Wednesday, February 18, 2009

I'm Game, Are You?

Squirrels are not exactly near the top of the favorite foods list for most people who fancy themselves connoisseurs of the finer things in life. But the bushy tailed and ubiquitous little rodents were featured in the dining section of the New York Times last month, picking up on a story that originally appeared in the UK. It seems they’ve become popular fare in England. One butcher was quoted as saying they have a sweet taste that suggests a cross of lamb and duck, another characterized it as rabbit meets pork. Contemplating this fact, the concept of free range meat takes on an entirely new meaning.

I’m as likely to consume cute animals as less appealing critters but I have a hard time wrapping my mind around the idea of sitting down to enjoy a plate of braised squirrel. Just call me chicken. And I think it’s going to be a long long time before this British fad takes root here. I checked around and could not find a single local restaurant with it on the menu (though those with a taste for game can try medallions of elk at Gamekeepers Tavern in Chagrin Falls and Bass Lake Taverne in Chardon). Given the large and ready supply of squirrels aka tree rats in the area, this might be a real opportunity for some adventurous food focused entrepreneur. Many such types were among the 400 folks who reserved a spot at last night’s E4S gathering to explore the future of local food as a tool for economic development. Or perhaps chefs concerned with cutting costs and eager to serve local products might want to go out and get their own. One word of warning- I hear they’re a bear to skin.

I was reminded of the squirrel story last week. My son Nathan and I had dinner at Wonton Gourmet on Payne Avenue. He’d long wanted to venture into the culinary deep end, trying dishes that may be home cooking to some but are unconventional and unknown to him. I was enlisted as his trusty sidekick and fellow adventurer. This restaurant caters to a primarily Chinese clientele so we were sure to find what we- well really what he- was looking for.
Scanning the menu my eye alighted on the appetizing word combination “deep fried.” But my hopes were dashed by the next two words “pork intestines.” Nope. Not going there. Not now. Not ever. Same for the white tripe in black bean sauce and the intestines (source not specified) with sweet and sour mustard greens. He chose cold jellyfish salad to share as an appetizer. I admit, I was squeamish. But we were in this together. Luckily, it looked like a plate of noodles and not the quivering, gelatinous mass I had feared. The strips atop crunchy vinegared vegetables tasted fantastic- chewy, briny, and slightly sweet .
Maybe this means that one day, some day, I might even be up for squirrel kabobs.

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