A few years ago, I’d been working through my remaining game meats from the previous season, and I came upon a lone Western gray squirrel. For a while I was waiting to shoot another one, because as large as Western grays are, they are still pretty much a single-serving critter.
But the season ended, and with it the chance at another squirrel. So in the freezer it sat. I thought about making a hunter’s stew, but I really wanted to highlight the little beast and mixing it in with other meats would defeat that. Highlight squirrel meat? You bet.
I have a thing about squirrel hunting. I wrote about it for the now-defunct magazine Meatpaper some years back. The article was about how for many who hunt the wily squirrel, squirrel hunting becomes part of their identity.
I am no different. I know many hunters, but very few who deign to hunt Mr. Bushytail. He’s either too small, or too much like a rat (they are cousins, after all) or something only Those Other People (insert derogatory ethnic group here) eat. I would like to affiliate myself with Those Other People.
Squirrel hunting with a .22 rifle is exactly like deer hunting: You need to be just as stealthy and just as good a shot. Mind you I am talking about wild, forest squirrels, not those that scamper around at the Capitol or your backyard.
And squirrel meat is delicious. Squirrels can live a long time, up to 6 or 7 years, and as such can be deeply flavorful. The meat looks like rabbit, but is grayer. It has a far denser texture than rabbit, which rarely live more than a year. Squirrel also takes on flavors of what it eats — yes, you really can taste a nutty flavor in squirrels that live in a walnut grove.
Back to the lonely squirrel in my freezer. I finally decided to braise him slowly, because that’s the safest thing to do when you don’t know the age of a squirrel — young ones are fantastic fried like your favorite fried chicken recipe. But what sort of braise?
I immediately thought of a Spanish braise I’d made years back when I hunted squirrel in Minnesota. Squirrel Aurora is loosely based on a rabbit recipe in the late Penelope Casas’ Delicioso! The Regional Cooking of Spain, a fine cookbook. The main flavors are almonds and green olives, both of which I had lying around. But with only one lonely squirrel I added fingerlings to bulk it up; it proved a good choice.
The dish is fantastic: A rich sauce, a dense, flavorful meat, great with crusty bread. What’s not to love?
Braised Squirrel Aurora
- 3 squirrels, cut into serving pieces
- 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
- 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.
- Pour the olive oil in a Dutch oven or brazier -- something ovenproof with a lid -- and heat it over medium-high heat. Salt the squirrel or rabbit and roll it 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.
- While the squirrel is browning, 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 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 simmer gently 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, turn the heat off 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.
Ted Treska says
In the recipe it sounds like the simmering happens in the oven and then the lastv45 minutes too, but there is no info for what temp in the oven. Can you help me out?
Thanks, love all the recipes!
Hank Shaw says
Ted: Sure, 325F.
Pam P. says
RE: Your comment about squirrels taking on the flavor of what they eat… my favorite squirrels (here in the south) are when they devour the cypress balls! Not sure how to describe the flavor, but it’s definitely one I like! After my husband has been squirrel hunting and I prepare the squirrel meal, it’s a game for me to guess what they were eating. I never miss when it’s cypress balls! Oh, btw– we eat a LOT of squirrels! 🙂
My favorite way to cook these scrawny little gray squirrels we got running around the south Florida swamps. Even my game-skeptical wife went back for seconds. Thanks, Hank!! Love your website, your podcast, and your books.
LAUREN K ALLEN says
This was a really nice recipe to do with rabbit. Now I’m looking to secure some squirrels to try it again.
Nathan B. says
Used this recipe for the first squirrel I ever hunted and it turned out extremely well. I’ll definitely use it again after branching out to explore other ways to prepare squirrel.
Best recipe to use when introducing squirrel meat to someone who hasn’t had it before!
This is an excellent recipe!
Reva Braman says
Thank you for some interesting recipes. I have only eaten fried rabbit. My mother rolled the rabbit in flour seasoned with salt, black pepper, and a bit of sage. She fried it just until the flour was browned, added just enough water to come about half was up the pieces, then simmered it for an hour on the stovetop in a cast iron dutch oven. I have one rabbit, (shot in the field on my nephews farm) just enough for me. I am going to use your idea of adding potatoes, onions, and carrots in the final cooking time. I am thinking of simmering it in my crockpot, and adding garlic to my flour mixture. I have a grandson who uses capers in many of his dishes. I will pass your idea on to him. Have you ever eaten barbecued raccoon? My sis baked the raccoon smothered with sauce in a slow oven. Wonderful! My mother also made baked raccoon with sage and other savory herbs. We had o’possum baked with lots of sage, onions, and parsley. It is greasy, but draining some of the fat helps. I have eaten about every wild animal there is in the midwest. Groundhog was another family favorite. So many people have missed out on good eating when they reject game. Keep up the good work.
i want to like squirrel. i really do. my partner goes to a pheasant shoot (we’re in the uk) and there are often grey squirrels shot as they’re vermin here, so i thought it would be great to add them to our list of game meat. so i bought a wild squirrel (skinned and gutted) from a local farm shop–as soon as i opened the pack it reeked.
i made this stew tonight for dinner, and although it looked really good, it tasted awful. i’ve eaten some unusual foods, i have a strong stomach, i regularly gut fish and birds and hare.
i couldn’t even eat the broth off this. it tasted of, well, crap. my mouth muscles actually spasmed. the smell was so bad that my partner, who loves rabbit, actually refused to even try it.
what went wrong? 🙁
Hank Shaw says
Mel: My guess? In the UK everyone loves to hang their game for a really, really long time. It makes the carcass reek, and roasting seems to be the only way to remove that stink. No one in America, where squirrels are native, hangs squirrels more than a day or two. I can almost guarantee that was the issue.
Excellent recipe, Hank, thank you. I just used it with the last three squirrels from this season here in Louisiana and it did a great job highlighting their flavor. The four other non-hunters that tried it all liked it, too.
Hank Shaw says
Paul: I don’t brine squirrels unless they’ve been shot up. The crock pot braise would work just fine.
Paul Stensvaag says
I am a squirrel Connoisseur and I very much enjoyed your recipe! I used walnuts because I had no almonds but it was delicious anyway.
I have eight (formerly) grey busy tails in my freezer right now and am wondering about some other recipes that are among your favorites.
1. to brine or not to brine ? I used to always brine but this season have not: thinking its a waste of time and salt!
2. I would like to avoid excessive oil and am thinking about not braising and instead just slow crock potting for a few extra hours with veggies, garlic and other goodies for the better part of the day. What do you think about braising as a blessing for your gamy presentation ?
P.S. My Labrador (Radar) is an excellent squirrel hunter. When we go out his first look is up in the trees and after the shot his is all about the retrieve. My boy doesn’t like to grab a wounded squirrel but quarries it until I can harvest the little one, mercifullY, when necessary.
And: Yours is a wonderful website – THANKS!
Hank Shaw says
Karen: Doesn’t matter. I’ve used both.
Karen Tully says
When you say green olives, are you talking brined or a vinegar pack. This sounds fabulous either way.
Brian Z says
The last squirrels that I shot were made in the Goan (Vindaloo) tradition and it was an excellent dish.
Could you write an article about methods of freezing game?
Lots of squirrels in my neck of the woods (Western Pennsylvania), yet everyone’s eating beef and poultry. Once I acquire one, I’ll definitely be giving this recipe a shot.
Wow if they taste like what they eat. Ours should be awesome. They eat peaches, plums, apples, whatever we grow for us!!
Christiane ~ Taking On Magazines says
I’d love to be able to try this, but I don’t hunt and don’t know that I could eat the little guy anyhow. I have enough trouble with venison. Even if I never get squirrel, I’ll give your recipe a try with chicken or rabbit. Many thanks!
What temperature do you set your oven at? This is my first year hunting and I’m hoping to get a turkey and a couple squirrels. Everyone who I’ve told that I want to go squirrel hunting thinks I’m crazy, but I’m all for harvesting what’s around. I hope you had a great time in Lansing this past weekend – I wanted to come very badly, but I ran a half-marathon that morning and knew I would be too pooped.
Interesting that they take on the flavor of what they eat! So I guess suburban gray squirrels probably taste like sunflower seeds, and park squirrels taste like popcorn and peanuts. Perhaps they lend themselves to different herbs and spices, LOL!
Lauren J @ The Barn says
I used your original recipe to cook two squirrels my husband killed over New Year’s a few years ago. It was my first time eating squirrel, and my first time cooking it. The flavor was incredible!!