Now I wouldn't mind tasting a little squirrel fricassee (particularly a few of the pesky scamps eating the tomatoes in my backyard), but I haven't ever had the opportunity ... yet. So what does squirrel taste like? I asked Jefferson City-based writer Dryden. Chicken?
"It's actually pretty good," says Dryden, who created and taste-tested recipes for rabbit, squirrel, pheasant, wild duck, wild turkey, catfish and walleye for the 198-page softcover cookbook published by the Missouri Department of Conservation this year. "It does taste a little like chicken, but the meat is darker and leaner."
Dryden, who worked as publications editor for the Missouri Department of Conservation for over two decades, created more than 100 dishes — appetizers, salads, savory stews, main courses and desserts — for the book, which the MDC hopes will "inspire beginner and advanced cooks to savor Missouri's game, fish, nuts, fruits and mushrooms."
This isn't the first cookbook published by the Missouri Department of Conservation: for decades, The MDC produced a small, 142-page book — a booklet, really — called Cy Littlebee's Guide to Cooking Fish & Game (it has become a collectible for hunters and fishermen), written by the fictional hunter Cy Littlebee, the nom de plume of MDC employee Werner Nagel.
"That book was written in the vernacular of the Ozark country folk," Dryden says, "and had recipes for a lot of fried this and fried that. But it continues to be a big seller for the department. It's in its 17th printing."
Dryden's book takes a more elegant approach to cooking with native Missouri game, nuts and fruits. It's international, even: There are recipes for venison moussaka, a Thai venison salad, Korean barbecued venison, duck rumaki, Moroccan spice-rubbed quail, and bass-and-crappie spring rolls.
Dryden is especially proud of her recipe for smoked paddlefish Nicoise salad and venison kabobs. The book is available in select gift shops and through the MDC online Nature Shop; Dryden will appear, later this year, at a book signing at the Anita Gorman Conservation Discovery Center at 4750 Troost.
Cut three squirrels in pieces and boil for one and a half to three hours until just before the meat falls off the bones. Remove pieces from the pot and set broth aside for later use. Roll the pieces in seasoned flour, and brown them in a little oil in a big cast-iron skillet (make sure it is deep and has a good-fitting lid). Remove the squirrels and set aside. Then get busy making gravy.
To make gravy, add hot broth to the skillet containing the drippings. Stir well. In a cup, mix some of the broth with flour to make a paste. Add that to the pan and whisk until gravy is thickened to your satisfaction. At this point I usually add sauteed mushrooms and fresh garlic, parsley and black pepper. Add squirrel pieces to the gravy.
Make the drop biscuits using your favorite recipe. Drop the batter by heaping teaspoons atop the meat and gravy in the skillet. Place the lid on tightly and cook on top of the stove until the dumplings are done.