NEW YORK (AFP) - Squirrel eaters in the US state of New Jersey have been told that the bushy-tailed rodents are likely safe to eat, after earlier being advised the unlikely delicacies could contain toxic metals. The Environmental Protection Agency said earlier this year it had discovered high levels of lead in a squirrel taken from near a waste dump in the Ringwood area and advised people to eat the rodents no more than twice a week.Good table fare . . . Well, hell, I could've told you that. Any self-respecting Texan has eaten squirrel at least once in his or her life. My great aunt Era cooked up a pretty good squirrel. (Though nothing beat her homemade chicken and dumplings, the likes of which I'll never encounter again.)
Officials have now said the test results were an error.
"A blender that was used to process the tissues into usable samples was defective and was identified as the source of the lead contamination," the Environmental Protection Agency said in a statement dated Monday.
The New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife describes squirrel as "good table fare," offering recipes for squirrel chowder, stew and barbecue.
Unfortunately, the article DID NOT GIVE A LINK to the NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife Squirrel recipes. (See, I've done the work for you.) That will take you to "Late Season Squirrel Hunting in New Jersey," By Jon Kline, Natural Resource Interpretation Technician for the NJDF&W. Before giving recipes, Jon offers this advice:
Hunters who ignore late-season squirrels are missing a great hunting opportunity. Squirrel populations are thriving and abundant in the Garden State. . . .Okay, two things here. First, The New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife must be facing some real budget problems, because they haven't updated their squirrel recipes in about five years. So that craving you have for wasabi-encrusted squirrel - you're on your own.
Shotgun season for squirrels in New Jersey runs to February 17, 2003.
Secondly, come on . . . a shotgun for squirrel? Yeah, I know some people do it, but real squirrel hunters use a .22. The Connecticut Outdoorsman website backs me up on this in their section on Connecticut Squirrel Hunting:
For starters, have you ever eaten a shotgun-killed squirrel? Pellets can be a pain to keep removing and there is no need to damage more meat than need be.Amen, brother. Same goes for rabbit and quail. You start with a limited supply of meat to begin with - why mess it up with pellet? I remember one restaurant in Spain that didn't even bother taking the pellets out. I almost broke my teeth trying to get through a fried . . . well, some small dead thing.
Second, a shotgun blast will alert the whole woods to your presence. Though a .22 can sound loud in the quiet woods, the effects will not be nearly as serious. I've shot many consecutive squirrels with a .22, but getting more than one at a time with a shotgun is rare.There's nothing more traumatizing to a young sportsman than crippling a small, innocent animal instead of landing a good, clean head-shot. Believe me, I know. My career as a hunter pretty much ended on a rare hunting trip with my father out in West Texas. I shot a rabbit but only managed to wound him (or, probably her - a mother, no doubt). All we discovered was a bloody trail disappearing into the tumbleweeds. I was so upset, I haven't shot at an animal since.
Third, a long shot with a shotgun can cripple better than kill. A well placed .22 bullet will rarely fail in its mission.
But I'm getting off track. The New Jersey squirrel recipes weren't bad, especially the one for squirrel chowder - we don't do much squirrel chowder in Texas - but I offer some alternative recipes from Texas A&M University.
Now, many people from Austin who are alums of the University of Texas (Hook 'em Horns!) might make fun of A&M, but I've never had anything but the utmost respect and admiration for the Aggies. (By the way, did you hear the one about the Aggie who locked his keys in the car? He called up the locksmith in a panic and said, "You've gotta help me! I've locked my keys in the car, and my family's trapped inside and can't get out!") It's true that their football team plays like girls and their overall level of intelligence can be counted on one finger, but if you want real Texas squirrel recipes from a scholarly (cough) institution, I can't think of a better source:
Squirrel is one of the most tender of all wild game meats. The rosy pink to red flesh of young squirrel is tender and has a pleasing flavor. The flesh of older animals is darker red in color and may require marinating or long cooking for tenderness.
PREPARING FRIED SQUIRREL
After cleaning, cut up for frying, soak overnight in salt water. Before frying (like chicken exactly) put squirrel in cooker oven with water and "par boil" until meat is tender when stuck with fork. Don't cook until meat falls off bones - as you want to batter it with flour to fry (not too fast) like chicken. Season with salt and black pepper to taste.
Rinse skinned squirrel in cold water and pat dry, dip in buttermilk and then in seasoned flour and fry in hot fat just as you would a chicken.
If the squirrel is young, you probably will not need to steam the meat. If there is any doubt, drain off excess fat in the skillet, add about a cup of water or wine if you prefer, and steam covered for about 15 minutes. Or you may wish to pressure cook the meat for an additional 5 to 10 minutes.
Make gravy in the frying fat by adding the leftover seasoned flour and milk or water. Serve over rice or with hot biscuits.
1 young squirrel, cut in pieces
1/2 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup shortening
1/8 teaspoon pepper
Mix salt and pepper with flour. Shake pieces of squirrel in flour mixture and brown in melted shortening in a heavy skillet. Lower the heat after browning and cover the skillet tightly. Cook over low heat for 1/2 to 1 hour or until well done. Remove cover during the last 10 minutes to crisp outer surfaces.
1 young squirrel, cut in pieces
3 slices bacon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sliced onion
1/8 teaspoon pepper
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1/2 cup flour
1/3 cup beef or chicken broth
Rub pieces of squirrel with salt and pepper and roll in flour. Pan fry with chopped bacon for 30 minutes. Add onion, lemon juice and broth and cover tightly. Cook slowly for 2 hours. Just before serving, remove squirrel and make gravy by adding water or milk and flour to the pan drippings.
Variations: Add l tablespoon paprika, 1/8 teaspoon cayenne, l sliced tart apple and 2 cups broth instead of bacon and lemon juice called for in this recipe.
Use a cleaned and skinned squirrel cut in serving size pieces.
4 ribs of celery, cut diagonally
1 small bay leaf
Small whole onions
Small whole potatoes
Salt, pepper and Worcestershire to taste
Place squirrel pieces in Dutch oven or heavy skillet with a lid. Cover with water and steam until the meat is nearly tender. Add the vegetables and seasoning and cook until just tender.
If a thickened gravy is desired, add l tablespoon of corn starch dissolved in one-half cup of water just before serving.
This is good served with corn bread [Editor's note: Damn straight!]. One squirrel will serve two or three people.
3 squirrels, cut in serving
1 cup chopped onion pieces
4 cups or 2 No. 303 cans tomatoes
3 quarts water
1/4 cups diced bacon
2 cups diced potatoes
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
2 cups lima beans
2 teaspoons salt
2 cups corn
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
Place squirrel pieces in a large kettle. Add water. Bring slowly to boil; reduce heat and simmer 1 1/2 to 2 hours, or until meat is tender, skimming surface occasionally. Remove meat from bones and return to liquid. Add bacon, cayenne, salt, pepper, onion, tomatoes, potatoes and lima beans. Cook l hour. Add corn and continue to cook 10 minutes. Serves six to eight.
Note: This recipe is particularly suitable for older, less tender animals.
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon fat
Clean squirrel. Rub with slat and pepper. Brush with fat and place on a broiling rack. Broil 40 minutes, basting every 10 minutes with drippings. Squeeze lemon on squirrel before serving. Serves two to three.
[Editor's note: You'll find the section "PREPARATION AND COOKING OPOSSUM" just below this on the same page. And no, I didn't title that section. They really did leave out the preposition.]
If you're in New York City or Long Island, Squirrel Hunting Season (for black, gray and fox squirrels) begins November 1 and runs through February 29, according to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. For upstate New York, the season opens earlier, on September 1. The daily bag limit is six squirrels.
An important note, though: "Red Squirrels are unprotected, and may be hunted at any time without limit."
Red Squirrel. [Editor's note: "Dude, you are so screwed."]
From my own experience with squirrels in the city, I'd stay away from the ones in Brooklyn. They're scrawny, kind of sickly looking, and they've got attitude. If you're gonna hunt squirrels in the City, I'd stick with Queens or Staten Island.
For readers in the Boston area, The Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife says:
"Gray squirrels may be hunted in Wildlife Management Zones 01 through 09 from the second Monday in September to the following January 2.
Hunting hours for gray squirrel begin at ½ hour before sunrise and end at ½ hour after sunset, except on wildlife management areas stocked with pheasant or quail where the hunting hours are from sunrise to sunset.
The bag limit for gray squirrels is 5 daily and the possession limit is 10.
For whatever reason, the bag limit in Massachusetts is less than that of New York. So you folks up in Beantown take it easy on the trigger, eh? You don't wanna kill more than you can eat at one time.
All joking aside, I've never felt as close to the Northeast as I do at this moment.
ZONE's Natural Resource Interpretation Technician
UPDATE: Crystal brings up an important point - Squirrel burgoo, which is made from squirrel brains and is mainly eaten in Kentucky, may be linked to mad-cow disease. (Shouldn't that be mad-squirrel disease?) Even though I didn't post any recipes for squirrel burgoo and, in fact, had never even heard of it before now, I want to state unequivocally that ZONE DOES NOT RECOMMEND EATING SQUIRREL BURGOO, OR SQUIRREL BRAINS IN ANY FORM. Thanks, Crystal, for your broad knowledge of squirrel cuisine and your obvious concern for those who enjoy eating squirrel.
Which brings up a point I forgot to mention earlier - What, exactly, is the nutritional value of squirrel?
Squirrel is lower in fat and calories than beef, lamb, or pork. It's also lower in cholesterol than other wild game such as deer or duck. According to GunnersDen.com, which has a very nice chart of the nutritional value of wild game, "the combination of more lean body tissue, less saturated fat and significantly higher % of cholesterol-reducing polyunsaturated fatty acids makes wild game a heart-healthy choice."
Squirrel has half or even a third less saturated fat (the bad kind) and a much higher level of polyunsaturated fate (the good kind) than many other animals. Wild boar is the one you want to avoid - it has a seriously high saturated fat level. And beef isn't much better. So the next time you're at Burger King, you might want to stop and think: a squirrel burger is much better for you than a Whopper!!
Don't give in to mass media manipulation. Do you know how much money Unnamed Golden Arches Hamburger Corporation and the other planet-killing hamburger corporations spend on advertising? Every time you eat a hamburger, you've basically wiped out a virgin Amazon rainforest the size of Brazil. You're killing the planet. By yourself. Put . . . the . . . burger . . . down.
Go natural and go American: Eat Squirrel!