It is not often that I dine at the home of Phil and Charlene Hawkins
without learning something new about cooking wild game. So it was one day
last week at the home of the Franklin couple.
Phil, a longtime outdoor friend, and your reporter had returned about
noon from a gray-squirrel safari in nearby Morgan County. We were preparing
to skin our game.
Charlene, who never fails to amaze me with her culinary capers, came
out to ask if we would like to do lunch first. I couldn't even imagine
our turning down such an offer--all the more so when she said lunch would
be fried gray squirrel, biscuits and gravy, green beans, homemade potato
salad, and chilled slices of tomatoes fresh from their garden. The blueberry
cheese cake was a surprise. It was just as scrumptious as it sounds.
As my tastebuds tingled, I likened Charlene's kitchen caper to "The
Deacon's One-Hoss Shay." The potato salad was just as good as the green
beans, and the biscuits and gravy were on a high par with the sliced tomatoes
. . . But unlike the fabled "one-hoss shay," I knew the morsels on Charlene's
china would not last 100 years . . . more like 20 minutes.
And the first bite of the back leg of a gray squirrel--the so-called
"piece de resistance"--made it patently obvious that I had to know
how she did it.
As usual, Charlene graciously shared her cooking expertise. "It's easy,"
she said, and promptly ran through the procedure for me.
She simply dredges the squirrel pieces in flour and fries them to doneness
(brown) in a skillet in Crisco.
At this point she pours about an inch of water in the crock pot, and
fashions a foil boat with high sides to float the fried squirrel pieces
above the water (not in it). The pot is then covered and the heat is turned
to high for about an hour to steam the squirrel. Then the heat is turned
down until time to dine.
"I've done it with chicken, too," Charlene says, adding that her new
method of steaming fried meats is simply a takeoff from the practice of
frying (uncovered), steaming (covered), then browning meats (uncovered)
in a skillet.
Of course, Charlene made the gravy in the skillet where she browned
the squirrel. Simple or not, it still makes a melt-in-your-mouth piece
When Phil and I continued with skinning our game, he applied the old
saw about "teaching old dogs new tricks," by demonstrating how he cuts
a squirrel into six pieces while giving those big back legs added meat.
Instead of severing the back legs at the hip joints, he does a crosswise
cut of the back just in front of the back legs.
This leaves more of the backstrap (tenderloin) as part of each back
leg, even though it means a smaller lower-back piece.