"Bayou Bill" Scifres
Dedicated to the conservation and enjoyment of Indiana's natural resources
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Season Opens Aug. 15, So How Do You Cook Squirrel?
Copyright © 2001 by Bill Scifres

"You have told me how to find and bag squirrels," says this friend, "but you haven't told me how to cook them."

With the squirrel season opening (today) August 15 throughout the state and continuing through Dec. 31 (Jan. 31, 2002, north of U. S. Highway 40), care in the field, skinning and cooking squirrels becomes an important facet of the squirrel-hunting picture.

Unlike popular misconception, squirrels do not "spoil" if given reasonable care (mainly kept out of the sun and out where air flows freely around them). I have bagged squirrels early in the morning on many occasions and kept them unskinned until dark on hot August days of the past without ever having a squirrel turn bad. It also is a good idea to keep flies off the squirrels.

However, I do not doubt that skinning squirrels soon after they are bagged, and keeping the meat on ice would be a desirable thing on a day-long hunt, but I know of no hunters who do this, although it would be pretty easy to carry a cooler with ice in one's car.

An added plus to skinning squirrels soon after they are bagged lies in the fact that it is easier to skin a squirrel before muscle tissue stiffens than after. Still, it is not difficult to skin a squirrel after rigor mortis has set in.

When I bagged my first squirrel as a pre-teen kid, my dad was at work and neither I--nor any of the neighbors--could skin a squirrel. The squirrel, which I was certain would spoil (but didn't) had to wait for the return of my father who administered my first squirrel-skinning lesson.

My father, a hunting mentor named Jack Cain, and numerous other older men with whom I hunted around Crothersville, could skin a squirrel in two minutes and give you several seconds change. The time element, of course, is contingent upon having a good holder, someone to hold the animal by the back legs while the entrails are being removed and the four feet and head cut off (if the head is not saved for the skillet). I know, the notion that squirrel heads should be saved for cooking may bring about some cases of the "jeebies." But there is a lot of good meat on the cheeks and the part of the head that joins the neck, not to mention a great little morsel of brain when the top of the head is cracked (usually with the handle of a table knife) after the meat is removed.

Squirrel heads, of course, are cooked just like the other pieces (six in all, seven if you cook the heads) on each squirrel. The components are the four legs, two back pieces (which contain the tenderloin), and the head. Most wild game eaters consider the back lets of the squirrel "top choice," but I do not look down my nose at any piece of squirrel including heads.

So how do you cook squirrel?

Fried squirrel is a favored method with most wild game cooks, but they may be boiled (especially the older, tougher ones) and turned into a magnificent pot of dumplings. Then, of course, I do not have many guests leave the table when I present a platter of whole, baked squirrels with body cavities stuffed with my sage dressing. Nor has any of my guests ever complained about grilled squirrel (in pieces, parboiled in advance to assure tenderness).

To be honest about this entire thing, I have never seen a squirrel dish I did not like. Squirrel meat can be prepared for the palate in any way beef, pork many other meats are cooked. Heat is the most important element and it can be applied with great success in many ways. Seasoning is a matter for the individual cook, but those who fry squirrel usually sprinkle the pieces liberally with salt and pepper, and dredge (roll) each piece in flour before plopping it into an iron skillet to brown on all sides.

At this point, the heat is turned low and the skillet is covered after pouring in a couple of ounces of liquid (half water, half a wine that is fit to drink). Plain water will do the trick since its function is only to render the meat more tender. Still, a little wine taste is not all bad, and a sprinkling of brown sugar is trick of many cooks, the-more-so when it caramelizes.

Incidentally, squirrel fried in this manner will create its own natural gravy, but if the need arises a great pan of gravy can be made by removing the meat and adding flour and milk or water as the flour thickens.


All columns are copyrighted by Bill Scifres and may not be reproduced in any form without prior permission from the author.  For reproduction permission and media usage fees, contact: Bill Scifres, 6420 East 116th Street, Fishers, IN 46038, E-mail: billscifres@aol.com

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