups of apple cider vinegar (this was an improvisation since I didn’t have apple cider).
- Add a tablespoon of Dijon mustard, some fresh tarragon and parsley, a teaspoon of salt and a teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper.
- Cover the pot and simmer for 2 ½ hours.
- Remove the squirrel pieces carefully (the meat will be falling off the bone)and strain the liquid.
- Return it to the pot and boil it down until it is reduced to about ½ cup of sauce.
- Put the squirrel pieces back in the pot, pour on the sauce and broil for about 8-10 minutes, until the squirrel is deeply browned.
I picked some arugula and flat leaf parsley from my garden and arranged the salad on a plate, put the squirrel pieces on top and poured the sauce on top.
Colonel Sanders would have been proud: I devoured the squirrel, and I was licking my fingers when my plate was clean.
Mary Lyman came home Sunday night and I was so excited I went squirrel hunting again and made the recipe Sunday evening for her, talking it up the whole time.
She’s a real trooper and although she wrinkled her nose when I started talking about it, she did try the squirrel, tentatively at first, and then wound up finishing all four pieces on her plate and went back into the kitchen for another bite.
If you ask her about it, she’ll admit that it tasted good, but she’s not too fired up about the idea of eating squirrel.
Here’s what I know … if I didn’t tell her what it was, she would have loved it.
And the Brunswick stew was also good enough to serve on any table.
So in this age of a renewed interest in eating local, sustainable meals, I’ve now added gray squirrel to the list of wild game delicacies in my kitchen.
Boone is publisher of The Outlook.