Squirrel a little away

I’m sure you’ve been there: because you couldn’t leave something alone, you cause a major calamity. Like maybe a dripping tap’s been getting to you so you try to tighten it in situ but only succeed in pulling it off the sink.

There’s water squirting everywhere so you come up with a cunning, if rather poorly-thought out plan, that

involves bending the pipe. But unfortunately, in your panic, you pull the sink off the wall, at the same time dislodging the other pipe and pulling off a metre square of plaster. And, sitting there under your new but unintentional shower, you wonder why you didn’t just leave everything alone because, after all, you could have put up with a dripping tap.

Or maybe you’re not the type that would tackle DIY but you’ve definitely been there you know. Like you see a thread hanging from your jumper. In trying to put things right you give it a little tug, and then another tug and, before you know it, you’re sweater arm’s fallen off and you look rather silly to all the other people in the shop.

Why do you have to keep playing?

Well don’t feel too bad. It must be a human trait to mistakenly fiddle with things because it seems all the best-intentioned people do it. Take the introduction of the grey squirrel to the UK. Actually only done to solve the Victorian penchant for meddling, grey squirrels from the USA were let loose in the parklands of Britain in the

1800s. And then, in a spooky reflection of what their human counterparts were doing across the Atlantic, and with their subtle Wild West American ways, they ruthlessly chased our polite but rather ill-equipped red variety to a couple of reservations; notably the north of our main island and, rather quaintly, the Isle of White. I understand there’s currently a lawsuit gathering steam to sue the government for the return of their land but don’t hold your breath.

And the little red skin is just about beaten on all fronts by its paler variety which can out-compete it in all areas including being more resistant to disease. We could all take up arms to go out shooting the little blighters but it seems pointless on its own because I’m told they breed so fast that as soon as you get rid of one, like Hercules and the multi-headed Hydra, another two take its place.

So I’ve come up with a cunning plan. It doesn’t involve messing with nature; just eating it. And it tastes rather good. Before you take up your pen to write about me being a dreadful man suggesting we eat those fluffy wuffy little darlings, think about it. Squirrel meat meets many criteria. First, it’s low in fat and, unless it was brought up next to a chemical plant, it’s more or less organic. Then it’s cheap and, despite its American accent, it’s local. I’ve even been watching one outside my kitchen window while writing this. How much more local can you get?

So what’s it taste like? Well I can assure you that it doesn’t taste of hazelnuts in the same way beef doesn’t taste of grass. Some suggest it tastes a bit like chicken but those same people reckon that everything including banana pizza tastes like chicken so that doesn’t help. I’d describe it as a bit like chicken but also like rabbit with maybe a bit of a sweeter taste not unlike lamb or mutton. It’s delicious.

So why not find a game dealer, demand a squirrel and expand your culinary repertoire? It’s certainly not weird and, unless you get really hung-up on Beatrix Potter’s Squirrel Nutkin stories, it’s a way of increasing the variety of your diet. And while eating them might not actually correct the effects of their invasion, at least it’s not going to make anything worse. And it gives us the satisfaction that the native red skin didn’t get driven close to extinction in vain.

Grey squirrel with pearl barley and root vegetables

Most game dealers should be able to get you squirrel. It will be gutted and skinned and ready for the pot. And in this recipe, is left whole for cooking before incorporating into the rest of the ingredients.

Serves two

  • One grey squirrel – left whole
  • One small onion – peeled and diced
  • One medium potato – peeled and diced
  • Two carrots – peeled and diced
  • One stick of celery – diced
  • One sprig of thyme
  • A good handful of pearl barley
  • Salt and freshly-ground black pepper

Pre-heat the oven to 180°C (gas mark 4)

Place the squirrel in a roasting dish, cover with water, add a little salt and pepper, cover with foil and place in the oven for two hours. Remove from the oven, allow to cool a little and then lift the squirrel onto a plate so that you can pick the meat off the bones. Be careful not to include any small rib bones in the reserved meat.

Pass the resulting stock through a fine sieve into a saucepan, add the onion, potato, carrots, celery, thyme and barley, bring to the boil and simmer for 20 minutes. Add the squirrel meat and simmer for a further five minutes. If there’s too much liquid, pour most of it off into another pan and reduce it at a fast boil before returning. Then taste and season if necessary.

Serve in warmed bowls with crusty bread or maybe some dark green buttered cabbage.



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