Squizzotto: squirrel and wild garlic risotto


1 grey squirrel, skinned & cleaned
1 small onion, half roughly sliced, half finely chopped
Plenty of butter
Black peppercorns
1 bay leaf
Sprig thyme
A little white wine
200g risotto rice or barley Handful wild garlic, chopped 50g strong cheddar or Parmesan

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Delicious depth of not too heavy flavour here, risotto makes us think Italian, so we’d go with a Tuscan from the home estate of one of the great oenologists of the modern era: 2016 TOSCANA ROSSO IGT Podere Giodo di Carlo Ferrini, which is a pure Sangiovese from the young vines on his Montalcino vineyard, or from Piedmont, a classic match in 2015 BAROLO Andrea Oberto, which had a lovely dusty dark fruit and fine tannins.

It’s surprising how often people turn up their nose at eating squirrel. Often dismissed as flying rats – as if eating rat is in any way discreditable: the sailors of Nelson’s navy cherished a well-fed miller once port rations had run low – meat is meat. Plus, I find squirrel delicious. Not our lovely native Nutkins of course, but the ubiquitous American grey. Younger squizzers shot in the autumn can be simply skinned and roasted, but older, tougher individuals need slower cooking to tenderise the meat, as with this recipe.

Begin by poaching the squirrel: this will handily also provide the stock for the risotto. In a small casserole pan with a tight fitting lid, sweat the sliced onion with a few peppercorns and a bay leaf for a minute or two. Add the squirrel cut into three pieces; the haunches, the shoulders, and the saddle. Add the thyme and a dash of white wine and cook for a further 5 minutes. Cover the squirrel with water and bring to the boil. Turn down the heat and simmer slowly with the lid on until the squirrel is tender and the meat comes away from the bones.

Take out the meat and cool on a plate. Pass the stock into a clean pan and set aside on the stove, keeping warm. Pick the squirrel meat, discarding the bones.

Sweat the finely chopped onion with a little more thyme in a good knob of butter. Add the rice and coat with the butter for a few minutes, stirring all the time. Add half a glass of wine and cook for a few more minutes until the raw wine flavour has left the pan: keep sniffing until the acidity vanishes from the aroma. Ladle and stir in the stock, switching to water if the stock runs out, for 15-20 minutes until the rice is just cooked. Once the rice is cooked to your liking turn off the heat and add the picked squirrel meat. Stir in the wild garlic and season well. Finally stir in a few knobs of butter. Serve with grated cheddar or Parmesan.