Chicken of the Trees

Apparently squirrel is making it back on the menu in Chicago-of-all-places:

But somewhere along the way, squirrel declined in popularity as a game animal, replaced by bigger quarry, such as deer and turkey, whose numbers had grown in the countryside as the number of humans dwindled. Mainstream views on squirrel eating began to drift toward disdainful—it became something hillbillies and rednecks did. In the late 90s a pair of Kentucky neurologists posited a link between eaters of squirrel brains—a time-honored delicacy among hunters—and the occurrence of a variant of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, a theoretical but terrifying new mad squirrel disease. (Peer review later deemed this connection unlikely.) And though noted woodsman and Motor City Madman Ted Nugent devoted a few pages of his wild game cookbook Kill It and Grill It to "Limbrat Etouffee" in 2002—written with a vengeance he typically reserves for sitting Democratic presidents—when the 75th-anniversary edition of Joy of Cooking was published four years later, for the first time in the book's history it didn't include an illustrated how-to for pulling the skin from a squirrel.

Squirrel eating may be making a comeback, however, at least among those with au courant appetites for sustainable, healthy, and locally sourced meats. CNN.com's food blog Eatocracy has encouraged readers to seek out sources of squirrel meat—"more earthy and sumptuous than the darkest turkey." Hunting and foraging authority Hank Shaw has spilled plenty of ink on this "gateway" prey, an abundant animal that hones the hunter's skill for bigger game. It's delicious too, he argues, its pink flesh more dense than a rabbit's, which takes on the nutty flavor of whatever it's been eating.

It's passages like this that might give you pause:

After the heads braised in mirepoix and sherry, a friend demonstrated with a nutcracker the proper technique for extracting a squirrel brain from its cranial cavity, and a half dozen of us popped them into our mouths. They looked like oversize walnuts and tasted slightly creamy, almost like a soft, roasted chestnut. We pulled out the tongues and cheeks, which contained the most concentrated expression of squirreliness. One guest described the meat from the head as "nutty"; others compared it to pork, duck, or lamb. To me this seemed like the very essence of the rodent. If squirrels grew to the size of pigs, you'd really have something.

Yummy. Try getting "tongues and cheeks, which contained the most concentrated expression of squirreliness" out of your head before you eat your next bowl of brunswick stew.

Really you need to go for the article, but stay for the pictures, including the classic photo of a baby sitting in the midst of dead squirrels.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s