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Have you ever eaten squirrel?

Jocelyn Frank Jocelyn Frank | 14:00 UK time, Sunday, 28 November 2010

This week across America, families celebrated Thanksgiving with feasts made up of dishes of all shapes, sizes and flavours. But did you know that squirrel sometimes makes it onto the Thanksgiving table?

On this week’s BBC Radio 4’s Americana presenter Matt Frei talked with outdoor enthusiast Wm. Hovey Smith about a not-always popular, though timeless American dish: squirrel stew. Smith walked us through all the steps involved in hunting, cleaning and transforming a North American grey squirrel into a delicious stew.

Wm. Hovey Smith lives on a property in rural central Georgia that has been in the family since the 1700s. Back then, the house was a cotton plantation but these days the large property is overgrown with brush and pine trees - the ideal hunting ground.

Indoors in his kitchen, with tools no more complex than a set of rubber gloves to keep away the “nasties”, game sheers and a three inch pocket knife, he proceeded to prepare the North American grey squirrel for cooking. He lopped off the head (though his mother used to love squirrel brains - “they have a nutty taste” he said deadpan) and the four limbs. He then skinned the rodent and washed it before declaring it ready to boil.

Smith prefers to season squirrel stew simply. He just uses salt and pepper, simmering the meat until it’s soft and separates the flesh from the bones. In a large pot he’ll cook the tender meat with onion, canned corn, tomatoes and capsicum. The cooking takes several hours because, as he explains, “nothing in this wild game business is done in a hurry if it’s gonna be anything like halfway good.”

Squirrel stew has a very distinctly sweet flavour and Smith describes it as quite a pleasant tasting dish that he would not hesitate to serve to the Queen of England - were she to invite him to prepare it.

“Y’all are overrun with squirrels in England. You need to eat some of them!” says Smith.

Indeed squirrel has been appearing on some British restaurant menus of late and even featured on The Hairy Biker's Cook Off last week, but would you, could you eat squirrel?

Could this be the way to manage the UK grey squirrel population? Have you cooked squirrel? Share your experiences...

Jocelyn Frank is a Producer on Radio 4's Americana.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    In a hole in the wall restaurant in Kuala Lumpur, I was served a delicious sweet curry, of what I assumed was chicken. Part way through I realised the bones were not avian, they were mammal..... my host could not find the English word for it, eventually settling on "tree rat". A quick sketch on the napkin confirmed the bushy tail! It was delicious!

  • Comment number 2.

    Of course I would be happy to eat squirrel - it would be ridiculous not to if you eat other meat as I do.

    If it was made easily available, I'd gladly use it.

  • Comment number 3.

    I'd be more than happy to eat it but given the supposedly sweet flavour mentioned I don't think it would be to my taste. I find horse meat too sweet too.

    However I have no problem with the idea of eating it at all and it would rid my garden of the pesky brutes. It would probably go well in a game pie along with rabbit, pigeon and pheasant as the flavours would balance themselves out.

  • Comment number 4.

    I grew up in Georgia, U.S., same state as William Smith, who told you how to prepare a squirrel stew. My grandfather was a hunter. He brought home quail, pheasant, rabbit, squirrel, deer and wild boar. Squirrel is delicious! I haven't eaten it in years because I'm not a hunter and I find it's easier to go to the supermarket and bag produce or select some pork chops, but if you like to hunt and you want to cull a few of the little critters from your backyard, why not eat them? My grandmother didn't stew the meat, however. Just dredged it in flour, salt and pepper and fried it in a bit of oil. Easy and yummy! Like all game, cook it well because of possible parasites.

    By the way, there was another web article about people being surprised to see black squirrels...I can tell you that grey squirrels range in color from white to grey to black. Grey is most common, occasionally you'll see a black one and very occasionally you'll see a solid white one. They're not albinos, just one of the possible color mutations,and the white ones don't last very long in nature because of that beautiful color. They show up far too easily to predators.

  • Comment number 5.

    We ate squirrel on Gastronuts - 10 year-olds love it! St John's sell it too. We're just pathetic when it comes to squirrels and I think it's entirely down to Beatrix Potter making us soft for them, which is annoying, but entirely understandable.

    I think a North London branch of Morrisons or Somerfield sold it six months back and all the newspapers carried a story on it. Whenever it comes on the menu somewhere I get asked to have a row on radio with someone saying 'What will be next? Something even cuter?'

    My view is that everyone's time would be better spent improving the conditions for millions of caged hens and pigs. Squirrels are a pest, and if they are shot for food, up until their last few seconds they lead happy, free-range lives (although remember that most free animals live in a state of perpetual fear, and of course generally die gruesome deaths by injury, starvation, illness or being torn to shreds (often alive) by another animal). I've had squirrel in the UK several times and also in Cameroon, and I think it’s best wrapped in pancetta (or bacon) and BBQ-ed.

  • Comment number 6.

    No,unless you count squirrel flavoured crisps, but I've eaten guinea-pig so I'd eat squirrel if I had the opportunity.

  • Comment number 7.

    No, but I wouldn't mind trying...Wonder if you can buy it in Norwich/ Norfolk.

    Can u get organic squirel?

  • Comment number 8.

    If tempted to simply flour, salt pepper and fry squirrels there is one extra step that is necessary. Young squirrels may be eaten after frying, but adults need to be steamed in water for some time to get them tender enough to eat. After the initial browning add water, onions and reduce heat to boil. Add additional water if needed. This will also yield a brown onion gravy that may be served over rice or mashed potatoes.
    I have a video of the making of squirrel stew and also squirrel dumplings that is on my website under BBC Squirrel Stew and an expanded one on squirrel dumplings on YouTube. These are simple dishes than anyone can cook on a stove top, in a pressure cooker or Crock Pot.

  • Comment number 9.

    Even before I became a vegetarian, nearly 30 years ago now, I remember being grossed out by a recipe for squirrel stew in a Lakeland cookbook I got as a pressie for my mum on a school trip to the Lake District, but Hovey Smith made me laugh out loud this morning; no mean feat considering it was something like 4am and I'm suffering with the worst cold of my life!

  • Comment number 10.

    Can anyone tell me if tuile biscuits can be frozen?
    Thanks.

  • Comment number 11.

    Re #10 – head over to the BBC Food messageboard if you have culinary questions that need an answer. Share tips and tricks and learn from the community of regular visitors there:

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/mbfood/NF2670471

    Back to the subject of unusual meats, I found came across this blog the other day which includes a recipe for bear. Would you?

    http://honest-food.net/2010/11/19/pelmeni-and-the-eating-of-bears/

  • Comment number 12.

    Cat, no. Cats are pets, pets are not food. Dog, no. Dogs are partners in our history and our creations and we owe them much more than just eating them. Dogs are part of what it is to be human. Or humans are part of what it is to be canine. I'd no more eat dog than Man.
    Squirrel? Why not? They are just rabbits that climb and I'm partial to rabbit. Not red ones, though. I draw the line at endangered species.
    Cavie, yes. Hedgehog, yes.
    Cow, no, but that's medical necessity.
    Venison, oh, *Yes*.
    Ostrich is lovely. I wish I could afford it, or find it, more often.

  • Comment number 13.

    squirrels loved be loved, not eaten

  • Comment number 14.

    Just thought this programme that goes out tomorrow evening might be of interest: The Animal’s Guide to Britain. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b010y5wm

    Presenter Chris Packham goes to Newcastle to meet someone protecting red squirrels by hunting greys. Will Chris try squirrel pie?

  • Comment number 15.

    Eaten squirrel - are you nuts? :)

 

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