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Friday, March 19, 2010

Cooking Squirrel

During my formative years, I was fortunate enough to be well acquainted with a middle-aged couple who, although I never heard them refer to themselves as such, were the epitome of the term "homesteaders". I think I have written about them before.

Although they had a variety of domestic livestock which they raised for food as well as income, they also supplemented their diet with wild game on a regular basis. I shared many, many meals with them, so I grew up eating such things as rabbit and squirrel. It is the latter that I am writing about today.

Albert had, so far as I know, only two guns. One was a Marlin Glenfield Model 60, .22 semi-automatic rifle. The other was a Stevens 20 gauge single-shot, break-open shotgun. Now, most people would consider the .22 rifle to be the better squirrel gun, and it probably is, but Albert wasn't particularly squirrel hunting. He was meat hunting. Squirrels were the most likely source of that meat, followed by rabbits, but Albert carried a couple of slug loads in a pocket because you never know when a deer might appear.

Alta pretty much cooked squirrel (and rabbit) the same way she cooked chicken: dredge the pieces in some seasoned flour, and fry it in lard in a cast iron skillet. It was good. Yes, it tasted kinda' like chicken, because it was cooked like chicken.

I think hard times are ahead for America (not to mention the rest of the world), and I expect that small game will begin appearing on the menu again for a substantial portion of the populace, especially those who are fortunate or smart enough to live outside the cities. A pound of store-bought meat is a lot more expensive than a shotgun shell, and the meat that shell can harvest for you is a lot more healthful than the store-bought meat, to boot. It would be a good idea to start hunting and eating small game now, rather than waiting until lean times. That way you will already have the hunting skill, the recipes, and the taste for this meat if and when it becomes necessary to feed yourself and your family in this manner. Don't discount the importance of developing a taste for it, either. It has been proven that some people will literally starve to death before they will eat food to which they are unaccustomed. It is far better to start getting yourself and your spouse and children used to the idea of eating squirrel and other wild game, so that there won't be problems if/when it is the only food available.

So you have made the plunge and started hunting small game, and now you have a mess of squirrels to cook. Assuming they have already been skinned and dressed (since that is beyond the scope of this article), what do you do next? Well, assuming this isn't a survival scenario where one needs food right now, the meat will need to be marinated in the refrigerator, at least overnight. Then a recipe will need to be chosen. Searching the Internet for guidance, you will find all kinds of advice for marinating the meat in wine, vinegar, lime juice or who knows what (to mask the "wild" flavor) followed by cooking in some kind of casserole, stew or whatever, also to disguise the fact that you eating what some call "tree rats". Look, get over it. The best thing to do is dispense with all that, and somehow get an open mind about it. I tried marinating in vinegar once, and ended up with squirrel that tasted like...vinegar. Now, you may indeed want to put it in a soup or stew, casserole or pasty, or maybe a squirrel-pot-pie. But if you do so, do it because you want a pasty or a stew, not because you want to disguise the meat. And for a marinade, all you need is salt water.

So here is the best way I have found to prepare squirrel: First, soak it in the refrigerator in a covered bowl of salt water. I make it fairly strong. Let it soak overnight or longer; I have left it in there for as long as a week and a half with no ill effects, simply because it took me that long to get around to cooking it. Any longer, and it should be taken out, packaged and frozen.
When I am ready to cook the squirrel, I rinse it well and fry it in a cast iron skillet in some olive oil. I put pepper on it, you put whatever appeals to you. Nor does it have to be olive oil; that is just what I prefer.
Once the meat is browned and cooked through, you can take it out and put it in your casserole or whatever, or you can go ahead and serve it as-is. You really owe it to yourself to try it like this at least once, so you can see for yourself that it really does taste good without having to get all fancy and camouflage it. I like it simply fried like this and eaten with biscuits which are lavishly slathered with real butter and sorghum or molasses. What a wonderful breakfast!