Photo by Johnny Miller
“I love the sweet aroma of squirrel, and I’m surprised at most folks’ inexperience with serving the little guys,” says chef Levon Wallace, who heads up the kitchen at Proof on Main in Louisville, Ky. Wallace developed this recipe after bagging a few grays on a recent outing. “It’s a riff on coq au vin,” he explains, referring to the classic French dish of a rooster stewed in wine, “and works well for rabbit, or duck, too.”
– 4 squirrels, cleaned
– 1 bottle of Pinot Noir or other dry, light-bodied red wine
– 1 sprig thyme
– 1 sprig rosemary
– 2 bay leaves
– 1 Tbsp. juniper berries, cracked
– 1 tsp. black peppercorns, cracked
– 1 Tbsp. brown sugar
– 2 cups all-purpose flour
– 3 slices good-quality country bacon, cut into 1-inch dice
– 1 cup pearl onions, peeled
– 2 cups forest mushrooms (shiitake, morel, chanterelle, oyster, or your favorite variety)
– 2 small carrots, diced
– 1 large stalk celery, diced
– 1 clove garlic, smashed
– 2 bay leaves
– Extra virgin olive oil, for drizzling
– About 1⁄4 cup chopped fresh parsley
– Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
1: Remove the hind and forelegs from each squirrel with shears. Trim the ribs away from the saddle and discard ribs. Cut the saddle in half.
2: In a large nonreactive bowl, combine half the bottle of wine with the thyme, rosemary, two bay leaves, juniper berries, peppercorns, and brown sugar, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Add the squirrel pieces and marinate for 6 to 8 hours or overnight, refrigerated.
3: Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Remove the squirrel pieces from the marinade and pat dry with paper towels. Discard the marinade. Season the pieces with salt and pepper and dredge in the flour, shaking off any excess. Transfer the floured pieces to a wire rack or plate. Heat a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the bacon, and cook until just crisp and golden brown. With a slotted spoon, transfer bacon to a paper towel–lined plate. Add the squirrel pieces (in batches if necessary) and brown on both sides, about 4 minutes per side. Transfer to the plate with the bacon. Add the pearl onions and cook for about 3 minutes, or until golden brown, then add the mushrooms, carrots, celery, garlic, and remaining bay leaves. Cook for another 3 minutes, stirring. Add the reserved half bottle of wine and bring to a boil, scraping the bottom of the pot to dislodge any tasty browned bits.
4: Return the squirrel and bacon to the mixture, stir to incorporate, and place the pot in the oven, covered. Cook for 1.5 to 2 hours, or until the squirrel meat is tender but not falling off the bone. Serve immediately, drizzled with extra-virgin olive oil and sprinkled with parsley. Serves 4
Pinot Two Ways
The same grape varietal you cooked with is the one to drink with this dish. So pick up two bottles at the store. Pinot Noir can get pricey, so for the stew, try an inexpensive bottle from New Zealand. If you want to upgrade for the drinking, look for an Oregon vintage like the 2010 St. Innocent Zenith Vineyard Pinot Noir.
From the October 2013 issue of Field & Stream magazine