cut on the bias

keeping an eye on the spins and weirdness of media, crime and everyday life

Thursday, January 08, 2009

I was squirrelish when squirrelish wasn't cool

Squirrel is quite the thing in Great Britain:

Mr. Henderson, who cooks with both poetry and passion, sometimes prepares his squirrels “to recreate the bosky woods they come from,” braising them with bacon, “pig’s trotter, porcini and whole peeled shallots to recreate the forest floor.” He serves it with wilted watercress “to evoke the treetops.”

Other chefs may be less lyrical, but they are no less enthusiastic. The Famous Wild Boar Hotel in Britain’s Lake District serves squirrel Peking-duck style; at Matfen Hall, a grand country house hotel, it is layered with hazelnuts into a terrine; in Cornwall, it can be found baked into the iconic meat pie known as a pasty.

My father would be appalled, yet amused.

The reason for the spurt of squirrel-eating in England is the advent of the gray squirrel from the US, fondly known from public parks and roadsides all around the country. They have seriously encroached on the habitat of the native red squirrel since their arrival in England. A cry of "Eat a gray, save a red!" has rung from the rafters of many a restaurant.

Who knew how fashionable my family was all those years ago?

My dad is a big-time hunter. He spends a little time with a gun over his shoulder more days than not doing the year. He hunts deer, squirrel, rabbits, doves, grouse, whatever is in season and relatively nearby. And since he hunts it, I grew up eating it. I must confess, however, that I no longer have a taste for it. I am strictly a White Meat girl - chicken, turkey, pork - except for beef (ummm... beef) and ham. I don't do chicken wings. I don't like the darker parts of a pig. I will eat the occasional venison and enjoy it; it's especially good ground up in chili, where the stronger flavor enhances the dish. The others... not so much. However, it's a flavor thing, not a squeamishness thing. I say, hunt to your heart's content!!

The article also gives helpful hints, including: "squirrels must be shot in the head; a body shot renders them impossible to skin or eat..." which would be a surprise to my dad. But this riddle is solved by the next bit of advice: "Skinning a squirrel is “difficult and unpleasant,” the food writer Leslie Mackley said, adding, “You have to fight to rip the skin from the flesh.” Well, yes. Few animals care to be accommodating in losing their skin. In their judgment, the skin wasn't made for ripping from the flesh. It was made to cover the flesh. So removing it is bound to be inconvenient and messy. From what I've seen, dressing out any animal or fish is "difficult and unpleasant". I'm very glad someone does it, though, because eating them is neither.

And in this time of global financial downturns, be grateful that eating the latest haute cuisine involves little more than a stroll into the woods behind your house with the appropriate firearm* loaded and at hand.

* Don't ask me what the appropriate one is. I am a disappointment to my father in my failure to master gunsmanship.


At 30/1/09 10:17 PM, Blogger Clay said...

A Kentucky girl that can't wield a firearm? The shame of it. I've tried skinning squirrels using various tools and techniques, including a shotgun, which yielded mixed results.


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