Nice one, squirrel, say Britain's discerning diners

Martin Hickes

IN THE 1970s it was chicken-in-the-basket, in the Eighties it was curry and Chardonnay – and now in the “Noughties” it could well be pot-roasted squirrel.

Squirrel may not be everyone’s choice of haute cuisine, but restaurateurs, in a trend which appears to spreading from the United States, are increasingly turning to more and more exotic dishes to woo gastronomes.

And so at a place near you soon may well be a dish which landowners often regard as a pest – but which canny chefs are increasingly recognising as a sweet-tasting, cheap and plentiful food.

Trendy restaurants are serving variants on grey squirrel dishes, which may often include pot-roasted squirrel, squirrel and dumplings, or squirrel fricassee.

Sir Terence Conran’s fashionable Chop House, beside Tower Bridge on the River Thames, has seen a surge of interest after it put 16 grey squirrel on the menu three weeks ago.

Head chef Craig James said: “One of my suppliers said he had a good number coming through and asked if we wanted to see a sample. I was not sure whether people would take to it to start with. But we’ve actually managed to sell 120 or 130 of them. We have even sold out on occasion.”

Kent-based chef and restaurateur Jason Chamberlain and partner Hayley sell up to 40 dishes of pot-roasted squirrel each week at the Crown at Eythorne, nestled in the rolling downs of the Garden of England, and he is sure the dish will catch on across the country.

He said: “Most people either tend to think of squirrels as being either something out of a children’s story book or a rat with a bushy tail.

“What they don’t always appreciate is that it does actually make a delicious meal and is a very sweet and succulent meat.

“It normally benefits the most from a recipe which allows it to cook over a longer period as it is one of the more sinewy meats, but it’s certainly worth the effort. They are especially nice with hazelnut accompaniments and such like.”

Oliver Jackson, from the award-winning restaurant and bar Oliver-Paris, Leeds, said he did not serve squirrel presently, but was intrigued.

He added: “We also keep a watchful eye on what is happening in the industry and in the past we have taken our cue from trends which are happening in the south or abroad. We’ve never served squirrel yet, but I am very intrigued by the possibility, if its basic supply and hygiene requirements were to meet all our usual standards. So watch this space.”

According to the US website, squirrel is high in vitamin B12, low in fat and a good source of iron, but high in cholesterol.

As a dish, it gained some popularity during the Second World War among rural homes when, because of rationing, families turned to more readily available sources of food at little expense.