Now that the weather has warmed up, every dog’s favorite tormentor is back on the scene – the cunning little squirrel. Just this morning we were out on a walk and spotted three of the suckers skittering about overhead in a tree. The mere mention of the word “squirrel” is enough to set my own dog into a frenzy. And although she wishes she could pulverize the one that sits outside mocking her at the window, her telltale jingling tags and the squirrel’s trademark cleverness have thankfully prevented its capture.
Squirrels are so clever (they are even said to be as intelligent as dogs) that some people keep them as household pets. I remember we were once playing a game of dominoes on the backyard patio and, all of the sudden, we felt a rain of acorns fall upon our head, sabotaging our game. You could almost hear the squirrel high in the tree above snickering at us in delight.
However there is another way the squirrel has been put to use by humans and that is for dinner. In some regions of the United States, particularly the South, squirrel meat is considered to be a delicacy, and they are hunted as wild game. There are recipes for squirrel meat in older editions of the widely read Joy of Cooking. Even my current edition has a recipe for the southern specialty Brunswick Stew that suggests that squirrel can be added to the pot.
Just in time for Saturday’s Kentucky Derby horse race, I am sharing with you another recipe that sometimes features squirrel: Kentucky Burgoo. This is a dish that goes hand in hand with the Mint Julep cocktail as a Derby tradition. Like chili, there are many variations to Burgoo. It is a thick stew featuring meat (sometimes hickory smoked) and vegetables, and diehards insist that it must contain wild meats and be cooked over an open fire to be considered burgoo. Now I am suggesting you can bring the preparation inside and make this recipe in your slow cooker.
The origin of Kentucky Burgoo is in Irish Mulligan stew, and the idea behind this humble recipe is to use a mixture of any available meats, including wild game such as squirrels, opossums, venison and wild birds, combined with vegetables such as lima beans, corn, okra, and potatoes. Some variations include the addition of hot sauce, cider vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, and chili powder; these items can also be served as condiments with the finished stew.
In Kentucky Burgoo, the tradition of using meats like squirrel is born out of poverty, coming from hard times following the Civil War. Wild game fares very well in the crockpot, as the long cooking slowly tenderizes these usually tougher cuts of meat. A perfect accompaniment would be corn bread or corn muffins. If you don’t have access to fresh squirrel meat (or even if you do, but you prefer not to eat the little critters), you can substitute dark meat chicken or lean beef in this recipe for tasty results.
But if you are like my dog, and think the squirrel population in your area needs to be reduced, and you have the ways and means, then this might just be a delicious way to do it!
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