I you have an old squirrel, which you can tell by the teeth, which are yellowy and separated, or by the ears, which are tattered, or by the feet, which look well-worn, braising is a must. Squirrels can live several years, unlike cottontail rabbits, which typically only last a year or so. This makes their meat a bit more complex and considerable denser. But an old squirrel can be tough if not braised.
spanish braised squirrel or rabbit
I almost always cook squirrels with some sort of nut sauce. Call me macabre. This recipe is an adaptation of a Spanish rabbit dish I found in Penelope Casas’ Delicioso! The Regional Cooking of Spain, which I highly recommend. It’s a luxurious, thick stew that cries out for crusty bread. The combination of almonds and olives is also a hit. Keys here are good green olives, and brining the squirrel — this makes it more tender.
Figure on one Eastern gray squirrel per person, 2 fox squirrels or Western grays for 3 people, 1 cottontail for two people — or if you are not a hunter, 1 domestic rabbit for 2-3 people. And yes, you can use chicken thighs and legs, too.
Prep Time: 6 hours
Cook Time: 3 hours
- 3 squirrels, cut into serving pieces
- 1/4 cup kosher salt
- 3 bay leaves
- 1 tablespoon cracked black pepper
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- 5 cloves garlic
- 1/4 cup almonds
- 25 green olives
- Flour for dusting
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 large onion
- 1 small hot chile, minced
- 1 cup white wine
- 1/2 cup chicken broth, rabbit or other light broth
- 1 pound fingerling potatoes (optional)
- Parsley for garnish
- Mix the kosher salt with 4 cups of water, the bay leaves, cracked black pepper and the thyme. Bring to a boil, then turn off the heat, cover and let cool to room temperature. When cool, add the squirrel or rabbit pieces and refrigerate for 6-8 hours — no longer, or the meat will get unbearably salty.
- Toast the almonds in a dry pan if they are not already roasted. Pound them with the garlic cloves and a pinch of salt in a mortar; you could also buzz them in a food processor or chop them fine by hand.
- Pit and slice the olives in half or chop roughly.
- Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.
- Pour the olive oil in a Dutch oven or brazier — something ovenproof with a lid — and heat it over medium-high heat.
- Remove the squirrel or rabbit from the brine and pat it dry. Roll in the flour. Brown the meat on all sides over medium heat. Take your time and do this in batches so you do not crowd the pan. Remove the meat from the pot as it browns and set it aside.
- Slice the onion in half. Grate one half through a coarse grater, and roughly chop the other half. You could also slice it in half-moons.
- When all the meat is browned, add the white wine and broth and scrape off any brown bits stuck to the bottom of the pot. Bring this to a rolling boil. Here is a tricky part: You want to cook it down on the stovetop to the point where when you put the meat back into the pot, the liquid comes up only about halfway. You do not want to submerge your meat. How long you’ll need to boil depends on the size of your pot.
- When the liquid is boiling, add the almond-garlic mixture, the chile and the grated onion. Mix well and let boil for a minute. Add the squirrel back to the pot. Make sure it is not totally submerged. Halfway is ideal.
- Cover the pot and put it in the oven for 45 minutes.
- After 45 minutes, take the pot out and add the sliced onion, the olives and the potatoes. Mix everything together. If the stew looks too dry, add a little more broth — but remember this is a “dry stew,” not a soup. I eat this with a fork and a piece of bread, not a soup spoon. Add just enough broth to keep everything from drying out. Cover the pot again and return to the oven for at least another 45 minutes, maybe an hour.
- Check the meat and potatoes: The squirrel should be thinking about falling off the bone and the potatoes should be cooked through. When this is done, remove from the oven and let it cool — covered — for 10 minutes on the stovetop.
- To serve, spoon out portions and garnish with parsley. I’d drink a robust, complex white wine with this, such as a white Cote du Rhone or an older Chardonnay. An Italian Grillo might be nice, too, as would a Tocai Friulano.