By Ambassador Dan Born
When it comes to North American wild game, squirrel was long held as a source for lean, healthy and sustainable protein. So commonplace was it in American cuisine that recipes for the tree-dwelling rodent appeared as late as 1972 in James Beard’s classic cookbook, American Cookery. Sometime in the mid-twentieth century, however, squirrel fell off the table of most Americans. Today, telling someone you ate squirrel for dinner will likely produce a look of surprise or shock.
That’s a shame, too. Squirrels are hugely abundant across much of the nation, taste wonderful and are an absolute blast to hunt. Up until recently, squirrel was the gateway into hunting for many youth, myself included. Some of my earliest hunting memories are of taking long walks in the autumn woods with my dad, .22 Ruger in hand, staring up into oak trees.
We are long overdue for a North American squirrel hunting renaissance. I can think of no better way to kick it off than by preparing a take on the classic fried squirrel with biscuits and gravy.
This dish breaks down into three components; the biscuit, the fried squirrel and the gravy. We’ll cover the squirrel and the gravy, but will leave the biscuits up to you, make them from scratch or use a pre-made dough.
The legs from 2-3 squirrels. The loin can also be used.
1 cup buttermilk
Well-seasoned flour. I mix in a fair amount of sea salt, ground pepper and garlic powder.
Vegetable oil or bacon drippings for frying
1 cup minced onion
A few pinches of diced thyme
4 Tb. butter
4 Tb. heavy whipping cream
A pinch of minced parsley
Salt and pepper to taste.
Using a 1-gallon sealable bag or large bowl, place the squirrel legs in the buttermilk and let rest for 12 hours in the fridge. Remove the squirrel pieces and dredge in the seasoned flour. Pan fry the legs in a preheated hot skillet. You will want about a ¼ inch of vegetable oil or bacon grease in the pan to ensure a good fry. Cook until crispy, flipping once if needed. Make sure not to crowd the squirrel in the pan; fry in batches if necessary. Place the squirrel on a paper towel lined plate when done.
Drain frying pan of any remaining oil and return the pan to medium heat. Add your minced onion and diced thyme. Cook until the onions are translucent, scraping up any remaining browned squirrel bits as you go. Melt the butter and add the heavy whipping cream. Bring to a gentle simmer, reducing the gravy down to desired thickness.
To plate, place the squirrel leg on the biscuit, covering it with the gravy. Add some minced parsley on top. I’ll often sprinkle my favorite hot sauce on as well for added color and flavor.