Let me start by sharing a portion of an article and interview from munchies.vice.com entitled We Should Think About Eating Squirrel:
Gray squirrels are everywhere. They’re in the bins in your local park, stuffing discarded sandwich crusts into their mouths. They’re in your garden, burying nuts in your lawn and pissing off your cats. They’re up trees taking eggs from bird’s nests. You pretty much can’t walk five feet in London without one of the cute little bastards stopping in your path, transparent tail bouncing, and staring you out. But while they might be bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, and an endless source of amusement, they—all five million of them—can also be a complete pain in the arse. So should we be thinking about eating them?
Some people might baulk at the idea of eating a rodent, but the squirrel’s cousin—the rabbit—is widely eaten. There are those who can’t get past the rabbit’s fluffy pet-ness, but plenty can, and in our age of financial severity should we be considering the potential epicurean values of something that is, quite literally, everywhere? Could it be the ultimate free-range meat? Robert Owen Brown, celebrated chef and author of the brilliant Crispy Squirrel and Vimto Trifle cookbook, thinks so. Fergus Henderson is a big fan of his, telling me from the back of a cab hurtling across Manhattan bridge, “Rob is a man of many parts. He is a true hunter-gatherer, a darling, and an all-round good egg.” So I rang the good egg up for a chat about squirrel and other things.
Hi Robert! Do you really have a recipe for crispy squirrel in your book?
Yes, it’s squirrel done in a Southern fried style. I don’t know whether it’s a Northern thing, but everything tastes delicious when it’s been thrown in breadcrumbs and deep-fried.
Are you saying that squirrel isn’t tasty?
Oh god no. The opposite. It’s a delicious meat—incredibly sweet and nutty (thanks to its berry and nut-based diet) and very, very lean. The loin is very small so you cook it exactly as you would a rabbit, either very quickly or for a long time.
Squirrel is still very popular in some of the southern states in the US, isn’t it? They’ve eaten it since the colonial days.
Yes, absolutely. They’re quite fond of stewing it down, which seems to intensify the sweetness of the meat. It’s a bit like pork in that respect.
How would I go about getting a squirrel to cook if I don’t feel comfortable going out to hunt one?
You can buy squirrel online very easy—there are about 12 companies on the internet that will sell you grey squirrel. If you have a good local butcher, they should be able to get one for you, too. They’ll almost certainly not be displaying them with the rest of their produce, or get them in on a regular basis, but they will definitely know someone who could get you one. You would have to ask them to skin it for you, though, as an amateur would almost certainly pull it in half.
And if I did want to try and hunt one, would I get in trouble?
There is nothing to stop you taking an air rifle—or finding a mate who has one—and shooting a squirrel in a wild area. Nothing at all. They’re bloody quick, though, so you might need a bit of practise.
What about the ones that come into my back garden and make my cat have a nervous breakdown?
You might want to be careful with those.
Because you never know what a squirrel in an urban environment might have eaten. Your neighbor might have put down rat poison, for example, that it could eat by mistake. You never know. In the wild, at least, you can have a pretty solid idea of what they’ve been eating. Their diet doesn’t deviate much from eating berries off trees and nuts.
Why do you think people objected so much to the idea of squirrel meat being sold in a UK supermarket a few years ago?
It’s about perception. People have very deep-seated ideas and beliefs about meat—what they should and shouldn’t eat—and many people in the UK buy the same kind of meat (which is sat neatly in a little Polystyrene tray) week-in week-out. So of course, when something completely new comes along, it’s shocking. They can’t equate the idea of this cute little thing they see all the time to being cooked and eaten.
What did you think about that article? Interesting isn’t it. Unfortunately I am not a connoisseur of eating squirrels, although I do enjoy their cousin the cotton tail rabbit (jack rabbit only in emergencies). Tree rats is what I’ve heard some from the south call them. Having not really trusted furry little critters like rats and mice for human consumption I think I’ve fallen into the habit of lumping squirrels into the same pool. Those around me have largely been limited to experiences at scout camp, and in those cases; unsure of the creature’s edibility, it is typically burned to charcoal and devoid of all flavor and nutritional value. Many a scout has had a poor first experience with these creatures. Although I did know an old survivalist type in the last town we lived in that ate them all the time and never had an issue. So I think I know what I’m taking down and roasting over the fire the next time I go camping; and this time it won’t look like charcoal when I’m done.
On the other hand; I have a brother in law from Mississippi near the Pearl River and he grew up eating the animal fairly regularly. And my sister has promised to get me some family recipes I can share; so look forward to those. And yes, I will post them and try them for myself.
I know plague is a big fear for us western and south western folk when it comes to eating squirrels; and I’ve even heard it mentioned on several survival shows so I wanted to share a few blurbs that I read. I did a little reading on the CDC’s official website and it turns out you can get plague from cats and dogs and rabbits as easily from other rodents and tree varmints. So sure, you might get it from skinning a squirrel; but you might also get it from letting your cat out as they are particularly susceptible to the plague; bubonic being the most common form in the US.
From petethomasoutdoors.com, Any health dangers associated with eating ground squirrels? And yes I know there is a difference between “ground squirrels” and actual squirrels; but there was some good advice:
…However, before attempting to eat them, according to California Department of Fish and Wildlife veterinarians, there’s a lot we don’t know about diseases in ground squirrels. We do know they carry fleas and are highly susceptible to plague and probably die within a short period of time after exposure to the disease agent.
Plague is endemic everywhere in California, except the southeastern desert and the Central Valley. It is not active everywhere in that range though, so before your hunt I suggest you contact the county public health department in the areas you will be hunting to find out the status and history of plague in those areas.
… make sure they are cooked thoroughly. Proper preparation and cooking is key to avoiding and minimizing exposure to disease.
California aside; because everything their carries the plague or causes cancer; below is a map of human cases of the plague since 1970; and surprisingly their focused around the southwest. From ABC news “Most infections in the United States have occurred after disposing of squirrels or mice that died from the infection or traveling in an area where infected rodents live. Health officials recommend staying away animals that are lethargic or appear sick.”
“State health departments and the CDC regularly test rodent populations to track the spread of plague bacteria in the wild. If a large population of infected rodents is found, they will spray insecticide at the area to kill fleas, and post signs warning residents to stay away from the area.”
the rodent family is a pretty large one. Rodents (Latin rodere, to gnaw) are mammals of the order Rodentia, characterized by a single pair of continuously growing incisors in each of the upper and lower jaws. About forty percent of all mammal species are rodents, and they are found in vast numbers on all continents except Antarctica. They are the most diversified mammalian order and can be found in a variety of terrestrial habitats, including human-made environments. There are species that are arboreal,fossorial (burrowing), and semi-aquatic. Well known rodents include mice, rats, squirrels, prairie dogs, porcupines, beavers, guinea pigs, and hamsters. Other animals such as rabbits, hares and pikas, which were once included with them, are now considered to be in a separate order,Lagomorpha.
We all know how chipper squirrels are, so if it is acting sluggish or looks dead, leave it alone; there might be something wrong with it. Like trying anything new there is a moment of hesitancy until we take the leap and discover that we’re still alive. I get that feeling every time a research and try a new weed or plant that no one else around me knows about or is eating. But the books and reliable internet sites haven’t let me down yet. If you’ve eaten the little guys what is your preference for cooking them?
My brother in law had some interesting insight into eating squirrels and here are a few selections of our conversation. the skin comes off just as easy as that of a rabbit. if you accidentally cut the gall bladder open when your gutting it you might as well throw it away because you won’t be able to get the flavor out of the meat. lastly check with the locals and see if there are times when not to harvest squirrels; where he grew up squirrels harvested during the summer tended to have parasite problems and were cleanest during the cooler months of the year to eat. He wasn’t sure if the colder weather killed some of the parasites that tended to live in and directly under the skin.