Friday, April 6, 2012

Day 189.5 Braised Squirrel Aurora

Squirrel. Squirrel?!! Those little b*st*rds that chewed through the fascia board on our 140 year old house, got in the walls and partied for a week straight before we caught and "relocated" them? Yes, squirrel. And why not?

American Red Squirrel -
Photo Courtesy of Animal Galleries
Now, I can fish (although I've been known to cast out and catch my husband's hat - or shirt - or arm). And, nothing - I mean, nothing in the wild kingdom scares or grosses me out. Add to that, my long-held belief that overall, we as a nation are way too removed from the source of what eat - meat, vegetable or tofu.  Enter, Alex and his family - friends, avid hunters and adventurous eaters. After telling Alex that I'd been thinking about learning how to hunt small game, he mentioned that he just happened to be heading north, and offered to bring back squirrel. Which he did; Dressed, skinned and on ice. I asked Alex to tell me a little about himself, and this is what he sent me. It's so beautifully written that I've included his "essay" as is - no editing.

These squirrels were shot in Gilmanton NH. It's just south of Laconia and Belmont, about 5 miles south of the semi popular Gunstock Ski area. (It's also the town that the novel "Peyton Place" was written largely about. The book’s author Grace Metalious is still buried there.) There are forests there now, but 150 years ago, it was all clear farmland. They are in fact American red squirrels. These squirrels are widely distributed throughout North America. They survive mainly on pinecone seeds, and they are more common in the Northeast these days as pine forests have sprung up in areas that used to be hardwood forests. Their calls are quite distinctive. They chirp like birds and chatter at intruders.

To hunt them I used a Ruger 10/22 semi auto rifle, using 22 LR ammo. 22 rimfire is probably the most popular round used on small game, and nearly everyone learns how to shoot with it. When it comes to hitting the squirrels, it depended on where I found them and what they were doing. I found one in an area thick with pine, and it was only 5 yards away. Sometimes when alarmed they hold up against a tree and don’t move in an effort to remain invisible. If you see them then they are easy to hit. When you see them up high in the trees though, they tend to race from branch to branch and they are nearly impossible to hit.
Alex, on the move

In order to dress them, I first slit the bellies open up to the breast taking care not to puncture the intestines. The idea is to cool the meat as quickly as possible in order to avoid spoilage of the meat. Then I pulled out the internal organs. This procedure is standard for all game, with variations given to different animal types. (For instance, remove the feathers first when dealing with birds.) I then removed the heads and tails. Using the area near the open neck, I pinched the skin layer and peeled it back. From there I peeled back the skin and pulled it off entirely. Note that I am still somewhat of a self taught amateur, so my technique is not perfect. This is the first time I have dressed squirrels and I have yet to eat them.

I have been hunting of a sort all my life and I suppose I was no more “taught” how to hunt then I was “taught” to speak and walk. I used to accompany my uncle on small game and deer hunts starting at the age of three. At about eight years old my father and uncle taught me to shoot and I started hunting small game, mostly small rodents (including squirrels) in order to keep them out of my uncle’s garden. They filled me in on the basics. Shoot a deer here, you can find them in areas like this, don’t move a muscle when stand hunting, walk slow and the like. I taught myself the rest. I shot my first large animal, a turkey at age 17 and my first deer this fall.

Turkey is Alex's favorite thing to hunt
Far and away my favorite thing to hunt is wild turkeys in the spring. Most hunters would say deer, but deer hunting is a lot of sitting and waiting, and a lot of seeing nothing, even in a good year. Turkey hunting by comparison is more active. You call the male birds in using mating calls, and you hear them make their famous “gobble” as they talk back to you. You feel a lot more involved with the animal, which in my mind makes it all the more special. Oddly enough though, my favorite tool is my deer rifle, a bolt action Sauer 200 in 308 Winchester, with a Schmidt and Bender scope. It was a 16th birthday gift from my uncle, and I lovingly call it “Vera.”

I am one of those guys that see all animals as equal, equal to me and to other animals. I see no difference between a trout and a turkey, or a dung beetle and a deer. Therefore the things I will not hunt comprise a very basic list. I will not hunt anything protected by law, and that includes the two things that I would not hunt if otherwise. Those two things are bats and owls. Owls are my steadfast hunting buddies, as there is always one around when I’m out in the woods, and I find bats fascinating. Not that I’m not fascinated by the animals I do hunt, but bats are special to me for some reason. I can’t fully explain it.

If there was one final thing to say it would be this. There are a lot of folks out there who don’t exactly take kindly to what it is I do. They seem to think I “hate” wildlife. Nothing could be further from the truth. I love wildlife. I’d do anything to preserve it. I just express that love in a different way. The way I see it, I’m just doing what I see as a natural human activity, something we have done for millions of years. By doing it this way, I yearn for a stronger connection to wild. I don’t just observe nature. I’m a working part of nature.

The brine: cracked pepper, salt, thyme, bay leaves and water
Combine in a sauce pan, cover, bring to a boil and cool to room temperature
 Add meat, cover and refrigerate for 6-8 (but no more or the meat becomes uber salty)
Cutting a squirrel to serving size pieces is similar to cutting up a rabbit or chicken - only tiny
Toasted almonds and lots of garlic are chopped and added to the sauce later on
 Green Spanish olives add a rice, piquant flavor to the sauce
 Slice a 1/2 a whole onion; grate the other half for the sauce (I forgot the pix of of the hot pepper
 1 cup of white wine, 1/2 cup of chicken broth
 I used baby potatoes
Dredge squirrel in flour and brown in olive oil
Bring to a boil, then pop in the oven
 Behold - Braised Squirrel Aurora

To view the recipe and technique in its entirety, please Hank Shaw's most excellent website, Hunter Angler Gardner Cook,   Honest Food 

© 2010-2011, What's Cooking in Your World? Sarah Commerford/All Rights Reserved


witchywoman said...

You are a brave, brave woman!! I love it!

Kitt said...

I trust you've seen how to make squirrel melts?

I imagine a forest squirrel would taste pretty good. But I'd be suspicious of city squirrels. Who knows what they're eating, the little fascia-ists.

sadie said...

Hey Kitt! Oh, boy - squirrel with mayo and melted cheese...I'll pass on that, thanks! As for the fascia-ists, that's epic!! Thanks for stopping in :)

sadie said...

Thanks, Laurrie! Brave and nuts (get it?!) xoxo

Young Werther said...

How did I miss this post? Squirrel?? Is it gamey? Tough? Does it taste like rabbit?

We worry about food shortage, while there's a wealth edibles out there!

sadie said...

YW - It wasn't tough because I brined it for 6 hours and braised it for 2. A lot of work for a little critter. But it was good! Kind of a rabbit/venison cross? Right. If the world ever comes to an end - according to Mayan calendar, I'll know what to do :)