In search of Squirrel – Part two (warning, contains graphic images)

Some of you may remember this article I wrote some time ago about my “failure” as a vegetarian and my quest for the different. Well, I’ve done it. Squirrel had become a bit of an obsession, I’d chased up all sorts of alleys (Julian Barnes never replied to my e-mail either) and I’d become somewhat resigned to not getting squirrel unless I paid a Kings ranson for it. I had been offered squirrels at 15 pounds a pop by a butcher on Borough market, but thought that was rather an exorbitant price to pay for what was essentially vermin.

A couple of months ago mother-in-law, who of course had heard about my quest, phoned me up to tell me about an article she’d heard on the radio, about a butchers in Ludlow that sold squirrel. Unfortunately I forgot the name of the butchers almost as soon as I’d got off the phone, and nothing more came of it.

Go forward two months though, and i got an email from The Wife – ‘squirrel obtained!!!’

Mother-in-law had been in the area, and had gone round all the butchers looking for the one that sold squirrel. She found him, only to be told that they didn’t stock it in the shop, because they were scared they’d get their windows smashed in, but if they went to the storehouse someone would be able to sort her out. Along they went, and yes, someone came out with a sackful of frozen squirrels, wanting to know how many she wanted. They were sourced from the local game keeper, who used traps rather than other forms of pest control.

And so, after a trip up north, three squirrels in the freezer! I found four guinea-pigs friends to share the culinary experience, and invited them round on the 3rd Oct for sunday lunch.

How to braise a squirrel in cider

First take your squirrel from the vacuum bag and wash thoroughly, take out the organs to add to the stock later, and try to get rid of the few stubborn fine hairs still lingering. It’ll look like this:

Cut the squirrel in half just underneath the rib cage, half a squirrel = a decent enough portion. Flour, brown in groundnut oil and put to one side.
Next fry some pancetta till golden, and reserve that too. Add a fine dice of onion, mushroom, celery and garlic to the pan, fry til soft and golden, then add large chunks of carrot and halved baby onions, and fry for a further couple of minutes. Then add cider and good stock, bring to the boil and combine all the ingredients in a casserole dish. Cover tightly and put in a pre-heated oven at 120 degrees c. for about three and a half hours.

If you serve it with mash, mashed swede, roast beetroot, and cabbage with bacon, it’ll look like this:

But how does it taste? Bloody good actually, even if I do say so myself! I’d been told it tasted like rabbit, and it sort of did. Definitely gamey but somehow richer than rabbit, which can be a little sweet. And as for portions, despite my fears, half a squirrel is plenty of meat served this way. (it’s a very special bonus if one of your friends turns up with a fantastic looking and tasting bread and butter pudding, thanks Pete)

The only thing is…..what next?