Hmong Squirrel Stew

4.67 from 12 votes
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Hmong squirrel stew in a bowl
Photo by Holly A. Heyser

If you’ve never heard of the Hmong, they are a Southeast Asian group who fought for us during the Vietnam War. When we left that country, the Hmong remained — and faced severe persecution since they’d backed the wrong side. So the US government let them immigrate here en masse in the late 1970s.

But the Hmong are a little different from most immigrant groups: They came here as farmers and hill people. Hunters.

And of all the animals the Hmong hunt, they’re most famous for chasing squirrels. There are lots of squirrels that live in the mountains of Laos, so hunting our squirrels was a natural for them. Legend has it that when the Hmong showed up in the early 1980s, they slaughtered California’s squirrel population; fish and game laws were completely alien to these folks.

By all accounts things are better now: The Hmong are, more or less, following the law, and the state’s squirrel population has recovered. But the September squirrel opener still draws hundreds, maybe thousands, of Hmong into the Sierra to chase Mr. Bushytail.

Someday I want to go with them. My friends Dan and Mirra of the Perennial Plate have, and they posted a video about it here. It’s pretty cool, especially how they process their squirrels. But until I get that chance to hunt with the Hmong, I’ll make this stew.

I got the inspiration for this squirrel stew recipe from an excellent cookbook called Cooking from the Heart: The Hmong Kitchen in America, whose co-author Sheng Yang lives right here in Sacramento. Sheng’s husband is a squirrel hunter, and she includes a squirrel stew recipe in the book. This is a riff off hers.

Hmong squirrel stew recipe
Photo by Holly A. Heyser

There are a few ingredients here that will be hard to find unless you have an Asian market around, notably the galangal. If you can’t find fresh galangal, skip it. If you can’t find fresh lemongrass, you can often find it in a little tube in the produce section, with the other herbs. The Sichuan peppercorns can be challenging, too, but just skip them if you can’t get any.

Hmong squirrel stew recipe
4.67 from 12 votes

Hmong Squirrel Stew

Where Vietnamese food is refined and occasionally involved, Hmong food is more rustic -- it's the difference between Paris and Provence. So while this stew looks a little like Vietnamese pho, it's far simpler to make. It does call for a few unusual ingredients, but these can either be skipped or substituted. The result is a light, aromatic stew where the squirrel provides the meaty base note to an array of bright flavors. Each bite will be different, but wonderful. If you don't have squirrels handy, rabbit or chicken thighs are good substitutes.
Course: Soup
Cuisine: Southeast Asian
Servings: 6 people
Author: Hank Shaw
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 2 hours
Total Time: 2 hours 20 minutes

Ingredients 

  • 2 squirrels, cut into serving pieces
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 stalk of lemongrass, white part only, minced
  • 3 to 5 red chiles, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon minced galangal (optional)
  • 2 tablespoon minced ginger, peeled
  • 1 quart chicken stock
  • 6 lime leaves or 1 tablespoon lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon fish sauce or soy sauce
  • 1 pound bok choy or chard, chopped
  • 1/4 pound snow peas
  • 1 teaspoon ground Sichuan peppercorns (optional)
  • Salt

GARNISH

  • 1/2 cup chopped cilantro
  • 1/2 cup chopped green onion
  • 1/2 cup chopped mint

Instructions 

  • Heat the vegetable oil in a large pot such as a Dutch oven. Pat the squirrel pieces dry and brown them over medium-high heat in the oil. Remove them as they brown and set aside.
  • Add the garlic, lemongrass, galangal, ginger and chiles and stir-fry over high heat for 90 seconds.
  • Return the squirrel to the pot and add the chicken stock, lime leaves and fish sauce. You want the broth to cover everything by about an inch. If it does not, add some water. Bring to a simmer and cook until the meat wants to fall off the bone, between 1 hour and 2 hours. Remove the meat and shred it off the bones. Return it to the pot.
  • Add the bok choy and the snow peas and simmer until tender, about 10 minutes. Add salt to taste and the ground Sichuan pepper.
  • You can serve it as-is in bowls, or over some steamed rice in a bowl. Garnish with the cilantro, green onions and mint.

Nutrition

Calories: 321kcal | Carbohydrates: 12g | Protein: 39g | Fat: 13g | Saturated Fat: 7g | Cholesterol: 127mg | Sodium: 590mg | Potassium: 1049mg | Fiber: 2g | Sugar: 5g | Vitamin A: 3933IU | Vitamin C: 53mg | Calcium: 129mg | Iron: 7mg

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

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About Hank Shaw

Hey there. Welcome to Hunter Angler Gardener Cook, the internet’s largest source of recipes and know-how for wild foods. I am a chef, author, and yes, hunter, angler, gardener, forager and cook. Follow me on Instagram and on Facebook.

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25 Comments

  1. Second time making this and it came out perfect this time! Followed the recipe except for a few necessary substitutes: Used wild mustard greens I foraged since the store didn’t have any bok choy or chard, used water for stock, and used lemongrass paste and ginger paste instead of a lemongrass stalk and minced ginger. Used one arbol chili pepper. Came out great!! So flavorful and quite a bit spicy, but not too much. Highly recommend!

  2. I have some squirrels and want to make this.

    Two questions:

    The squirrels are gray squirrels, on the small side of squirreldom. Is 2 enough, or should I use 3?

    What do you mean by red chiles, freh Birdseye, dried red chiles, or something else? I was thinking a couple of Birdseye chiles but want to stick to the original the first time.

    Thanks!