Squirrel hunting has quickly become one of my favorite things to do in the fall. When I was a kid my grandfather would give me his old .22 and let me go shoot squirrels all around his lake home. There were always plenty of squirrels up there and he didn't want them any where near his martin houses. It wasn't until much later in life that I decided to cook a squirrel and when I did I was amazed at how good it actually was. The meat is sweet and nutty and has a slightly chewy texture but that goes away if you cook it right. Ever since then I have been spending quite a bit of time in the squirrel woods and loving every minute of it.
Squirrel hunting is a wonderful way to introduce people to hunting, it requires many of the same skills that deer hunting requires only on a smaller scale. In many ways squirrel hunting can be just as challenging. Early in the season squirrels disappear in the canopy of trees and can hide almost in plain sight. When you do get an opportunity to shoot a squirrel you have to be on it in a hurry or it will disappear again. Many people hunt squirrels with a shotgun but I prefer to use a .22 caliber rifle. It is a little bit more sporting and you don't end up with pellets all throughout you meat. It also requires you to practice your shooting, a .22 isn't that big of a bullet but if you hit a squirrel in the shoulders or further back on the body it can destroy some of the meat. Trying to hit a squirrel in front of the shoulders and in the head is like trying to shoot a quarter at distances up to 50 yards a way. That isn't always easy to do, if you use a shotgun you can increase the number of squirrels you get but like I said earlier I don't like all the pellets in the meat.
I have cooked squirrel every different way you can imagine and last year wrote a nice piece about squirrel hunting that featured a fried squirrel and waffles, I have made stews and even made a squirrel confit that was pretty damn good. This year I was thinking I would go out on a limb and try something completely new. Squirrel requires a little more cooking to make it tender so I was thinking about making a soup. One of my all time favorite soups is a Chinese Hot and Sour soup, the first time I had it I was about 8 and my Great Auntie Boots had take me to the original Lee Ann Chins, I have been in love with that soup ever since. Oddly, I have never tried making it myself, on one of my last squirrel hunts I started thinking that maybe I should give it a try with squirrel.
I found a good recipe online and started my prep work, the first thing I noticed was that there are some very different ingredients that I had never heard of. The first was Chinese black mushrooms and the second were dried lily buds. After a quick trip to the local Asian market I was able to find both ingredients. The directions say to soak the mushrooms in hot water for a half hour so I did that and was shock at how big they got after re hydrating. Like most Chinese cooking it is really helpful to have everything ready ahead of time. this soup goes together very quickly and you don't want to be cutting stuff up while you try to make it.
I stuck pretty close to the original recipe really the only things I changed was, I used 10 oz. of squirrel meat instead of 5 oz of pork. I also used oyster mushrooms instead of the wood ear mushrooms, also I used 6 cups of chicken stock instead of 4. The soup turned out exactly as I wanted it to. It tasted almost as good as the hot and sour soup I used to get at Lee Ann Chins, the squirrel really added to the soup giving it another layer of flavor. Most hot and sour soups use pork and it doesn't really taste like anything, the squirrel gave the soup an additional texture and the meat still held it nuttiness. Now that I have made my own Hot and Sour soup I don't know that I will be ordering it out anytime soon.