The poor native red squirrel, decimated by squirrel pox, with small pockets surviving in the north of the UK! Of course it’s really not the grey squirrel’s intention (native to the eastern and midwestern US) of almost eradicating it’s native UK cousin, by being more adaptable and spreading red squirrel mayham (ie squirrel pox). It’s the Victorians who were really to blame by introducing the critter into the UK, and aggressive grey squirrel control in red squirrel “pockets” is currently essential for the “red’s” survival. The grey squirrel is often referred to as the “tree-rat”: I can assure you that they are very clean creatures and deserve no such name, the only similarity being the force of their bite!
Everyone could help by making a dent in the grey squirrel population and making a very tasty meal out of grey’s. You can hunt them (with appropriate permission, or on your own land) using a high-powered air-rifle, shotgun, or using correctly positioned squirrel traps. A bit more work is involved in skining them (ie compared to rabbit) and this is best done when the animal is still warm. This rodent is also becoming more and more popular as a sustainable “wild” meat, and is sometimes available at specialst butchers, at extortionate prices. It’s red meat is certainly gamey, very lean and tasty! However slow cooking is required to tenderize the meat.
You’ll need at least a squirrel per person. I personally recommend to accomodate a squirrel with a decent amount ‘ie. fistfull’ of chopped pork belly cubes for “lubrication”, as game (especially smaller pieces) have a tendency to become dry with polongued braising. I personally prefer a light, dry red wine (ie burgundy) to use for braising with the red gamey squirrel meat.
The meat will be very tender when cooked for approximately 2 hours at 180 oC, so it’s not a “quick” recipe.
for 3 persons:
3 squirrels: hind legs and loins are the most substantial (discard rib cage & head)
1 chopped onion
2 large chopped carrots
3 chopped celery sticks
a sprig of thyme
10 juniper berries
2 bay leaves
1/2 bottle of dry red wine (ie burgundy): marinate the squirrel in the wine and herbs overnight, and pat dry before browning for approximately 10 minutes over a medium heat in olive oil (reduce the heat if the oil is spitting too much). Add the chopped pork belly, onions and carrots, and brown for another 10 minutes. Deglaze with the red wine, add juniper berries, bay leaves and thyme and transfer eveything to a oven-proof casserole dish. Add water to cover all the pieces and salt to taste, lid on and in a 160-180 oC oven for 2 hours.