By Ambassador Michael Cravens
It's undebatable that all squirrel species are special, but there is one that’s just a little bit more unique. Tucked away in a far corner of Southeast Arizona, there’s a squirrel that inhabitants only one single mountain range in the entirety of the United States. The Chiricahua Mountains are home to a variety of unique wildlife species, one of these is the Mexican fox squirrel (Sciurus nayaritensis), aka Nayarit, Apache, or Chiricahua fox squirrel. Most of this species range occurs throughout the Sierra Madre Occidental of Mexico, but we are blessed to see the northernmost tip of this species’ range just breaking into the U.S.
Being avid squirrel hunters, my seven-year-old boy and I were fascinated with this mysterious animal and we just had to give hunting them a try. The Arizona Game and Fish Department manages this species, as they do all game species, for healthy and robust populations. Just the same, due to limited range and a low reproductive rate (one to two pups per year) we had a discussion and self-imposed a one squirrel bag limit on ourselves.
The hunt was much harder than expected but this made it just that much sweeter when we finally saw success and harvested a beautiful mature male Mexican fox squirrel after a full day of hunting. That evening at camp, we relived the day’s hunt through story and discussed how to best utilize a single and very special squirrel. Of course, it had to be a dish of Mexican descent and it had to stretch between at least four people to include the mom and sister who were waiting back home. The truth is, it was an easy decision. I’ve always been a fan of chile rellenos and make it a point to try them in every Mexican restaurant I visit. I had never made them before and this was a worthy opportunity.
1 Mexican fox squirrel
4 cups queso fresco
3 large poblano peppers
I Tbsp. all-purpose flour
2 cups lard or vegetable oil
Here’s how we did it:
The first thing needed is to cook your processed and cleaned squirrel until the meat is tender and falling off the bones. We used a pressure cooker for this, but simply boiling in a pot will yield the same results. Be patient as this might take a while, but start checking after about fifteen minutes of boiling. Once the meat is easily flaked off with a fork, remove your squirrel from the water and allow it to drain and cool. After cooling, remove all the meat with your fingers, place it in a bowl, and set aside.
Next, we skinned our peppers. We did this by placing them on the top rack of our oven, leaving the door slightly ajar, and broiling them until the skin blistered and charred. Keep a careful eye and turn them regularly until they are evenly charred. Pull them from the oven and place them, still hot, in a paper or plastic bag. Close them up and allow them to steam for around fifteen minutes. Once cool enough to handle, peel and rub off the skins from all the peppers. After peeled, make a slit in the side of each pepper and remove the seeds. Stuff with your shredded squirrel, a good queso fresco, and set aside.
Heat the lard or oil in a frying pan over medium heat to approximately 375 °
While your oil heats up, separate the egg yolks from the egg whites and whip the whites in a large bowl with an electric mixer until they’re nice and fluffy. Then fold in the flour and just three of the egg yolks.
Gently lay a stuffed pepper into the beaten eggs and spoon over until it’s completely coated. Move to the frying pan and fry until a pleasing golden brown, flip and repeat on the other side. Depending on the size of your pan, you may be able to fry two peppers at a time but take care not to overcrowd them in the pan. Once done, remove to a paper towel-lined plate and allow to drain.
I wish I could tell you I made the ranchero sauce from scratch, but I would be lying if I did. I bought it from a Mexican market and I’ve been riddled with guilt ever since. There are many good recipes online and it looks to be quite easy. Next time, I’ll be making it homemade and you should too.
Place your chile rellenos into an oven-safe dish, pour ranchero sauce over them, sprinkle with a bit more queso fresco, and bake at 350° for about ten minutes.
Finally, sprinkle with some chopped cilantro and enjoy!
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