Brits are wrong by not serving squirrel with most important meal of the day|
Georgia Online News Service
Our distant British cousins, out to protect their environment and their native red squirrels against threats posed by an immense population of gray ones introduced long ago, are barking up the right tree: They've begun to eat the invaders like crazy.
Reporting from London for The New York Times early this month, Marlena Spieler wrote that "squirrel is selling as fast as gamekeepers and hunters can bring it in."
As a native Kentuckian who since childhood has loved him some squirrel legs, I of course devoured this news, till I was plumb full -- of envy, topped with a dollop of dismay.
No squirrel meat is to be found alongside the chicken and pork in my grocer's meat counter. Oh, no. Not even the Chinese exporters of chemically enhanced frozen rabbit and frog legs provide it. And none is to be had at any suburban Atlanta restaurant or sports bar. To put squirrel on my plate, I'd have to get a hunting license, find a landowner who'd let me onto his property, buy shells for my shotgun and go sit quietly in the chilly woods until, if I was lucky, killed one. Then I'd have to skin it.
But any bloke in England (or, it would figure, Scotland or Wales) can have squirrel for his next meal – at home, in a nice restaurant, even in his favorite pub. Not even a driver's license is required. He doesn't have to make the acquaintance of an accommodating landowner. He needn't know a No. 6 pellet from a soccer ball. And he wouldn't have to skin his entrée, either -- just order it up, lucky Brit bastard.
That's the envy part.
Well, it seems that across the pond they're serving up squirrel for every meal except breakfast!
True, squirrel is a delicacy to be enjoyed at any time – gray squirrel (Scirius carolinensis), that is. I don't know whether the red English native (Scirius vulgaris – hmmm) is fit to eat. But we whose Southern mamas are expert in the preparation of wild game know squirrel is meant to be eaten for breakfast, succulently fried to a medium brown and served with biscuits and gravy.
Ms. Spieler's squirrel tale is flavored with references to dinner parties and pate, and hazelnuts and terrine. She quotes a London restaurateur as saying he prepares his squirrels so as "to recreate the bosky woods they come from" and presents them with wilted watercress "to evoke the treetops."
I say, old chef!
But the piece doesn't include the words breakfast, fried, biscuits or gravy. Obviously, the writer's sources gave her nothing to recount in this regard – not one allusion to the meal touted as the most important, the one from which you need to rise from the table bright-eyed and bushy-tailed to take on the day.
This is especially remarkable in light of what Brits do eat for breakfast – eggs and sausage, yes, but alongside baked beans and black pudding and half a tomato and sometimes bubble and squeak (leftover veggies with potato, named for the sounds they make while frying).
As one who would gladly pay twice as much per pound for squirrel as what pork or chicken costs me, I implore the fortunate Brit, who can go to a butcher shop and bring home squirrel meat, to enjoy it first thing in the morning.
Recipes for squirrel abound on the Internet, but here's how my mama says to fix 'em: Soak the dressed squirrel (all four legs and a couple of pieces of back) in salted water in the refrigerator overnight. In a big iron skillet, heat up about an inch and a half of lard (yes, you can use corn oil or olive oil, but forgoing fat will cost you flavor) and carefully put the meat in it. Cook it slowly, checking for tenderness by poking it with a fork after several minutes (my mama doesn't use numbers in her recipes). When the lower side is a nice brown, turn it over and cook it another little while, till that side's also an even brown. Be careful not to overcook, she cautions, lest you toughen it. After you remove the meat, make your gravy by adding flour and milk to the grease till you achieve the right texture and appearance. Biscuit recipes are all over the Internet too, or you can even bake canned ones – any biscuit tastes great with squirrel and gravy.
That's how they were prepared when I was growing up in Kentucky, where the gray squirrel has always been the state's most popular game animal, and since 1968 has been its official state wild animal.
We weren't big on recreating the bosky woods or evoking the treetops (or eating tomatoes and baked beans for breakfast).
Larry Wilkerson of Buford is a retired columnist and former copy desk chief and associate op-ed editor for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. [full bio]