By Mike Allen
I finally took the leap and fried up a batch of squirrel—gray city squirrel harvested from my backyard. I’ve been halfheartedly killing them for a while now because I hate them and everything they stand for, except free lunch. It’s clear from the little bites taken from each and every piece of unripe fruit on the trees that the squirrels expect a free lunch.
I’d been watching them from the kitchen, climbing up into the trees, eating all the figs and persimmons, digging their little walnut stashes all throughout my raised beds, where they might return sometime in the spring to dig their booty, carelessly tossing my seedlings aside. I was helpless as a baby in the sewer, since my .20 caliber Sheridan Blue Streak blew a gasket a few months ago. It sat impotent in the garage, as I stood at the window.
But thanks to the good people at Ollie Damon’s (not the counter dude, he’s a dick), I got my long arm back, working better than new. It was time to rain hellfire on these vicious little rodentia. And I did. But after a few carcasses tossed carelessly into the city compost, guilt began to gnaw at the frugal, white-trash conscience that steers me fecklessly through this life. It was time to do as I liked to imagine my hillbilly forebears had, and to take advantage of the bounty of wild game right in my backyard. I’ve got hunting grounds—I’m a fucking redneck baron over here!
For all my big talk about the squirrels I’ve killed, and the feasts I have planned, squirrel eating has been more concept than execution, on my lands. My brother and I shot a couple a few years back and tried to braise them with wild mushrooms. After 18 hours of simmering in their own juice in the dutch oven, they were tough as rats, and inky black for some reason. Later, my brother turned a couple of them into a pot of rillettes, and brought it to thanksgiving dinner. Everybody, even the East Coasters, grubbed on that.
Still, I’m not trying to spend an hour killing and cleaning a tiny little rodent so I can spend another 2 hours cooking up a quarter pound of toast spread.
So, a week ago, I shot two in a day (and I still remember that day with fondness) and said, “well, that’s a damn feast!” The first one was hard to clean, and I got so much fur stuck to his flesh membrane after about 10 minutes of incompetent hacking that I gave up and threw him out. I went to throw out the second one, but fortunately remembered that, despite the situation, I was a modern person. And modern people have YouTube. This guy skins a squirrel in a minute. I saw that and ran out of excuses. It took me about 5 minutes.
Then I learned from the comments (I know, right?) that if you get the squirrel wet before you skin it, the fur doesn’t stick. Then I watched this guy fry a couple of squirrels on a range in the little kitchen he has set up in his workshop. Fucking genius—especially the part at the end where he gets up in the camera so you can see how easily he pulls the meat off the bone with his teeth. You gotta watch that part (25:29).
The wife had some important professional-type stuff to do this evening, leaving me with the child. So I took those squirrels out (they’d been marinating in garlic, oregano, and pepper for a few days), dredged them in 50/50 flour/cornstarch seasoned with Coleman’s and cayenne, and fried them in lard for a half hour. We had butter beans and coleslaw, fried morels (frozen from last season), and fried squirrel with Criolla Sella hot sauce. Squirrel was benediction. Squirrel tasted like a sacrament . . . but moister than a communion wafer. Next time, I’ll probably brine it in buttermilk for a day. Actually, next time, I’m gonna sous vide it. Not because it needs high technology to be delicious; just because I want to sully that technology with my tree rat.
I did end up tossing the livers and hearts because they sat in the fridge a little too long. Next time, I’m thinking about making a little bourbon squirrel paté. I also did not eat the brains ’cause I’m slightly afraid of the squirrel Creutzfeld-Jakobs (. . . although now I’m reading further, and the whole thing seems a little like a panic parade designed to steer traditional eaters toward more economic and socially acceptable eating patterns). Like they did with that Creole pig in Haiti. Don’t be scared, people. Don’t let ‘em take away your birthright. Eat some squirrel.
Mike Allen is an essayist and freelance writer living in Portland, OR. See more of his work at GangsterOfFood.com.