Have you ever eaten squirrel?
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.