Tag Soup tastes better with Squirrel. Make it Hot and Sour - like defeat.
Going into winter we crave meat and fat and weight, the prelude to spring when we’ll salivate at the thought of bitter greens to cut the grease. Going into winter it makes sense to pursue larger animals to get the most caloric bang for our buck, but don’t discount the heft of a November squirrel.
Throughout the final week of deer hunting season I ate this soup with just broth and squirrel. I kept it lean and simple, to hunt hungry, providing just enough grease to keep the wheels turning, but not so much to smother my fire for red meat.
The evening that whitetail season ended, however, I came home empty handed. So, I added noodles to the soup to sit heavy with me in my mourning.
A few slurps and I could feel the cold lump in my gut being burnt off by the heat of serranos, chilis, and ginger flushing my face and feet. Another bite or two and I’m already lulled into thinking how nice it’ll be to have a thermos of this stuff while I’m standing on frozen water hoping to pull a fish through a hole, or crunching through the January woods hoping for a lazy hare. This soup pairs as well with hope as it does defeat.
Squirrel Hot & Sour Soup
1-2 whole squirrels
½ cup dried mushrooms or 1+cups fresh
2 Tbs. oil
3-5 cloves chopped garlic
1 thumb sized piece fresh ginger, chopped and peeled
3-4 chopped scallions, plus more for garnish
4-5 cups stock
1/3 cup unseasoned rice vinegar, plus more for serving
3 Tbs. soy sauce
1 tsp. sesame oil
Sriracha to taste, plus more for serving
2 eggs, beaten
In Advance: Braise or boil your squirrels in a dutch oven or covered pot until the meat comes away from the bones easily - a couple hours. You can use almost any liquid here as long as it covers most of the body. It’s ok if an arm or a leg sticks out as long as the lid is on. I used beer this time, but you could also use stock, plain water, maple sap, sea water (if clean), tea, a liquid from a ferment, spicy tomato sauce, etc. After cooking till tender, pick the meat into a bowl for later.
In Advance: If using dried mushrooms: Cover the mushrooms with almost boiling water in a small bowl or jar about 30 minutes or until soft. Drain (add liquid to broth or save for future meals) and coarsely chop the mushrooms.
To Cook. In a large saucepan, heat the oil. Add the squirrel, garlic, ginger and 1/2 of the scallions and cook over medium high heat, stirring occasionally, until the squirrel is crispy brown—about 4 minutes. Stir in the stock and 1/3 cup of vinegar, the soy sauce, sesame oil, mushrooms and 1 good squirt of Sriracha. Bring the soup to a simmer and while stirring in a circular motion, drizzle in the beaten eggs in a thin stream and simmer until strands form—about 1 minute. Serve hot, garnished with sliced hot peppers and scallions if desired, passing rice vinegar and Sriracha at the table.
Mushrooms: Fresh or dried. Wild or cultivated. My favorites for this soup are Trumpets, Oysters, Maitake, Shitake, Enoki, Wood Ear - a combination of any or all is great.
Squirrel: If you’d prefer to skip picking the meat off the bones, I find it just as good to put a whole or halved squirrel in each bowl before serving. This will of course depend on the size of the squirrel, the size of the bowl, and how tolerant your company is of handling carcasses. Browning the squirrel before braising might be a good choice if you’re going this route.
Other Additions: I throw all kinds of things in this broth depending on what’s in the garden or the fridge. I like a combination of something slurpy, something crunchy, and something pungent. You do NOT have to follow this recipe very rigidly. Get loose with it. Some favorites of mine are:
- Wild greens tossed in at the end like mustard, chickweed, lambs quarters, purslane, basswood leaves etc.
- Crunchy things like mung bean sprouts, cattail shoots, wild radish pods etc.
- Pungent garnish herbs and flowers like basil, mint, lemon balm, nasturtium, monarda, dame’s rocket,garlic mustard, wild onion or garlic etc.
Photos by Author.