Squirrel meat, it’s controversial. At least in this house, and among many of my friends. I love hunting them, the season is incredibly long, and the subspecies are varied. I often try to vacuum seal a few of them at a time per bag because when I want a meal I need a few squirrels to make it. But when it comes to actually turn it into a meal, I get upturned noses and “not tonight” from my family. What gives? As a friend of a friend once said “If you don’t like squirrel it’s because you ain’t cookin’ it right!” Truer words. A misstep in college put a bad taste in my wife’s mouth to the chicken of the trees early on in our relationship. Squirrel Banh Mi should be a gateway food and serve to remedy that. After all, who doesn’t like a meaty, pickle-y, toasty sandwich?
About Banh Mi
The Banh Mi is simply a short baguette, but in it’s more common form it’s often split lengthwise and filled with savory ingredients similar to a sub sandwich. The bread is lightly toasted and it creates a textural symphony of sandwich delight as textures and tastes mingle and contrast. The French introduced the baguette to Vietnam during their colonialism of the region in the mid 19th century.
During the 1950’s a sandwich developed in Saigon called the bánh mì Sài Gòn or literally the Saigon Sandwich. Post Vietnam war the Vietnamese ex-pat community in America, Canada, Australia, and other countries popularized the sandwich with non-Vietnamese eaters. The rules for banh mi are that there are no rules. While it is generally a meat and vegetable based sandwich on a french short baguette, it doesn’t need to be. Which brings us to our protein of choice.
Squirrel and the Hmong
I was inspired for the dish after listening to a recent MeatEater podcast driving through the mountains thinking about the upcoming squirrel season. I’d known about the thriving Hmong population in the midwestern US but not their affection for Mr. Bushytail, not unlike my own. It seems that the Hmong people that assisted with the Vietnam War in Laos when they emigrated and subsequently settled in the United States took to squirrel hunting once they got their bearings.
There’s now a thriving population of Hmong small game hunters in the midwestern United States centered around the Twin Cities region. So much so that there had been anecdotal worries that there was a potential for overharvesting squirrels in the region. The Minnesota DNR had no evidence to support actual overharvesting or local extirpation.
The Quick Pickle
In this recipe we make use of a quick pickle. That is, we soak our veggies in a little bit of sugar and vinegar to add a little tang to the party. While quick pickling can be done overnight in the refrigerator ours is the lightning round of quick pickles. We’re going to do at most 20 minutes of pickling of our cut veggies before assembly.
Braised and Picked Squirrel
- 2 Squirrels, larger work better.
- 1 Tbsp vegetable oil
- 1 quart beef broth
- 1 medium onion, peeled and quartered
- 1 tsp granulated garlic
- 1 Bay leaf
The braised squirrel can be made ahead of time in the crock pot. Cooking time varies based on the size and the age of the squirrels used, but figure something like 4 hours for younger squirrels and up to 6 hours for an older tougher bushytail.
- Pour your beef broth into the bowl of the crock pot, and set to it’s high setting.
- Quarter your medium onion and place in the crock pot.
- Quarter your squirrels, ensure all hair has been removed from the skin of the game meat. Inspect for errant shotgun pellets or bullet fragments. You’ll get another chance when you’re picking the meat.
- Quickly sear your squirrel on all sides in a cast iron skillet in the 1 Tbsp vegetable oil, this helps ensure a nicer color to the finished product and not grey boiled meat. Salt meat to taste with kosher salt.
- Place quartered squirrel meat into the crockpot, sprinkle 1 tsp granulated garlic across the top and add 1 bay leaf.
- Ensure squirrel meat is covered by broth, you can add water to cover.
- Cover crockpot and simmer for 4-6 hours, shifting pieces of squirrel meat about to ensure even cooking.
- When squirrel meat is mostly fork tender, remove from crockpot and let cool for 10-15 minutes or until you can handle with your fingers.
- Pull squirrel meat off the bones, and discard bones.
Sandwich Pickles and Accoutrements
- One cucumber, sliced thinly
- Two medium sized radishes, sliced thinly
- One Carrot, peeled
- 1 cup apple cider vinegar
- 1 Tbsp white sugar
- 2-3 peppercorns
- In a small saucepot add the apple cider vinegar, sugar, and peppercorns and heat over medium heat just until sugar is dissolved stirring as neccesary. Remove from heat and put in a glass or ceramic bowl until cool.
- Slice your cucumbers and radishes into thin slices, peel the outer layer of the carrot and then just keep peeling after discarding the outer peelings.
- Place your fresh veggies into your vinegar mixture and allow to sit in the refrigerator, uncovered until you build your sandwich or covered overnight.
- Separately roughly chop your fresh cilantro and slice your green onions into small bite sized rounds. Set aside for sandwich assembly time.
Here you’ll need all the pickles and braised squirrel meat from above, with the addition of a couple extras.
- Braised Squirrel Meat
- 1/2 Tbsp Soy sauce
- 1 tsp Dried, powdered ginger
- Quick Pickled Veggies and greenery from section above
- 1/3 cup fresh cilantro, roughly chopped
- Two green onions, sliced
- French baguette, sliced lengthwise and then widthwise into 2 12″ buns.
- Butter, softened
- Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit
- Slice your baguette lengthwise, and cut into 12ish inch buns.
- Butter the inside of the bun with a healthy amount of butter for toasting.
- Place buns on a rimmed baking sheet and put into the preheated oven for 10 minutes or until brown and crispy.
- Quickly warm your braised squirrel meat in a small skillet on medium heat. Add a little fat, butter works nicely here. Sprinkle with soy sauce and powdered ginger to taste.
- Once squirrel meat is warmed through, remove from heat and set aside.
- Bring toasted baguette from the oven, spread your mayonnaise on both sides. Line one side with a healthy handful of braised and warmed ginger soy squirrel meat.
- On the reverse side of the bun lay down a layer of pickled cucumber, radish slices, and carrots.
- Top with green onions and cilantro.
- Enjoy the crispy, meaty, tangy squirrel sandwich of your dreams.