Squirrel meat is rich, nutty, and flavorful, more than holding its own in recipes with lots of spice or long cooking times. About the only downside is the meat can be tough and dry, particularly in older animals. This French cooking process known as confit (pronounced kon fee), first salts the meat for a day to cure, then submerges it in flavorful duck fat—you may have to befriend a waterfowler— where it slow cooks at low temperatures, turning tough meat tender. Enjoy.
- 4–5 squirrels, quartered, ribs removed from back section
- 2 cups duck fat
- 2 cups lard
- 3 bay leaves
- 1/2 cup turbinado sugar
- 1/2 tsp. pink curing salt (Insta Cure #1)
- 1 cup salt
- 1 tbs. black pepper
- 2 tsp. dried thyme
- Mix the salt, sugar, curing salt, pepper and thyme in a large bowl. Press each piece of squirrel into the mixture, evenly coating both sides. Place the salted squirrel in a single layer on a baking sheet. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 24 to 48 hours. Longer curing times will result in a slightly saltier finished product.
- When you’re ready to cook the squirrel, heat the fat in a slow cooker on low until it has melted. Rinse the squirrel portions under running water to remove any of the remaining cure mixture, then pat dry. Place the rinsed and dried squirrel pieces into the melted duck fat and lard, making sure they are completely submerged. Add the bay leaves. Place the lid on the slow cooker and cook on low for 8 to 10 hours.
- Once the squirrel has finished cooking, use tongs to remove each piece from the fat and move the pieces directly to a cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. Brown the surface of the squirrel for 2 to 3 minutes per side. Browning adds an extra layer of flavor and crisps the surface of the meat.
- We like to serve the squirrel confit over potato gnocchi that has been boiled then sautéed in some of the reserved cooking fat from the slow cooker. The fat that remains in the slow cooker is packed full of flavor. Strain the remaining fat through cheesecloth and store in the refrigerator for another confit or for pan-searing steaks or potatoes.
- Garnish the dish with finely chopped flat leaf parsley and diced red bell pepper for a bit of crunch and sweetness.