This time of year is easy pickings if you are a squirrel eater, the springy little buggers are bouncing across woodlands across the country desperately trying to stock up on us much fruit and nut before winter really kicks in, so what better time to lock and load the old 12 bore and go in search of supper?
Squirrel eating, despite having bad press to begin with from early thriftonomists, has become rather trendy in the last year, I was a bit surprised to hear from a friend that a supermarket had begun selling squirrel (I don’t tend to read newspapers or watch TV for fear of depression or anxiety!), so I had a look online expecting it was some sort of stunt by Waitrose only to see that Budgen’s had pipped them to the post (now that really was a surprise).
When it comes to squirrel as a prospective meat, there are always going to be the haters, I was pleased to see the Daily Mail reader’s where living up to their name and commenting like crazy on just how wrong it all was, but then apparently so is living in a treehouse…
Personally I love the stuff, its just a shame there is not more on an individual critter, they’re also an absolute bastard to peel. Ethically speaking, eating squirrel is one of the best things you could do for British woodland other than planting lots of trees. The Grey squirrel is a non-native species which has come over from the states and not only decimated our native Red squirrel, but also seems happy to destroy plenty of our trees by stripping them of their bark. Quite frankly, the ‘rat with a fluffy tail’ needs to be controlled, it is in fact illegal to catch a Grey squirrel in a humane trap and release it, but be careful how you kill it to avoid RSPCA imprisonment! (Stick it in a sack and batter it with a swift blow to the head as opposed to drowning). So, as with road kill- why let it go to waste?
Squirrel, quite frankly, tastes like squirrel. No nuttiness, perhaps a slight hint of rabbitiness, but certainly very lean and slightly gamey, what more could you ask for?! To make the meat perfect for consumption, I would recommend slow cooking in a stew or something suchlike, but if you want your squirrel to take center stage, slow cook in a court bouillon for at least an hour on a low heat to prevent toughness, with the usual suspects: mirepoix (chopped celery, onion and carrot), white wine, salt & pepper and a bouquet garni.
Now, part two of this pasty, the hedgehog, is slightly misleading. I am of course referring to the Hedgehog Fungi. Mrs. Tiggywinkle is still safely on the wish list, despite being such slow moving creatures; I have yet to find a fairly intact specimen that hasn’t been completely flattened by the Michelin man. When I do, it will of course be baked in clay in the traditional method.
This was the first time I have ever tried making a pasty, I have guzzled plenty in between taking on the swells of the south-west, but never attempted them in the kitchen, research and legend did suggest there were quite a few rules to follow:
Apparently, Satan himself would not dare cross the River Tamar for fear of being speared by a pitchfork and ending up as the filling for a Cornish pasty…yeah right. Seafood is rarely used as a filling, and Cornish fishermen refuse to take them on board because it will bring them bad luck (that goes for rabbits too).
Traditional filling is beef, potato, onion and swede, but lets face it: we are talking about a dry-ish stew inside a bit of pastry- anything can be used.
Cornwall online has this to say about the ins and outs of pasty politics:
Today there is still a great deal of debate among pasty-makers about exactly how a genuine pasty should be made. Many will tell you that a pasty can only be made with short pastry, while others will advocate rough puff as the ideal pastry. Some will claim that the ingredients must be mixed up inside the pastry, while others will swear that the fillings should be laid out in a particular order before the pasty is sealed. The issue that invites the most controversy involves the famous 'crimp', the wavy seam that holds the whole pasty together. Should the pasty be sealed across the top, or at the side? History suggests that the crimp should be formed at the side, because the pasty has always been eaten by hand, and the side crimp is the most convenient way of holding onto your lunch while you take a big bite. Others may beg to differ! There are, fortunately, some facts that can be agreed upon by all pasty-makers. The meat should be chopped, the vegetables should always be sliced, and the ingredients must never be cooked before they are wrapped in the pastry. Each pasty must be baked completely from raw. It is this fact that makes the Cornish Pasty unique amongst similar foods from around the world.
Since I had taken so much time over shooting the squirrel, finding the mushrooms and slow cooking the meat whilst adhering to the chopping guidelines, pastry was the last thing I wished to be fannying about with. I like puff pastry and I felt the bounciness would go rather well with the past acrobatics of the meat that was going inside.
There are a couple of clever things about a pasty: often baked for tin miners, the thick crust around the edge is strictly for holding with dirty mitts, not eating. SO you don’t have to wash your hands before eating in this case…on occasion pasties have been known to be savory at one end and sweet at the other- two courses in one, clever!
- 1 squirrel
- 250g hedgehog fungi
- 500g of Puff pastry (or short crust)
- 2 carrots
- 2 red onions
- 2 sticks of celery
- 4 potatoes (par boiled and cut into cubes)
- 1 bulb of garlic
- Salt & pepper
- 1 egg (beaten)
- Bouquet garni
- 1 stick of celery
- 1 onion
- 1 carrot
- 1 bottle of Weston’s cider
- 1 crushed bulb of garlic
- Salt & pepper
1. Prepare the squirrel: Once peeled, gutted and cleaned, you must first brown off the squirrel, season well and then brown off in a pan with a little butter and garlic. Once browned, add all the rest of the court bouillon ingredients, turn the heat right down and leave to simmer for about an hour. Remove the squirrel- you will now have some top notch squirrel ‘stock’ for soups etc. Remove every little snippet of meat from the squirrel and stick it in a bowl to cool.
2. Whilst your squirrel is bubbling away do all the other prep. Deal with the hedgehogs: clean off the spikes, and chop into thin slices, they need to be blanched in boiling water for 5 minutes to remove any bitterness. Drain and leave to cool.
3. Peel and chop the potatoes into small squares and parboil until tender, chop the celery and carrot into small quarters and cut the red onion into quarters and slice into thin slivers.
4. Once you have all your components for the filling, stick it all (squirrel and hedgehog) into a pan with a knob of butter and chopped garlic. Cook gently for about 10 minutes and add a few spoonfuls of the squirrel stock to keep everything nice and moist.
5. Roll out the puff pastry to the thickness of a £1 coin and cut out 6 circles of about 6 inches in diameter. Place on a sheet of baking parchment on an oven tray and start adding the filling to each one topped off with a sprinkle of chopped parsley.
6. Now for the hard bit! Brush the edge of the pastry with beaten egg and fold over the pastry, crimp the edges together with your fingers (easier said than done!) and then brush the entire pasty with egg.
7. Place the pasties in a preheated oven (200C) and bake for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown.
8. Make sure you have a pot of Coleman’s to hand and tuck in until stuffed!
So there you have it, Squirrel & Hedgehog pasties. I think it will prove quite a talking point as nibbles at any party. Having decided I want to do most of the food for my wedding in the coming year, these puppies are definitely going on the menu! Don’t delay shoot a squirrel today (or go to Crouch end Budgen’s)!
I have been incredibly busy of late- lots of treehouse talks and planning for the move to France. I have been trying to sort out this ‘ere blog and have re-categorized all the posts, even added a search bar so stick in whatever you are after and it should pop up. The Three-bird roast is definitely one to start thinking about, as well as rosehip syrup, sloe gin and hawthorn fruit leathers.
The last week I have been picking a load of winter/trumpet Chanterelles: Perhaps the tastiest mushroom I have had to date! They seem to be everywhere this year, so get out into the woods and get searching, the next post will be all about the glorious fungi, about to go and play in the kitchen with the kilo I picked today…