Sous Vide Fried Squirrel
If you received a new sous vide unit for Christmas and are wondering what all you can cook with it, the short answer is just about anything. If you aren't familiar with sous vide cooking, it's a water circulation unit with a built-in heater. Food gets sealed in a food-safe bag, then submerged in the gently moving heated water for a period of time.
The benefit of sous vide is that you can cook food at much lower temperatures over a longer period of time without overcooking. The long cook times help tenderize meat, meaning you can take tougher roasts like venison sirloin tips and cook them for extreme periods of time, making them fork tender but still keeping them a nice medium-rare.
Older squirrels definitely fall into the tougher category of game meat. Squirrels never stop moving, and their meat is very lean. That combination makes for some serious chew when they are cooked using hot and fast cooking methods like frying.
By cooking the squirrel first with the sous vide unit, we can tenderize the meat of even a grizzled old gray-faced fox squirrel to the point of being able to bite it easily off the bone. While meat prepared sous vide is fully cooked, it doesn't have the extra flavor and appealing appearance of meat cooked over high heat to brown the surface. For this recipe, we take the cooked squirrel, dredge it in seasoned flour, then pan-fry it for a few minutes to a crispy golden brown. The combination of cooking methods yields some of the best and most tender fried squirrel you can eat.
Since squirrel is such a lean meat, I like to introduce a little fat to the cooking process by adding it to the sealed bag with the meat. My favorites for added flavor are lard and duck fat. Simply add a spoonful of either to the bag before sealing.
For the cooking bag, use either your vacuum sealer or a freezer-weight zip-style bag that you have squeezed all the air from before sealing.
3 to 4 squirrels, cleaned and separated into leg and back sections
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons of either lard or duck fat
Oil for pan-frying
2 cups all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons paprika
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon black pepper
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon basil
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon thyme
Clean the squirrels and separate them into 4 legs and a back section. Season the meat well with salt and pepper. Add the squirrel to a zip-style or vacuum sealer bag.
Add 2 tablespoons of either lard or duck fat. The fat will melt and distribute throughout the bag as the meat cooks. Seal the bag.
Set your sous vide unit at 155 degrees. Set the time for 6 hours. That's it. Just walk away and let the squirrel slowly cook. Here's a sous vide tip: Cover the container with plastic wrap, a silicone cover, or a lid to keep the water from evaporating over longer cooks.
Once the squirrel is finished cooking, open the bag and move it to a platter to let the meat rest a few minutes. Mix your seasoned flour ingredients. Heat 1/2 inch of vegetable or peanut oil or lard in a cast-iron skillet.
Dredge each piece of squirrel in the seasoned flour. Drop the floured squirrel a piece at a time into the hot oil. Work in batches so you don't overcrowd the pan. Since the squirrel is fully cooked, all you need to do is develop a crispy golden crust. Fry for 2 to 3 minutes per side, or until the squirrel is the color you desire.