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You see the furry little creatures scooting up trees, nibbling at morsels nicked from bins, and running around hunting for nuts – but have you ever considered squirrels as a source of food in themselves?
Putting grey squirrels on the menu could potentially make a huge difference when it comes to environmental and sustainable food practices, and the revival is beginning.
It’d certainly be a relief for Britain’s native red squirrels. They’ve lost habitat, food stocks, and struggle to survive diseases brought over by grey squirrels when the invasive (if cute) species were introduced from America in the 1870s.
In fact, grey squirrel numbers have overrun UK woodlands so much, they have to be routinely culled to help preserve the existence of their fiery-coloured cousins – but where does that meat end up? Definitely not on plates.
It’s a waste, and were attitudes to change – some people do, understandably, feel squeamish about the idea of gnawing on a creature they usually see frolicking happily in the park – squirrels could provide a truly sustainable and ethical meat source. Something that, between the environmental impact of rearing and slaughtering cattle, and depleted fish stocks, the planet sorely needs.
Chef and food writer Gill Meller, a longtime member of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage team, has been championing squirrel meat for years. In his cookbook, Gather, there are recipes for crispy squirrel and potato rostis, and squirrel roasted with cauliflower and capers. With such an “invasive and harmful species”, and considering the culls, he said at his book launch that “it makes sense to put it to a good use”.
And when it tastes so good, why not? Technically a form of game, flavour-wise, squirrel tends to be likened to chicken and rabbit, rather than its gamier brethren. Ghostbuster’s actor John Belushi even told The Guardian recently that fire-roasted squirrels “taste like chicken and are better than rattlesnake”, which can only be a good thing.
So where can you get your hands on some squirrel steaks? The lucky ones with a really decent butcher will be able to buy it locally, alternatively, you can order it online from places like The Wild Meat Company and Yorkshire Dales Meat.
The bigger the demand, the more chance that in the not too distant future, we’ll be able to pick up squirrel joints for Sunday lunch from the supermarket, and Instagram snaps of pulled squirrel rolls snapped up at trendy street food markets. So, squirrel burger anyone?