I never thought about eating squirrel until last week. We were binge-watching Alpha House (the very funny political satire by Garry Trudeau of Doonesbury fame), and one of the characters reminisces about roasting squirrels. A few days later we’re watching some other show (a drama most likely) and there’s a remark about squirrel chili. I just searched “squirrel recipe” and several suggestions from Google came up including squirrel recipes for the slow cooker. Apparently it’s a thing. Yet I don’t foresee Rival adding squirrel stew anytime soon to the recipe booklet that comes with a new crock pot.
Would you eat squirrel? What do they taste like?
I’m thinking they are a bit stringy like rabbit. Or (haha) they taste like chicken. You’d want to fillet or de-bone them first. Note that I’ve used “you” as the subject in that last sentence, since I have no plans to cook up Rocky the Squirrel & Friends anytime soon. Once, I made a bone-in chicken dish in my crock pot. Once is all it takes to learn you don’t want to be picking tiny bones out of your curry.
But what if you had to?
I recently listened to the audiobook version of Cyberstorm, a novel by Matthew Mather with an apocalyptic theme. (I gave it 4/5 stars on Goodreads.) If, as happens in the book (not a spoiler – it’s what the book is about), our infrastructure goes down, the roads close and we can’t get clean water, how (and what) do the 80% of us in cities have to eat? Few of us were raised on farms, and even if you were an Iowa farmboy now rockin’ a high-powered career in a major metropolitan area (the book takes place in NYC), how is that going to help if you live in a high-rise without power?
Squirrels, pigeons and rats are plentiful sources of protein in cities, but the author steered clear of this topic by placing the story in winter when, presumably, these species were more difficult to roust and, therefore, roast. But it did make me think of squirreling away (sorry!) extra canned goods, bottled water, etc. in our basement. Maybe I should print out a few squirrel recipes while I’m at it? There’s good hunting in our suburban backyard.
If squirrels are “rats with fur” then pigeons are their close cousins, “rats with wings.” I am more familiar with pigeons as protein, and I wonder if that’s a function of my living in or near large cities versus someone who lives in hilly or mountainous…Okay, I’ll just say it… places like the Ozarks? But I digress.
Pigeon pie is “Food of the Gods”
I’ve been a fan of the classic Moroccan Bstilla or pigeon pie (aka “Food of the Gods”) since I first baked it following a recipe in the seminal, A Book of Middle Eastern Food by Claudia Roden. Luckily for me and for our dinner guests, Ms. Roden wrote, “Traditionally, it is made with pigeons, but since English pigeons are of a different variety and taste, they would be inappropriate…use broilers or a larger chicken instead.”
Bstilla is made in a very large baking dish. I received a huge oven-to-table baking platter as a wedding gift that languished under the broiler pans until the day I discovered Bstilla. The recipe requires shredded, cooked poultry topped with a sweet almond paste, wrapped in flaky phyllo dough and sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar. Not for the first-time chef, it’s a dish well worth mastering if only for the wow factor when it arrives at the dining room table in all its golden glory . I make it with chicken but, if I am in Morocco some day, I would be happy to try it with pigeon. What about you?
Ms. Roden has revised her recipe over the years including creating a streamlined (easier?) recipe for her cookbook Arabesque that she calls a “poor man’s bstilla.” You can find adaptations of her bstilla recipes on quite a few food blogs.
Do you want fries with that?
Americans will eat anything deep fried. Every summer there are jokes (and articles) aplenty about deep-fried butter, deep-fried candy bars and other junk food on offer at state fairs. One summer in upstate NY my father had us try insects. Not deep fried, but covered in chocolate. Ants and crickets. As long as the ratio of chocolate to insect was significant, my brothers and I were all in. It was chocolate after all. But it would take a lot of chocolate to make squirrel go down easy.
I think there is a huge psychological difference between eating squirrel or pigeon that is broiled vs diced, browned and added to a stew or chili. With the latter, you can think of the meat as “a protein addition that enhances the nutritional content of your meal.“ (Yes, I can help with your PR or marketing communications challenges too.) But when the pigeon or squirrel is butterflied and roasted on a spit, there’s no turning a blind eye to the shape and source of the meat. When we dined on cuyes in Peru, they were in no way recognizable as long-lost relatives of Ginger, my son’s guinea pig.
So my question to you: Would you, could you, in a box? Would you, could you, eat a fox?