As COVID-19 wages war on civilization, a look into my chest freezer and the watering of my garden gives me hope and solace in a time of uncertainty. I do not consider myself a “prepper,” but I am certainly well prepared. Over the last seven years, I have invested heavily in the process of procuring my own food. My hobbies of hunting, fly-fishing and gardening fill my freezer and the bellies of myself and loved ones. In times like these, my bounty eases my anxieties.
This wasn’t always the case. Growing up on 3.5 acres in a rural area outside Plano, Texas, my childhood home was surrounded by five massive pecan trees, some oak trees and different fruit trees – prime fox squirrel habitat. At age 7 I received my first Daisy pump BB gun. My Jack Russell terrier and I would bay up squirrels, and I would try to shoot them out. But we would never eat the squirrels back then. They would be taken to the property edge for “the coyotes to eat.” It wasn’t until I grew up a bit that I felt compelled to honor the animal for the food it provided. I skinned the next squirrel I shot in amateur fashion, though, leaving the meat tainted with fur. Then, I dredged it in salt and pepper and grilled it whole. It was burned and poorly seasoned. As a result, I wouldn’t eat squirrel again for another nine years due to no fault of the squirrel.
Since then, I’ve evolved, both as a hunter and a wild game cook. This dish represents my commitment to making the most of the meat I harvest. These carnitas are based on an award-winning Fox Squirrel Confit I prepared for the Wild Game Cookoff at Rendezvous 2015, a meal I’ll write about in an upcoming post.
A French confit is not much different from Mexico’s carnitas. Meat is slow cooked in fat and then crisped in a pan. Whether you’ve prepared squirrel before or not, I encourage you to give this recipe a try. It’ll either change or enhance your appreciation for squirrels as a wild food resource.
Fox Squirrel Carnitas
Hatch Green Chile Dry Rub
- 1 tbsp dehydrated hot Hatch chiles
- 2 tsp Diamond Crystal kosher salt
- ½ tsp cumin
- ½ tsp granulated onion powder
- ½ tsp granulated garlic powder
Sous Vide Confit Carnitas
- dry rub (see recipe above)
- 1 fox squirrel, quartered
- 4 tbsp (clarified) bacon, duck, goose or bear fat
Habanero Relish (WARNING: I like things very spicy. Use with CAUTION.)
- 4 habaneros, minced
- 1 medium carrot, minced
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- leftover pickled jalapeno juice
- 1 avocado
- 1 lime, juiced
- ½ cup Mexican crema or,
- 2 oz sour cream
- 2 oz yogurt
- tortillas (corn or flour, whichever you prefer)
- salsa or habanero relish (optional)
- ½ medium onion chopped
- avocado crema (optional)
- chopped cilantro
- Rub quartered squirrel pieces with green chile dry rub.
- Place the squirrel in a vacuum bag with 4 tbsp of bacon fat and seal.
- Set up sous vide for 170°F for 12 hours (If you do not have a sous vide, place the squirrel in a tall-sided pan (the smallest you can use) and cover squirrel with enough clarified fat to fully submerge. Bake in oven at 170°F for 12 hrs.)
- Drop bag in a large pot of water and cook with preferred sous vide immersion circulator.
- When done, remove meat from vac-bag and debone.
- Warm tortillas.
- Fry meat in seasoned fat sauce on medium heat for 3-4 mins or to desired crispiness.
- Place the squirrel carnitas in a taco and top with salsa or relish, chopped onion, avocado crema and chopped cilantro.
Photos By Author