M: Some of the fun of telling people I’d be cooking up squirrel this weekend was the response. Often a little silent gasp or just a pitying shake of the head. It is not so foreign that they don’t know that it is something that gets eaten, but it is most certainly far enough off the path that it elicits a tiny bit of revulsion. I get that. It’s a squirrel. A rodent. Like a rat or a mouse. But in a big picture kind of way, I wonder how it is we choose why, say, a crab is in bounds and the squirrel is a creep out. I dropped by my brother’s place earlier in the evening and was invited to stay for a steak dinner. “Why go out for steak when you’ve got squirrel at home?” I mused. Yeah, OK. A steak is a better piece of meat than you get from a squirrel. That aside, cow or squirrel? I’m not glossing over that disparity in mouth appeal, but I have to set that point aside here. I know plenty of people who don’t like fish, but manage to keep their composure when it comes up in conversation.
I had some trepidation when squirrel first showed up on our menu here. That mostly had to do with a little concern about how healthy it is to eat something you find in your back yard or even back alley. But I won’t pretend I didn’t also have a little bit of the “Uh… squirrel?” response. I moved past it. If nothing else, I’m always up for a new experience. I have eaten horse. I have eaten cat. The horse was due to a simple language barrier when dining overseas. The cat was the result of encountering some not particularly good meat I could not identify at a Chinese buffet and reading a few weeks later the restaurant had been shut down for serving cat. While I definitely would not have chosen that, it was meat on a buffet and I ate it. Who expects that kind of curve ball dining at the mall? I guess my line in the sand, meat-wise, may lay somewhere in the neighborhood of animals I let sleep on my bed. I don’t have a satisfying answer as to what makes some animals OK to eat and others off the menu, but these are the questions one ponders when frying up a squirrel. Worth checking out is Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat: Why It’s So Hard to Think Straight About Animals.
This is our second go at cooking squirrel. My squirrel guy came up with a couple more so the time was right. Yes, it seems I have a squirrel guy. The first time around it was well buried in a terrific Brunswick stew. But there was a lot of stuff in that stew. Hard to credit, fault, or even review the squirrel meat on it’s own merits. At the time, I described it as something between rabbit and dark meat turkey. That description stands for me. This simmers a long time before frying and, as a result, is fairly tender. Dredged in flour and fried, it could be mistaken for any number of meats. It is not gamey. It is not stringy. It’s meat. Not bad at all. I’d certainly eat it again, although it has not skyrocketed to the top of my shopping list. I kind of wish it had so I could feel driven to advocate to those silent gaspers. Still, give it a shot. Skip the cat.
Recipe: Fried Squirrel with Gravy
Summary: A classic recipe you’re not likely to find on a restaurant menu. Adapted from The Southern Foodways Alliance Community Cookbook
- 2 Large Squirrels
- Salt and Black Pepper
- 1 c Flour
- Vegetable Oil, for frying
- 1 c Milk
- 1 c Water
- Dress squirrel and cut into pieces.
- Place in a large saucepan, bring to boil and reduce to simmer until meat is tender, but not falling from the bone. (M: I went about 90 minutes)
- Drain, season with salt and pepper and roll in flour.
- Fry in heavy skillet it oil at medium heat until golden.
- Pour off all but 2-3 T of oil from skillet and stir in enough flour to create a roux.
- Slowly add milk and water, stirring constantly, until gravy is desired consistency.
- Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve hot.