"You have told me how to find and bag squirrels," says this friend,
"but you haven't told me how to cook them."
With the squirrel season opening (today) August 15 throughout the state
and continuing through Dec. 31 (Jan. 31, 2002, north of U. S. Highway 40),
care in the field, skinning and cooking squirrels becomes an important
facet of the squirrel-hunting picture.
Unlike popular misconception, squirrels do not "spoil" if given reasonable
care (mainly kept out of the sun and out where air flows freely around
them). I have bagged squirrels early in the morning on many occasions and
kept them unskinned until dark on hot August days of the past without ever
having a squirrel turn bad. It also is a good idea to keep flies off the
However, I do not doubt that skinning squirrels soon after they are
bagged, and keeping the meat on ice would be a desirable thing on a day-long
hunt, but I know of no hunters who do this, although it would be pretty
easy to carry a cooler with ice in one's car.
An added plus to skinning squirrels soon after they are bagged lies
in the fact that it is easier to skin a squirrel before muscle tissue stiffens
than after. Still, it is not difficult to skin a squirrel after rigor mortis
has set in.
When I bagged my first squirrel as a pre-teen kid, my dad was at work
and neither I--nor any of the neighbors--could skin a squirrel. The squirrel,
which I was certain would spoil (but didn't) had to wait for the return
of my father who administered my first squirrel-skinning lesson.
My father, a hunting mentor named Jack Cain, and numerous other older
men with whom I hunted around Crothersville, could skin a squirrel in two
minutes and give you several seconds change. The time element, of course,
is contingent upon having a good holder, someone to hold the animal by
the back legs while the entrails are being removed and the four feet and
head cut off (if the head is not saved for the skillet). I know, the notion
that squirrel heads should be saved for cooking may bring about some cases
of the "jeebies." But there is a lot of good meat on the cheeks and the
part of the head that joins the neck, not to mention a great little morsel
of brain when the top of the head is cracked (usually with the handle of
a table knife) after the meat is removed.
Squirrel heads, of course, are cooked just like the other pieces (six
in all, seven if you cook the heads) on each squirrel. The components are
the four legs, two back pieces (which contain the tenderloin), and the
head. Most wild game eaters consider the back lets of the squirrel "top
choice," but I do not look down my nose at any piece of squirrel including
So how do you cook squirrel?
Fried squirrel is a favored method with most wild game cooks, but they
may be boiled (especially the older, tougher ones) and turned into a magnificent
pot of dumplings. Then, of course, I do not have many guests leave the
table when I present a platter of whole, baked squirrels with body cavities
stuffed with my sage dressing. Nor has any of my guests ever complained
about grilled squirrel (in pieces, parboiled in advance to assure tenderness).
To be honest about this entire thing, I have never seen a squirrel dish
I did not like. Squirrel meat can be prepared for the palate in any way
beef, pork many other meats are cooked. Heat is the most important element
and it can be applied with great success in many ways. Seasoning is a matter
for the individual cook, but those who fry squirrel usually sprinkle the
pieces liberally with salt and pepper, and dredge (roll) each piece in
flour before plopping it into an iron skillet to brown on all sides.
At this point, the heat is turned low and
the skillet is covered after pouring in a couple of ounces of liquid (half
water, half a wine that is fit to drink). Plain water will do the trick
since its function is only to render the meat more tender. Still, a little
wine taste is not all bad, and a sprinkling of brown sugar is trick of
many cooks, the-more-so when it caramelizes.
Incidentally, squirrel fried in this manner will create its own natural
gravy, but if the need arises a great pan of gravy can be made by removing
the meat and adding flour and milk or water as the flour thickens.