Filson Food: Squirrel Carnitas

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Hunting squirrels is no easy task. However, if you are lucky enough to catch one of these elusive creatures, these carnitas will prove that it’s well worth the effort. This recipe was provided by renowned wild game chef Hank Shaw, and is inspired by his squirrel hunt 25 miles north of the Mexican border. To learn more about squirrels and how to hunt them, listen to this episode of Shaw’s Hunt Gather Talk podcast.


Ingredients

2 – 4 Squirrels, or 2 Cottontail Rabbits, or 1 Domestic Rabbit

Salt

1 Cup fresh lard or butter (see note below)

3 Avocados or bay leaves (optional)

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Instructions

  1. Cut the squirrels into serving pieces, or not if preferred. Cutting them makes it easier to bag them up, but you don’t have to. Rinse briefly under cold water, then salt them well. Put the meat into a covered container and let them rest in the fridge overnight, about 8 hours.
  2. Rinse the meat off and pat it dry; note that if you are using pork you don’t need to salt it this way first. The overnight brine helps keep wild meats moister. Pack the squirrel pieces into a vacuum bag with the fat and avocado or bay leaves, and then seal.
  3. Submerge the bag in a large pot of hot water, about 160 F or thereabouts, and hold it there for 3 to 4 hours. If you have a sous vide machine, it’s ideal for this, but a stockpot will do. If you are unsure whether the meat is tender, err on giving it more time.
  4. When the meat wants to fall off the bone, remove the bags from the hot water, open into a large bowl, and let them cool enough to handle. Discard the leaves. Shred the meat off the bones and discard the bones.
  5. Take some of the fat from the bag and heat it in a large frying pan. A cast iron pan is ideal. Be aware it will likely pop and sizzle because there will be some juice from the meat still in it. As soon as it starts popping furiously, add all the shredded meat in one layer. Sear hard for about 4 minutes, not moving the meat. You want one side of the meat crispy and the other tender.
  6. Serve in tacos, burritos, on a huarache … or however you want!
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See the full blog post from Hank on his website.

 

NOTE: I only use freshly rendered lard here, not the shelf-stable stuff, which is bad for you. Duck fat is another good choice, but you can easily find manteca, the Spanish word for lard, in any Latin market.