I have a squirrel guy. His name is Buddy and by trade he's a sound engineer, but in his heart of hearts, he's a hunter. Buddy doesn't hunt simply for sport; he, his girlfriend and his son cook only meat and fish that they have personally dispatched.
If Buddy's willing to share meat with me, I say, 'thank you' and take what he's offering. I know his kill was clean, quick and respectful, it'll be expertly cleaned and dressed, and no way am I going to find anything of its variety or caliber in my local butcher shop or supermarket.
That doesn't mean that when he offered me a brace of squirrels, I didn't initially have pause. I got over that pretty pretty quickly - and deliciously - and you should, too. Here's why.
To paraphrase blogger turned cookbook author Hank Shaw - if you wanted to starve to death in the wilderness, you'd have to try pretty hard. Squirrels are plentiful - overly so in some regions. Buddy initially began dispatching the squirrels because they were savaging the garden he'd so carefully planted. Their numbers were seemingly undiminished.
"Awwwwww!" you might coo. "But they're so adorable and sweet and and how could you be so very cruel as to eat the precious Disney fluffy-wuffy?"
Yup – they're all just darling until the day when you walk into your kitchen to find that one has gnawed through your window screen to make himself a snack of your tortillas. He's just there, lounging about on your table all bushy-tailed and cavalier until he spots you...and snarls...and then everything is a blur of tortillas and mange and horror.
There are plenty of squirrels in the world. You can stand to eat a few.
2. Squirrel is a locavore's delight
You probably - okay really oughtn't go strolling into Central Park or an urban alleyway in search of prey. Not only would that be highly illegal; you are what you eat, and you are what that squirrel eats and that's not going to work out well for either one of you.
If you stick with forest squirrels or those that have been subsisting on your garden largesse, you know exactly what that beastie has been snacking on. It had a pretty footloose and fancy-free life in the great outdoors - certainly better than that of a factory-farmed chicken or pig. Meat really doesn't get more local than from your own or your friend's backyard.
3. Squirrel is a classic
In this age of kitchen retro, heirloom seeds and canning fetishism, it just makes sense to take a page from grandma and give squirrel a whirl.
4. Squirrel is easy to cook
In the video below, I've just simmered the squirrel until the meat was tender, then served it shredded on a plate. Texas chef Tim Love gives his a nice, long braise with minimal seasonings so as to let the meat's rich flavor be the star. If he's planning to pop it on the grill, since the meat can be tough, he'll brine it with salt and chiles first to tenderize it. Any method that's suitable for rabbit should be just dandy with squirrel.
5. Squirrel just tastes great
When I popped a plate of braised squirrel on the table, guests first approached hesitantly, then began shoveling strands into their mouths. For most, it was an initiation (it's generally illegal to sell wild game, so you have to have a source like Buddy), but seemingly not to be an isolated instance of enjoyment.
The general consensus was that it tasted more earthy and sumptuous than the darkest turkey they'd ever tasted - and wouldn't it be great in a ragout, stew, or cassoulet?
One might even say they went a bit...squirrely for it - but that would just be nuts.
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