Sunday, November 21, 2010

How to Skin a Squirrel

A year or two ago I bought the book, Dressing and Cooking Wild Game, which details the process of skinning, gutting, and portioning creatures large and small and showcases such recipes as: Venison and Beans, Southern Fried Squirrel, Raccoon with Sauerkraut, Woodcock in Chablis, and Bear Steak Flamade.

I bought the book to prepare me for the big move back to Alaska. I imagined myself in a little cabin outside of Bethel, Alaska, with no distractions and putting all my energy into cooking, preserving, and quilting. I fantasized about hunting, or at least accompanying a hunter, and going through the process of preparing an animal from the beginning (well the end, if your perspective is that of the creatures...).  

As you all know, my plans didn't work out quite like that, and I found my way to Texas, quite surrounded by distractions and behind schedule on many of my personal goals while ahead on my professional ones.

Rabbit meal, March 2010.
But, I have used the book twice now! The first time was when I bought a rabbit from the Austin Farmer's Market when my friend from Alaska visited me last spring; the book came in use for portioning the rabbit for the French-inspired rabbit in wine sauce with mushrooms and baby onions we enjoyed while she was here. 

And now I have used it again for skinning a squirrel! Slightly unsuccessfully, I might add, but we'll get to that. 

Recently I was introduced to a self-identified redneck, who is quite the hunter and fisher. As we discussed food one day, he boasted to me that he's eaten just about any kind of meat I could think of, and of course, I wanted to know if he'd had squirrel. He had! And he said he'd get me one, mostly, he said, just for the comical aspect of watching me try to skin it with directions out of a book. 

Skinnin' Day:

About a week later, he brought over a freshly killed squirrel, kept cold in a lunch cooler with a side of beer. When he pulled the little guy out of his plastic bag coffin, I was not prepared for how sad he looked! His little face scrunched up with some blood on the side of his head, all cold and dead! 

I guess I started a bout of nervous laughter then. 
One squirrel, in a mason jar.

When I regained my composure, I picked up my knife, opened up the book, and gave it a go! 

Step 1 on How to Skin a Squirrel: "Cut through the base of the tailbone, starting on the underside of the tail. Stop when the bone is severed; do not cut the skin on the top side of the tail." 

Yeah... It didn't work out quite that way for me. My new friend said that that wasn't the way he did it and graciously took over for me at this point when it became apparent I was going to make a dramatic mess of our little guy. 

He made a cut through the skin on the squirrel's back and ripped the skin from the meat with his hands. At the wrists and ankles the skin comes to a stop and the joints are severed, leaving a little naked creature. 

Step 6 on How to Skin a Squirrel: "Cut the head off. Remove any glands and clean out the body cavity. Several long hairs usually remain on the wrists; cut these off with your knife."

After the head was cut off and the innards were removed (I guess we forgot to cut off the stray hairs), I popped the little dude in a mason jar and put him into the fridge to wait for the next day's meal. 

Grillin' Day:

I prepped up a platter of veggies, grabbed a bottle of white wine, packed up the squirrel, and headed over to grillin' time. Grilling... BBQ-ing... Whatever. A non-native Texan told me that grilling is what they do in California, BBQ-ing is what they do in Texas, but according to my new friend, it's all about the time and temp of the cooking process, and according to a quick google search, he is most right. 

Mushrooms, onions, tomatoes, zucchini, and
eggplant - drizzled with olive oil, salted
& peppered - all ready for the grill!
As true Texan, my squirrel-cookin' friend had never put a vegetable on the grill before, but - as true Texan, he was up to the challenge and cooked the vegetables to perfection. ("What about corn, you've grilled corn on here before?" "Nope, don't think so." "Oh.")

He also cooked up some venison that he caught this past weekend, a beautiful piece of backstap and some venison/pork sausage. 

The squirrel cooked away for 15 or so minutes, turning it once, it's meat coated in herbs and spices and looking quite delicious! Once the meat and veggies were done cooking, the spread on the table was looking amazing and I was quite ravenous. I picked up my little squirrel leg and took a good chomp of it. 

Squirrel, grilled to perfection, hanging out
next to some tasty venison.
Quite tasty!! I hate to use the clique "it takes like chicken", but it really did kinda taste like chicken. A little tougher, a little - um, littler.. but all in all, yeah, kinda like chicken. I was doing really good until I saw those little hairs poking out at the little wrists and elbows. The hairs the book warned us about and we did not heed. Unfortunately, that grossed me out a little. 

So why a squirrel? To me a squirrel represents the great abundance of food around us, but how we limit ourselves to such a small variety of known and acceptable foods or how we buy exotic delicacies from across the reaches of our world, but so rarely tap into our local resources. 

Am I going to start eating squirrel every day? Um, no. But I don't really eat meat of any kind very often, so it's not a dis to the squirrel or my extremely accommodating chef, just likely not going to become a habit. 

Ok, now on to the next experience! Raccoon?! Maybe. 

The complete feast! Leg o' squirrel, venison, grilled veggies, and
a side of tabouli (only because I had it in my fridge...).