Wednesday, July 16, 2014

"Jerk" Squirrel

Grilling squirrel isn't as tricky as most people think. If done incorrectly, it can dry out very easily, but the secret to grilling perfect squirrel is no secret at all. As with any lean, "tougher" meat, and squirrels would fall into this category, the trick is to remove as much silver skin as you can without sacrificing too much meat. Silver skin tightens up and becomes chewy when exposed to heat, and will make the rest of your squirrel meat tough. Of course you can't get it all, but get as much as you can-- that white, cloudy or clear-looking film that covers the pink meat underneath. The second rule is to marinate the squirrel for a few hours or overnight in something that has an acid, such as vinegar or citrus. The marinade will infuse into the meat to help keep it moist while on the grill, while the acid will help to tenderize and break down the meat. We chose a Jamaican "Jerk" marinade because it's one of our favorites for the grill. Finally, grill squirrel directly over hot coals just until cooked through and no longer. 

Don't expect it to be as tender as farm-raised chicken. It's a wild animal that spends most of its time running around, and if you know squirrels, you'll know that they can't keep still for long. Squirrel meat has a pleasant "snap" to it. Respect it. 

We hunt fox squirrels in our neck of the woods, the biggest species of tree squirrels-- we believe. They are meaty and provide great table fare. 

Servings: 2
Prep Time: 4 1/2 hours
Cooking Time: 5 minutes each side
- 2 squirrels
Marinade Ingredients
- 4 tablespoons of vegetable oil
- juice of 2 limes
- 2 tablespoons of white wine vinegar
- 4 scallions, chopped
- 1 tablespoon of ground allspice
- 1 serrano chili pepper, roughly chopped
- 3 cloves of garlic
- 1 tablespoon of fresh peeled ginger, roughly chopped
- 2 tablespoons of brown sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon of dried thyme
- 1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon of kosher salt

1. Here's how you break down a squirrel. Cut legs off at the joints. Cut the body in half just below where the ribs end. Cut off or keep the belly flaps (there are probably better words to describe it) as you wish. 

Then with a very sharp, pointy knife-- like a filet knife-- carefully remove as much of the silver skin as you can to free up the muscles underneath for a more tender end product. Don't remove so much that you're throwing away good meat though. 

2. Next, combine marinade ingredients in a food processor. Pulse until smooth and spoon out some sauce into a small container, like 1/4 cup, for dipping later. Pour the rest of the marinade in a zip-lock bag and add the squirrel. Massage the bag to evenly distribute marinade and refrigerate for at least 4 hours. 
3. Prepare grill. Cook squirrels directly over the coals, about 5 minutes each side or until cooked through. Do not overcook-- this will dry out the meat and make it tough. Cooking time will depend on the size of your critters. 
4. Crack open some cold beer and chow down with your bare hands! Grilled squirrel makes good beer food. 

You will need napkins. 

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Vietnamese Spring Rolls with Venison

This is similar to one of our older recipes-- Vietnamese Spring Rolls with Shrimp and Teal, except it's served with "nuoc cham," a staple dipping sauce in Vietnamese cooking. It's salty, citrusy and slightly sweet and spicy. You will see these rolls in restaurants filled with shrimp and thin slices of boiled pork. Instead or pork, we seared some venison tenderloin and it turned out just as good! It's a perfect for summer-- like a refreshing salad wrapped in spring roll wrappers. It's also easy to whip up. Keep some wrappers and rice noodles on hand and you can have these anytime. You can fill them with anything you want. 

Servings: 3-4 appetizers, or 2 meals
Prep Time: about 1 hour
Cooking Time: 10 minutes
- 1 pound of venison tenderloin or steaks
- half a package (5 ounces) of fine rice sticks/Vietnamese vermicelli rice noodles (It might say “bun giang tay-shoi nho” on it.)
- about 20 raw shrimp, deveined and shells removed
- 2 small persian cucumbers (or mini cucumbers)
- a bunch of mint leaves
- spring roll wrappers (about 14-16)
- 1 tablespoon of olive oil
- salt and pepper, to taste
Dipping Sauce
- 1 clove of garlic, minced
- 2 tablespoons of sugar
- 2 1/2 tablespoons of fish sauce
- 1/2 cup of water
- 1 teaspoon of Sambal Oelek ground fresh chili paste, or to taste (I think we got ours at Hy-Vee. From Huy Fong Foods, same makers of Sriracha sauce)
- juice of half a large lime, or juice of one small lime

1. We suggest cooking rice noodles at least half an hour before you start assembling the rolls. Rice noodles take a long time to dry. When they’re just cooked, they are too wet to eat and work with. 

Cook noodles according to package directions, usually 4-5 minutes in boiling water. Drain noodles in a colander and  rinse noodles under cold water. Rice noodles release a starchy substance that need to be washed off. Just run water over the noodles under the faucet and allow to drain at room temperature for at least half and hour. You will notice that the noodles will become dry and sticky.

2. Remove all silver skin and fat from venison. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a skillet over medium-high heat and then cook venison up to medium. 

Boil a pot of water and add shrimp. Boil shrimp until pink and cooked through, about 5 minutes. You can buy pre-cooked shrimp, but do not buy frozen pre-cooked shrimp. They are watery and tasteless.

3. Cut cucumbers into matchsticks and pick mint leaves from stems. You can even scoop out the seeds in the cucumbers to only eat the crispy part.

We prefer Persian cucumbers because they are more crispy and thin-skinned. 
4. Slice shrimp in half lengthwise. Then slice venison thinly against the grain and into small bite size pieces.
5. Next, fill a large container with warm or hot water. Quickly wet spring roll wrappers, shake off excess water and lay on a clean, flat surface. Wait until wrappers are pliable, then add some rice noodles, cucumber, venison and mint leaves towards the bottom. 
Add three pieces of shrimp towards the middle, pink/stripy side down for presentation. 
Then fold over the sides and the bottom over the filling. Next, tightly roll up the filling. 
Think dainty burrito.
6. Combine all dipping sauce ingredients and mix well. Serve rolls with sauce on the side. These can be made ahead of time, but keep them covered so they don't dry out. 

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