Yes, those cute little critters can make a cracking dish, reveals Sue Nowak, author of the Beer Cook Book.
First, catch your squirrel… a Devon host was recently featured on West Country TV with one of the most unusual dishes ever to find its way onto a pub menu - squirrels braised in real ale. Nick Abington Abbott, licensee of the Tradesmans Arms at Stokenham, came up with squirrel cooked in robust Sutton XSB as part of a culinary challenge for the Taste of the West TV series. The show's competition sought the best pub dishes made from local ingredients. "Squirrel is a delicacy in North America, where I first tasted it - it was one of Elvis Presley's favourite dishes," says Nick who first put it on the menu five years ago at his previous pub, the Bull and Butcher, near Turville in Buckhamshire.
"Squirrel is a beautiful meat and perfectly safe to eat - after all, they live on nuts," says Nick. "I'm a bit of a salesman and when anybody says they don't fancy squirrel I tell them to try it and I'll give them their money back if they don't like it. I've never had too," he adds. At the Bull and Butcher several trappers will bring him grey squirrels, skinned and gutted ready for cooking. However, Nick moved to the Tradesmans Arms on the south Devon coast in the past year and is still seeking locals to keep the pub supplied - though he managed to get 11 for the programme.
He says the taste is distinctive and the meat is best cooked very simply, so as not to mask its flavour. Ingredients are simply beer, chicken stock, celery, carrot and parsley stalks. Sutton Brewery was founded in Plymouth 10 years ago, but recently moved close to the pub in Stokenham. The Good Beer Guide describes XSB as "amber nectar with a fruity nose and a bitter finish". At 4.2% abv it drinks higher than its strength and Nick chose it from Sutton's range "because it's got a bloody strong flavour, is very hoppy, but has a sweetness as well".
He feels it perfectly complements this unusual "beast". Although Nick didn't win the competition the judges were impressed - and if they return to the pub in winter they might be able to taste another old English dish, rook pie, hopefully enhanced with another Sutton brew.