With hunting seasons open for some species and
the season openers for others just around the bend, I am often asked how
one goes about cutting up the various animals for good consumption.
I always answer that this procedure is pretty
much the same for the four-footed critters, and not vastly different for
the birds. After all, in the anatomy of such birds as ducks and geese the
wings represent the frot feet of animals, and the (wings) are not quite
as “meaty” as are those of chickens, ducks, geese and other big birds that
are earthbound. But the meat of all birds--like the front legs of animals--still
is quite tasty although their meat is sparse.
Starting with a good, sharp knife (it’s got to
be sharp), I place the skinned and gutted small animal on it’s back on
a good cutting board of at least half an inch in thickness. The procedure
would be messy, if not impossible, with skin on and entrails still in the
animal. Rigor mortise (stiffness of the muscle tissue will have set in.
but this makes muscle tissue easier to cut.
I first cut off the two front legs because they
are easier to remove. They are joined to the body by only a fragmentary
bone, if any. Turn the animal over in the second hand, and sort-of
shave off the front lets (starting the cut between the body and the “shoulder”
(top part of the leg), allowing the knife blade to remove the leg with
a seesaw motion. It is largely void of meat.
Start on the back legs by reminding yourself that
these legs are joined to the body by a bony, ball-and socket joint similar
to the hip joint in man. Finding and exposing this joint is easy
by simply cutting from fore to aft at the edge of the body. Then reverse
the cut, going from aft to fore. Now you have only to twist the leg to
The entire back ordinarily is cut crosswise into
two pieces. If you eat squirrel heads there are three pieces. If you cut
the rear piece of the back into two pieces to serve more people, there
will be four pieces. In addition to the cheek meat (very small but very
tasty) or the head, this piece also contains the brain, which is quite
tasty (if you like it). After the cheek meat is removed via hand-and-tooth
combat, the top part of the skull is cracked with the hand end of a table
knife and the brain dug out. This operation is not similar to eating pork
brains. Also found on the interior surface of animals will be the kidneys
(one on each side of the backbone. Surrounded by gobs of fat, which is
very good when cooked on the piece of back.
Removing the “glands” on the four legs is said
by many to improve the taste of the meat by eliminating wild taste. On
the front legs the glands will be found between (maybe attached to the
leg or body in the form of gray matter. You will find the quarter-inch
gland of the back legs in the form of a little cartilage by making a crosswise
cut just behind the joint (knee). I suspect (don’t know) that glands are
present in all animals. They are in squirrels.
So there you have it. Cutting up a small animal
for cooking is simple. You will have two front legs, two back legs, and
two-to-four back pieces, including the head. Ordinarily, The back, which
includes the “so-called” back strap (two lengthwise rolls of meat as big
as a man’s thumb on the two sides of the back bone), is the best part of
the back pieces. However the sides (bacon) is edible and good tasting.
Indiana University Press has just released a guidebook
on Indiana nature preserves. It has beautiful photos by several volunteers,
and is a handy reference to the remaining wild spots around the state.
The Nature Conservancy of Indiana is officially
the "author" of The Nature Conservancy's Guide to Indiana Preserves
that covers the nature preserves, including some places to hunt and fish.
To obtain a copy of the book, contact the I.U.
Press at Bloomington, or Chip Sutton at The Nature Conservancy office in
Indiana (317) 951-8818. It retails at $27.95, but I hear better
prices can be found. It is a most worthy piece of literature.