Meals That Grow On Trees
By Brad Fitzpatrick
I enjoy hunting squirrels, but as a young man I wasn’t particularly fond of eating them. Fried squirrel with gravy isn’t bad, but it’s not particularly inspiring cuisine and not something I particularly want to eat two or three times a week during hunting season. In my late teens, I stumbled upon Scott Leysath’s book Wild Game Recipes. Long before Instagram celebrity chefs claimed to have revolutionized wild game fare, Leysath was creating imaginative dishes that tasted delicious. I keep my copy of his book close by in the kitchen and it has become my standard culinary reference when wild game is in the freezer—a kind of Merck manual for cooking rabbits, deer, ducks, fish, and, yes, squirrels.
“You can substitute squirrel for rabbit or chicken in other dishes,” says Leysath, who now hosts the popular television shows “The Sporting Chef, Dead Meat,” and “The Fish Monger” on the Outdoor Channel and Sportsman Channel. “As with other game, older squirrels are better when using a slow cooking method like braising.”
This year, give the fried squirrel recipe a rest a try something different. Here are three excellent recipes from Leysath’s kitchen.
Sporting Chef Braised Squirrel Pot Pie
I always return to this recipe. My family loves it, and the flavors blend naturally in this hearty dish.
3 squirrels quartered 1 cup flour 1 teaspoon each salt and pepper 2 tablespoons butter 2 tablespoons bacon grease 1 tablespoon olive or vegetable oil 1 1/2 cups each carrot, celery, onion – roughly chopped 3 garlic cloves, minced 1 cup dry red wine Chicken, beef or game stock
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Combine flour, salt and pepper in a bowl. Dust squirrel pieces with the seasoned flour. Heat a large frying pan and melt the butter and bacon grease. Lightly brown the squirrel pieces evenly on all sides and transfer to a lightly greased casserole or baking dish. Add carrot, celery, onion and garlic. Add wine and enough stock to cover the lower half of the squirrel pieces. Cover with a lid or tight-fitting lid and place in the preheated oven for 2 to 3 hours or until meat can be easily pulled off the bones. After an hour in the oven, check every 30 minutes to make sure that there is at least ½ inch of liquid in the dish. Once done, allow to cool and remove cooked meat from the bones.
The Pot Pie
14 ounces basic pastry dough divided in half and rolled into two 12-inch circles 3 tablespoons butter 1/4 cup each diced carrot celery and onion 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour 1 cup half and half Shredded squirrel meat from the braise above 6 strips cooked bacon crumbled 1 1/2 cups artichoke hearts quartered 1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt 1/4 teaspoon cracked black pepper 4 ounces shredded jack cheese 1 egg mixed with 1/2 teaspoon cold water
Heat butter in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add carrot, celery and onion and sauté 3 to 4 minutes. Sprinkle flour over vegetables and cook for 2 to 3 minutes while stirring. Stir in a few tablespoons of half and half. Stir and repeat until all of the half and half is incorporated into the pan and mixture is smooth. Allow mixture to cool. Place one of the pastry circles in the bottom of a lightly greased pie pan. Combine cooked squirrel, bacon, artichoke hearts, salt and pepper. Arrange mixture over pastry in pie pan. Sprinkle cheese over. Pour cooled sauce over and top with second pastry circle. Crimp top edges together, trim and discard excess pastry. Brush top with egg mixture. Bake in a preheated 375-degree oven for 25 to 30 minutes or until top is golden brown and sauce is bubbly. Allow to cool for 3 to 4 minutes before serving. Makes four to six servings
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Sporting Chef Braised Squirrel In Canterbury Sauce
Like the pot pie, this recipe calls for braising so it’s perfect for squirrels of any age. The blend of red wine, Italian seasoning and tomatoes gives this dish a distinct, rich flavor that complements the meat.
3 squirrels quartered 1 cup flour 1 teaspoon each salt and pepper 2 tablespoons butter 2 tablespoons bacon grease 1 tablespoon olive or vegetable oil 1 large yellow onion coarsely chopped 2 cloves garlic, minced 3 cups whole mushrooms (smaller is better) 2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into two-inch pieces 3 celery stalks, trimmed and cut into two-inch pieces 1/4 pound cooked bacon (pre-cooked weight) 1/4 cup chicken stock 1 1/4 cups dry red wine 2 tablespoons fresh parsley (chopped) 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning 3 tablespoons tomato paste
Combine flour, salt and pepper in a bowl. Dust squirrel pieces with the seasoned flour. Heat a large frying pan and melt the butter and bacon grease. Lightly brown the squirrel pieces evenly on all sides and transfer to a lightly greased casserole or baking dish. In another skillet, heat oil over medium heat and add onion, garlic, mushrooms, celery, carrots, and cooked bacon. Cook until onions are translucent and not browned. Add chicken stock, wine, parsley, Italian seasoning, and tomato paste, stirring over heat until the tomato paste dissolves. Pour over squirrels in the casserole dish. Cover and place in a pre-heated 325-degree oven for two to three hours or until meat begins to pull away easily from the bone. Turn squirrel pieces every 45 minutes or so. Salt and pepper when done. Makes four servings
Sporting Chef Simple Squirrel
Leysath’s “hillbilly squirrel and gravy over rice” is an uncomplicated dish that requires minimal prep time and makes a delicious main course. Pair with red wine.
2 squirrels cut into 6 pieces each 1 cup flour 1 teaspoon salt 1 1/2 teaspoons pepper 4 ounces vegetable oil 2 cups milk 2 cups cooked rice (white, brown or wild)
Mix flour, salt, and pepper in a bag. Drop in six squirrel pieces at a time and shake well. Heat oil in #8 cast iron frying pan. Brown/sear squirrel over medium-high heat for four minutes per side. Remove to paper towels (meat will cook through during simmer).
Gravy With Pan Drippings
Add flour from the bag to the oil in the pan (just enough to absorb most oil). Stir well, removing some oil if necessary. Add milk to pan, stirring a lot (can be thin or watery for gravy—add water to thin if required). Season with salt and pepper as needed. Add squirrel and simmer on low for approximately two hours with lid on (or until the meat is tender). Cook rice. Place squirrel over rice and spoon on gravy.
For more wild game recipes, visit Scott Leysath’s website, www.sportingchef.com.
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