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
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
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.