Chicken of the tree
Henri is a fool for Chico’s wildest delicacy
No one is more thrilled than Henri about the abundance of locally grown and produced food here in the Chico area. Especially now that it’s almost the first of April and the kiosks at the farmers’ markets are overflowing with wonder and goodness, all of it fresh.
But the very best fresh, local food? Chico’s best-kept green culinary secret?
Cageless, free-range, non-GMO, certified-organic Bidwell Park ground squirrel! Sacré bleu! Delish! Those little front legs? To die for!
Especially with just the right wine. I love pairing local squirrel with a decent peanut noir, while a cabernut sauvignon can really bring out the meat’s delicate nuances. Either way, served in a Klean Kanteen, of course.
And speaking of fresh: just over 72 hours from pavement to plate!
Not that Henri gets all his squirrel from roadways, but it just doesn’t seem right to leave them there, flattened against the Vallombrosa asphalt, their skinny little tails sticking limply up, waving in the wind-wake of each passing car.
Of course sometimes the little guys are too flattened to do much with at all, cuisine-wise, but not to fear: they still make wonderful chapeaus. Think Davy Crockett. Think Frontierland.
On the other hand, sometimes they’re not flattened enough. In fact, on more than one occasion I’ve had to instruct Colette to navigate Pierre toward twitching lumps of gray fur in the road so that at least one of the car’s tires ensures complete extermination.
In addition to being absolutely delicious, Bidwell Park ground squirrel is high in protein and low in fat and calories. Plus, it’s gluten-free! (The related species, the Chico State ground squirrel, is also delicious, though neither as lean nor as intelligent—but, then, easier to apprehend live.)
Fried, fricasseed, sautéed, baked, or grilled—it’s all bon. It’s also very good in juice, with various greens, berries and vegetables, and lately, Colette has taken to making delicious Bidwell Park ground squirrel smoothies. And of course, the hind legs make the perfect garnish for Bloody Marys. My favorite, though, is this deep, rich stew, made with all local ingredients.
Henri’s Bidwell Park Ground Squirrel Stew
2 Bidwell Park ground squirrels (dead)
1/2 cup Chico almond flour (sifted)
1/4 cup Lucero extra-virgin olive oil
3 cloves Chico garlic (minced)
2 bottles Sierra Nevada Narwhal imperial stout
1 bottle New Clairvaux viognier
2 cups Chico vegetable broth
2 cups Big Chico Creek water
4 medium Chico potatoes (cubed)
1 medium Chico onion (sliced)
2 medium Chico green bell peppers (chopped)
4 medium Chico carrots (sliced)
Skin and cut squirrel into bite-size pieces (saving skin and tail for cap). Place in Chico Bag with the almond flour. Go out on your front porch and shake it around over your head for half an hour, preferably while singing “Brown-Eyed Squirrel.” In large pot or Dutch oven, heat olive oil and add garlic. Add the little flour-coated squirrel pieces, and brown on each side, one to two minutes. Scrape up brown bits and stir. Add beer, wine, vegetable broth and water. Bring to boil, and reduce heat. Simmer for three days. Add potatoes, onions, bell peppers and carrots. Simmer for 20 minutes or until vegetables are done.
Serve over Lundberg Farms organic brown basmati and wild rice.
In addition to the wines listed above, you might also try the Acorn Red or Nutty White from Three Squirrels Winery (www.threesquirrelswinery.com) in Missouri.
For those who prefer their squirrel prepackaged, I believe both S&S Organic Produce and Chico Natural Foods carry Bidwell Park ground squirrel prepared several different ways, including one in a wonderful kombucha-and-soy-yogurt marinade, one with a rub made with flax seeds and goji berries, and another stuffed with kale, tofu, tempeh and Pine Creek Slough crawdads. And, word is that The Galley sells a lovely Bidwell Park ground-squirrel brie, and that Costco carries Bidwell Park ground squirrel frozen in packages of 500.