This is camp cooking at its tastiest: meaty morsels of squirrel meat rendered fall-off-the-bone tender in a rich dark gravy with a spicy Cajun kick of seasoning. Squirrel Stew is a twice a year seasonal treat that rural folks look forward to every fall and spring.
Of all the small game species, squirrel is a delicacy in South Louisiana, and squirrel hunting is a rite of passage for every boy old enough to carry a .410 shotgun. In Louisiana, many rural schools dismiss students on the first day of the season in early October, and the 5-month hunting season (along with a short spring season) is a harvest that in one recent year bagged over 800,000 squirrels.
In Louisiana forests, there are two predominant kinds of squirrels—the smaller gray squirrels (often referred to as the cat squirrel) and larger bushy-tail fox squirrels (the piney woods squirrel since its habitat is mainly in pine forests). Both are found in abundance in Acadiana, especially in the hardwoods of St. Landry and Evangeline Parishes, and the swamp forests of the Atchafalaya Basin
Rural kitchens have a bevy of squirrel recipes with sauce piquant, gumbo, fricassée, and stew being the bedrock of cooking the tasty game. On a recent outing at my weekly lodge get-together, Squirrel Stew was on the menu compliments of a trio of hunter/cooks–Jimmy Adams, Guy Ellison, and Greg Nick. They not only bagged a dozen gray squirrels, but they fired up the black iron and cooked them down in a roux-infused stew.
Jimmy hunts squirrels in a pecan orchard where the owner says the four-legged critters wreak havoc in his trees every year. Culling out the squirrel population is essential to the agricultural balance, as well as the natural ecosystem. Like many squirrel hunters, he likes to give them a sporting chance and prefers shooting a high-powered pellet gun (some use a .22 rifle) rather than a shotgun. And from a cooking perspective, that one-shot kill preserves the meat and reduces the amount of shot that turns up in the finished dish.
Skinning and cleaning squirrels are skill sets best left to experts, but a dressed-out squirrel is worth the work and has plenty of meat for the Squirrel Stew pot. The front legs, the meaty hindquarters, and the torso rib cage cook down into fork-tender eating that has no gamey taste whatsoever. Browning the meat along with the Cajun trinity (onion, celery, and bell pepper) is the first order of business, and this stew cooks down in a dark roux gravy spiked with a splash of red wine and plenty of mushrooms and smoked sausage sharing the pot for a two-hour simmer. Garnished with chopped green onion tops and a hit of hot sauce, this Squirrel Stew is quite simple.
Find a friend who hunts squirrel and make a deal with him. If he shoots them, you’ll cook them.
- 4 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 4 squirrels, cleaned and cut into pieces
- 2 tablespoons Acadiana Table Cajun Seasoning Blend, see recipe here
- 2 cups diced yellow onion
- 1 cup diced celery
- 1 cup diced bell pepper
- 2 cups chopped smoked pork sausage
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- 1 cup dry red wine
- 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
- 2 cups button mushrooms
- 3 tablespoons dark roux, such as Rox's Roux
- 1 quart chicken stock
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Hot sauce
- 8 cups cooked long-grain white rice
- 1 cup diced green onion tops
- In a large black iron pot with a heavy lid over medium-high heat, add the oil.
- Sprinkle the squirrel pieces generously with Cajun seasoning and add to the hot oil in the pot. Cooking in batches, brown the squirrel on all sides and remove to a platter.
- Add the trinity vegetables along with the sausage to the pot and sauté until the onions begin to brown, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic and deglaze the pot with the wine and Worcestershire. Cook until the some of the alcohol burns off, about 5 minutes. Add the mushrooms, roux, and chicken stock and return the squirrels back to the pot. Lower the heat to a simmer, cover the pot and let cook for 1 hour.
- Uncover and check to see that there is still plenty of liquid (add water, if needed). Cover and cook for another 1 hour until the squirrel is fork tender and the gravy thickens to coat the back of a spoon.
- Taste the gravy and adjust seasonings to your taste with salt, pepper, and hot sauce.
- Serve over a mound of white rice and garnish with a sprinkle of green onion tops.
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