A Squirrel Cuisine

By Mark Goodwin | November 2, 1999
From Missouri Conservationist: Nov 1999

Squirrels, if handled and cooked correctly, offer some of the finest wild game eating. However, mention squirrels as a meal and watch how many people wrinkle their noses.

People who frown on squirrels as food can be placed into two groups—those who can't stomach the thought of eating an animal that's furry and cute and those who have eaten squirrels but found them less than appetizing. The first group will probably never enjoy eating squirrels. The second can be won over if hunters avoid these mistakes.

Field dress squirrels

I have eaten squirrels that tasted gamy, though tasted bad is a more accurate description. The squirrels had been shot through the abdominal cavity and poorly cleaned. Any meat will taste bad if allowed to marinate in gut contents and urine, and that is exactly what happens when gut and bladder contents touch the meat, be it squirrel or any other game animal. Typically, gamy taste comes not from the natural flavor of wild meat, but from wild meat tainted through mishandling.

If you accidentally shoot a squirrel through the abdomen, skin the animal and remove its entrails immediately. Then rinse the body cavity with water. Removing the entrails is a fairly easy task. Using the tip of a small, sharp knife, make an incision where the ribs meet the abdomen. Cut toward the animal's hindquarters, taking care not to puncture the internal organs.

Once the viscera is exposed, look for the urinary bladder. If it is full, pinch the neck of the bladder between thumb and forefinger and carefully cut to remove it. This prevents spills. With the bladder removed, split the pelvis and pull out the rest of the insides. That's all there is to eviscerating a squirrel.

Even if a shot leaves a squirrel's abdominal cavity intact, removing the internal organs immediately is a good idea, for it allows the meat to cool quickly. I often skin and clean all the squirrels I kill on the spot and place them in a two-quart, resealable plastic bag. In separate plastic bags I keep wet and dry paper towels to clean my hands. Cleaning squirrels after the shot keeps them in fine shape during the two or three hours of a hunt. To wet a squirrel's hide, I'll use water from a creek or spring branch.

Cleaning squirrels afield may seem like extra effort, but it's not. Not only does cleaning squirrels in the woods render them prime for eating, but when I get home, ready for a shower and rest, I have already completed most of the game-cleaning chores. All that is left is rinsing the squirrels and putting them in a bowl of water to soak in the refrigerator.

Clean up the meat

More squirrels than not are placed on the dinner table with hair clinging to the meat, which is unappetizing to say the least. Skinning squirrels is difficult, regardless of how you go about it, and hair is easily transferred to the meat. My skinning method, however, handles the problem.

To skin a squirrel, first immerse the animal in a bucket of water. Slosh it around a few times to ensure that the water soaks all the way to the squirrel's skin. This treatment will cause the hair to hold together and reduces the chance of hair contacting the meat while you skin the squirrel.

With this done, make a slit along the hide beneath and at the base of the tail. Cut through the tail, but leave it attached to the back skin. Cut an inch or so further up the back and extend the cut along the squirrel's flanks. With these cuts made, step on the tail and pull on the hindlegs. This will strip the back and belly skin down to the forelegs.

Pull the skin over the forelegs and hindlegs, then cut off the head and feet with a knife. During this process, frequently dip your hands and knife in the bucket of water to rinse off any squirrel hair that could cling to the meat. This method greatly reduces the number of hairs that stick to a squirrel's carcass.

To remove any hair that still adheres to the meat, place the carcass under slowly running water and pick the hair off by hand. Though tedious, this work is necessary if you wish to turn a squirrel into fine eating.

Younger is better

Any squirrel over a year old will probably be tough. A life of jumping around in trees makes them so. But there are recipes designed to make the toughest squirrel tender. While cleaning squirrels, separate the older ones from the young by how easy they skin. The skin of young squirrels pulls far easier than that of older squirrels. With a knife, cut two slashes across the back of the old squirrels so you don't forget which are young and old when you place them in a bowl in the refrigerator to soak overnight.

Hit the kitchen

Use different recipes for young and old squirrels. The first four recipes are for old squirrels; the last two are for young ones.

Step-by-step Squirrels

  1. Dip Squirrel in water. Scrape off fur at base of tail and cut through tail leaving it attached to the back skin.
  2. Extend cut up back.
  3. Cut around flanks.
  4. You can pull the skin off beginning at either end.
  5. Here the skin is pulled over the forelegs first.
  6. Reverse the squirrel, pull the fur over the hind legs and cut off the head and feet.

Squirrel and Dumplings

In a large pot, place 6 skinned and cleaned squirrels, 1 chopped onion and a stalk of chopped celery. Cover with water; add 3 chicken bouillon cubes and 2 tablespoons butter; cover and boil until squirrels are tender--about two hours. Remove and de-bone squirrels. Strain broth and set aside.

With a fork, mix 1 1/2 cups white flour, 1 egg and 1 cup broth, then continue adding flour until the dough no longer sticks to the bowl and is a consistency that can be rolled out. Roll dough out 1/4-inch thick on a floured surface, then with the tip of a sharp knife, cut dough into long, 2-inch wide strips. Cut the strips crossways every 3 inches to make 2- by 3-inch dumplings.

Return broth to the large pot and place under high heat. Bring to a boil and add squirrel meat, 1 can cream-of-chicken soup and 1 can mushrooms or 1 cup of freshly sliced mushrooms. One by one, add dumplings. Reduce heat to low and cook until done. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Barbecued Squirrel

Place the squirrels you wish to cook in a large pot. Cover with water and add plenty of seasoned salt. Boil covered for two hours. Lay two large pieces of heavy duty tinfoil across each other on top of a large serving tray.

Remove squirrels from pot and place them on the tinfoil and serving tray. Add 1 cup broth and cut into pads 2 tablespoons butter and distribute them evenly over the tinfoil. Fold edges of tinfoil over squirrels and place tinfoil and squirrels on grill over low charcoal fire. Cook for 45 minutes.

Remove squirrels from tinfoil and place directly on grill. Brush on barbecue sauce and cook for another 15 minutes. Remove and serve.

Squirrel Salad

Boil 6 squirrels until tender. The last five minutes of cooking time, add 3 eggs still in their shells. Remove squirrels and eggs from pot and let cool. De-bone squirrels. Peel eggs. In a food processor, grind meat and eggs separately. Place in a large bowl and with a spoon or fork, mix in mayonnaise or sandwich spread and pickle relish to desired consistency and taste. Serve on toast or crackers with your favorite garnish.

Squirrel Spaghetti

In large pot, boil 6 to 8 squirrels until tender in water seasoned with 2 chicken bouillon cubes, 1 stalk chopped celery, 1 bay leaf and 1 teaspoon pepper. Strain and reserve 2 quarts broth. In a large roaster pot over medium high heat, brown 1 pound spaghetti in 2 tablespoons olive oil; stir often to avoid burning.

With spaghetti browned, add 2 cans crushed stewed tomatoes, 1 can of a tomato-pepper mixture, 2 cans chopped mushrooms with juice, 1 clove garlic chopped fine, squirrel meat, 2 quarts broth, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper.

Bake covered in 350 degree oven for two hours. Stir often, uncover last 20 minutes of cooking time and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and leave uncovered. If you have no squirrels, this recipe works well with one large stewing chicken.

Squirrel Italian

Brown 2 butchered and floured young squirrels in 2 tablespoons oil. Add 1 chopped onion and 1 sliced green pepper. Sauté. Add 1/2 teaspoon oregano, 1/4 teaspoon mace, 1/4 teaspoon cloves and 1/2 cup dry white wine. Cover and simmer 20 minutes. In a separate pan, sauté 1/2 pound fresh mushrooms in butter. Add to 1/2 cup tomato sauce. When hot, pour over squirrels and serve.

Pan-Fried Squirrel

Cut and separate hind legs, front legs and backs of 4 young squirrels. Dredge pieces in flour mixed with pepper and plenty of your favorite seasoned salt. Pour enough vegetable oil in skillet to cover the bottom to a depth of about 1/3-inch and heat to medium-high. In hot oil, cook squirrel until well-browned on all sides. Turn, taking care to avoid knocking off coating. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover skillet and cook until pieces are fork-tender, about 25 minutes.

This Issue's Staff

Editor - Tom Cwynar
Assistant Editor - Charlotte Overby
Managing Editor - Jim Auckley
Art Editor - Dickson Stauffer
Designer - Tracy Ritter
Artist - Dave Besenger
Artist - Mark Raithel
Photographer - Jim Rathert
Photographer - Cliff White
Staff Writer - Jim Low
Staff Writer - Joan McKee
Composition - Libby Bode Block
Circulation - Bertha Bainer