Southern Cuisine: Fried Squirrel
Many soul food recipes are for wild game, especially for small game. In the slave culture of the Deep South, many plantation owners weren't very generous when it came to providing their field hands and the slave families with meat, so a lot of the men supplemented their food stores by hunting and by catching wild animals in snares and simple traps. Squirrels were pretty plentiful in the woods and orchards, so squirrel meat was fairly common.
When I was married to my ex-husband, we lived on the family’s cattle ranch. They had acres and acres of woods, streams, lakes, fields, pecan orchards, and pastures. The woods were full of all kinds of wildlife, and we were both hunters. One of my favorite forms of the sport was squirrel hunting. The woods held a large squirrel population, made fat by eating pecans, acorns, and any corn the cows might waste. I was the only squirrel hunter on the place, so there was no hunting pressure.
My favorite spot for squirrel hunting was in the woods behind our house. This thicket of oaks and gums was adjacent to a creek, and it was a beautiful location. Far from the road, it was also peaceful and quiet. I’d walk there on autumn afternoons with my .22 rifle slung over my shoulder, along with a canvas bag that held extra ammo.
Finding a place to sit was easy. There were several fallen trees and stumps that made perfect chairs. I would sit quietly, enjoying the scenery, until I heard the tell-tale scurrying overhead. My rifle had a scope, and back then, I had amazing eyesight and was an excellent shot. I always aimed for the head to ensure a quick kill and to avoid damaging the meat.
I don’t particularly like to eat squirrel, but my husband and kids loved it. We made a deal: I’d kill it, he’d clean it, I’d cook it, and they’d eat it! It worked out great for all parties involved, except for the squirrels, of course.
I never came home empty-handed. I always got a “mess” of squirrels – enough for a family meal. After the ex cleaned the critters, I’d take them inside and wash them thoroughly in clear water, making sure to get all the fur off. Then I’d cut the squirrels in small pieces. The arms and shoulders would make two pieces, the hind legs would make two pieces, and the back would make a piece or two.
Here’s my simple recipe:
What you’ll need:
Dressed squirrels, washed and cut into pieces
Salt and pepper
If the squirrels were killed with a shotgun, you need to remove the shot before cooking. Do this with the point of a sharp knife.
After the squirrels have been thoroughly washed, pat dry with paper towels and rub with salt and pepper. Cover the meat with buttermilk and let it soak in the refrigerator for an hour or so.
Pour about a half-inch of oil in a black iron skillet and heat it on medium.
While the oil is heating, remove the squirrel from the buttermilk bath and dredge in flour. Place the pieces in the hot oil. If you want the squirrel to be extra crunchy, don’t let the pieces touch.
Cook until brown, then turn and cook the other side until brown. Drain on paper towels.
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