"Bayou Bill" Scifres
Dedicated to the conservation and enjoyment of Indiana's natural resources
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Scrumptious Squirrel
Copyright © 2002 by Bill Scifres

Down East in Maine, I am told, the recipe for Brunswick Stew starts: "First you get the deer." 

And so it is with a scrumptious dinner of fried squirrel, fried potatoes (onions, of course), boiled beans (seasoned, of course, with jowl bacon), corn-on-the-cob, chilled, sliced tomatoes (of course), hot biscuits and gravy. 

We stand on the threshold of more than five months of squirrel hunting in Hoosierland, and though it may seem as though this column, and my web page, may have seemed encyclopedic on the subject in the last three weeks, we are "cocked and primed" for the hunting. 

Our squirrel season opens Thursday (August 15). If a hunter takes all options, hunting will continue through January 31, 2003. 

But today we talk about turning those sweet-meated young fox and gray squirrels into gourmet din-dins. 

Incidentally, we probably should go the addendum route right here by pointing out that separating tender, young squirrels, from tough, old residenters should be done when squirrels are skinned (see last week's column). And while we are at it, we probably should point out that skinning out squirrel heads takes a bit of patience, but that it is worth the effort. 

Aside from the fact that the cheek meat (the jowl) is delicious when cooked, squirrel brains also are a delicacy to many older aficionados. 

At our house we always skinned squirrel heads because my grandmother probably would have refused to cook had we not complied with her wishes. And my dad taught me that the heads of old squirrel are left attached while the heads of young were cut off but saved for cooking.. This tells the cook how to go about preparing both old and young for the table. 

Young squirrels deserve to be fried, but older squirrels--especially residenters--may need to dress up a pot of dumplings, or be stuffed and baked. But they all are prime table fare. 

If a squirrel is to be fried, it should be cut into six pieces (not counting the head and neck). This would be two front legs, two back legs, and two back pieces which include the back strap (the tenderloin meat down both sides of the vertebrae). 

When a squirrel is cut into pieces, many died-in-the-wool hunters and cooks also remove the so-called "glands" which is said to eliminate some of the wild taste of the game. The glands will be found on or in the legs. The front leg glands will be found at the point where the legs join the body. When the legs are sliced free of the body, the glands are the thin gray matter (a little like fat) between the legs and the body  It is easily removed. 

The glands of the back legs are tiny, elongated nodules of gristle that are a little like miniature footballs. Whether they affect taste or odor of cooked squirrel is difficult to tell, but some fox trappers dry the glands and use them to attract foxes. They are found my making a crosswise slit on the back side of the knee (where the back leg pivots). 

Now, to fry those tender, young squirrels. Just salt and pepper the pieces on both sides, dredge them in flour, and put them in the skillet with an eighth (1/8) inch of olive oil or the cooking agent of your choice. At medium heat (a slow sizzle) keep an eye on the meat, turning each piece individually until browned on both sides. Then turn heat down, pour in a ounce of red wine and an ounce of water, and cover the skillet for five or ten minutes to allow steam from the liquids to do their job. Remove cover, turn up heat and resume turning meat until all liquid has cooked away. 

At this point remove meat and make a skillet of milk or water gravy with the drippings and gougings left in the skillet and a sprinkling of flour. (Find elsewhere on bayoubill.com further details on gravy). Actually, in many cases there will be no need to make gravy. It will be in the skillet when the squirrel is ready. 

Squirrels may be baked whole (with or without heads) by simply stuffing them with your favorite turkey or chicken stuffing, or with chopped veggies (onion, carrot, your choice) and chopped bacon. 

Place them on their backs, insert stuffing or veggies, tie them up with baking twine and cover the pan until the end when dish is allowed to brown. Some baste once or twice with red wine while cooking. 

Encasing the baking squirrel in foil is not a bad way to go. This utilizes the steam from veggies and wine. 

I like moderate heat for baking, too--say about 350 degrees. 

As one who started cooking in the wild at a very early age with nothing more than wet sycamore leaves, mud balls, and, of course, fire, I must remind you that cooking squirrel--like cooking any other meat or edible produce--is limited only by the cook's imagination. Wild game can enhance soups, stews, and a great variety of other dishes. 


All columns are copyrighted by Bill Scifres and may not be reproduced in any form without prior permission from the author.  For reproduction permission and media usage fees, contact: Bill Scifres, 6420 East 116th Street, Fishers, IN 46038, E-mail: billscifres@aol.com

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