- Published on Wednesday, 19 January 2011 00:00
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Small game seasons are still going strong and judging by the number of squirrels visiting the area around my chicken coops and bird feeders, their numbers have increased or they are hard up for food.
Squirrels and rabbits make up most of the small game interest in our area and both are very tasty and easy to prepare into various meals. Perhaps the toughest part about cooking these fine meats is the field dressing and pre-cooking effort.
When I field dress my squirrels, I always skin them and then simply quarter the meat. There is little meat on the ribs so normally I won’t bother with it. Rabbit on the other hand can easily be skinned and quartered and the backstrap of a rabbit, particularly a large rabbit, is well worth a few extra cuts with a sharp knife to carve it out. That strip of boneless meat is prized at our house and is the first one to disappear.
Skinning either animal is easiest when the animal has been freshly harvested. All game is better when gutted quickly. Like deer or fowl, small game can be aged or tenderized. I prefer to do my meat tenderizing in the refrigerator though since skinning a cold squirrel that has been hanging for a few days is a candidate for a winch and a truck. Aging can be done for several days in a container that is airtight.
Rabbit tends to be tender compared to squirrel, but both can be prepared in such a way that the meat is very tender. Some people like to parboil or preboil the meat and then slow cook it in the oven. I prefer to cook slow, but remove the meat the moment it is done. One of the easiest ways to cook squirrel or rabbit and have it come out tender every time is to simply put the quarters in a slow cooker or Crock-Pot with a cup or so of water. The meat will fall off the bones after a full day (or overnight) of cooking. Then the chore is to simply pull out the bones. I also make a point to season my meat in the slow cooker so the flavor can have time to be absorbed.
Squirrel stew, also at times known as Brunswick Stew, is tasty, flavorful and healthy. I rarely see fat squirrels, so you don’t have to worry about eating too much fat!
After doing the prep cooking (see above) I usually start a vegetable brew of okra, carrots, onions, potatoes and green beans. You can vary your stew contents to your liking. Be sure to drop in some flavor such as beef cubes, garlic, or some sort of seasoning salt or spice. Sometimes I will add in rice the last fifteen minutes or so of cooking. Barley is a great ingredient to add to the mix. Throw in some other game meat and you can really cook up a flavor that will delight the taste buds. The same can be done with rabbit meat too.
The one thing that seems to really bring out the best in my homemade soups is the fact that I let them simmer a long time. It is not unusual on a snowy February day for me to let the stew cook all day long on low setting.
Leftover soups can be used later if you freeze them or can them. Canning soups is wonderful and really does not take a whole lot of preparation if you have the soup already made. Follow the recipe in your canning book for beef stew. On a bitterly cold, winter afternoon after working outside I love to come in and select a quart jar of squirrel stew or even deer stew out of our cabinet and pour it into a sauce pan to warm up. Campbell’s has nothing on it. Perhaps the visual of the cooked carrots, barley and meat through the jar makes it that much more scrumptious.
If you decide to use deer meat you can cube up any cut of meat and stir fry it prior to putting it in the soup. Be sure to cook the soup with the meat for a while to allow the venison to absorb the vegetable flavors. Venison roast can also be used if you have leftovers.
Using the slow cooking preparation noted above you can shred the meat down further and then lightly fry it or warm it with some salsa before adding to a tortilla or hard shell. I prefer a warmed or even lightly fried tortilla to a hard shell, but it is all about preference. As long as the bones are completely removed and the meat has been seasoned to your taste the taco will really stand out as one of the best ones you have eaten while still being unique. Add fresh tomato, cheese, sour cream, etc.
Sometimes after slow cooking the small game meat I shred it down as if I were going to make BBQ. Instead I will season it with my favorite seasoning (usually a Cajun mix of something mild) and then heat a skillet up with a light coat of olive oil. At this point you can add some bread crumbs to the shredded meat to help keep it intact and in a packed form. I have also used shredded potatoes and mixed it thoroughly with the shredded meat. Make the combination into a patty and drop into the skillet. Brown it on both sides and remove. Eat promptly with a side and some hot bread.
Hungry yet? A short walk in the woods should yield three or four squirrels, just enough to create one of the meals above.