Tender squirrel, shredded with green chiles, onions and garlic, served up as Sonoran enchiladas. What’s not to love?
I have my friend Johnathan O’Dell to thank for this recipe. Johnathan is the first guy ever recorded to have hunted and eaten every species of North American tree squirrels; I may well be the second person.
O’Dell also happens to be a small game biologist for the Arizona Game & Fish Department, and is an excellent cook. He designed this recipe for the annual World Champion Squirrel Cook Off some years ago, and took third place for it. If you ever get a chance to go, it’s in Bentonville, Arkansas and is all kinds of fun! I was a judge there in 2018.
I mention both things to explain this recipe. It’s green chile squirrel, served over a curious Sonoran masa cake they use to make their own version of enchiladas, along with some pico de gallo.
Note that I call this green chile squirrel, not tender squirrel verde or somesuch. This is to tell you that this is a Arizona/New Mexico dish rather than straight-up Mexican. Use New Mexico Hatch or similar chiles if at all possible, even canned ones.
What makes this Southwest and not Mexican is the presence of a roux. Yes, fat + flour cooked into the sauce to make it richer and thicker. Johnathan inexplicably uses vegetable oil, and yes, I suppose you could, too. But it is so much better with lard.
Obviously you can use other meats here. Rabbit, chicken or turkey thighs and quail spring to mind as excellent alternates. Whatever you use, stick with a lighter meat.
A word on the Sonoran masa cakes. They’re odd, and you can substitute regular tortillas if you want, or serve this over rice. But the cakes are super tasty. They’re corn masa, mixed with shredded cheese and hot water, with a touch of lard or butter, mixed into a dough and flattened into thickish cakes, like a gordita.
My recipe is based on Johnathan’s, but with a few tweaks here and there. He puts fresh corn kernels into his masa cakes, which I do not, and I use Mexican oregano instead of regular oregano in the stew itself.
I also prefer my chiles hot, so I use both the requisite Hatch chiles, and, where Johnathan uses a humble jalapeno, I prefer blazing hot green chiles like a green habanero or a South American aji. Any hot green chile that fits your heat tolerance will do.
Green Chile Squirrel
Green Chile Squirrel
- 2 to 3 squirrels
- 1 quart chicken broth, or similar broth
- 3 tablespoons lard, butter or oil
- 1 cup white onion, minced (yellow onion is fine, too)
- 2 chopped serrano chiles, or similar hot green chiles
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 3 tablespoons flour
- 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano, Mexican if possible
- 1 cup roasted, seeded and chopped green chiles, Hatch, Anaheim, poblano or similar
- Salt and black pepper to taste
- 2 cups masa harina
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon lard or butter
- 1 cup shredded jack, Oaxaca or colby cheese
- 1 1/2 cups hot water
To Make the Green Chile Squirrel
- Simmer the squirrels in the broth until tender. This can take a couple hours. Pull all the meat off the bones and shred. Set aside and reserve the broth.
- Heat a pan over medium-high heat and add the lard. When it's hot, saute the onion for 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the garlic and the chopped serrano chiles and saute another 2 minutes, again stirring occasionally.
- Add the flour and mix well. Turn the heat to medium and cook this, stirring frequently, until the flour browns, about 5 minutes. Add the oregano and chopped green chiles and mix well, then add about 2 cups of the broth, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring to incorporate each time. Bring this to a simmer and add the shredded squirrel, plus salt and black pepper to taste. Let this simmer gently while you make the masa cakes.
- Mix the masa and salt. Add the lard, then mix it well into the masa with your fingers until the mixture looks like coarse meal. Mix in the shredded cheese. Pour in the hot water -- it should be steaming, hot enough to be unpleasant, but workable with your bare hands. Mix well and knead into a dough. Pinch off golf ball-sized pieces and work them into balls. Set inside a plastic bag for about 20 minutes.
- Get enough vegetable oil hot in a frying pan to cover the masa cakes, about 1/4 to 1/2 inch deep. You want the oil to be no cooler than 325F and no hotter than 350F.
- While the oil is heating up, press the masa balls into thickish gordita-like cakes about 1/4 inch thick. Do this by hand, as it will prevent you from making the cakes to thin; if you do, they will often pillow up, develop gaps inside which will fill with hot oil. If that happens, it's OK but not ideal.
- Set a cooling rack over a baking sheet in your oven and turn it to "warm." Fry your masa cakes for about 3 minutes per side, or until nicely golden. Keep them warm in the oven as you work through the batches.
- To serve, drag a masa cake through the green chile squirrel to get it wet with the sauce. Set these down on people's plates. Ladle some stew on top and serve with pico de gallo and maybe some sour cream and crumbled cheese.