Squirrel & Dumplings Soup (acorn dumplings too)
My wife and I each caught a cold virus last week. Chicken soup and plenty of fluids is the traditional good remedy, but we had no chicken. We do, however, have a freezer full of dressed squirrels (yes, from casual to evening wear...ba-dop-bop!). So, chicken noodle soup became squirrel noodle soup, and I decided to make it even more traditional and belly warming by adding dumplings. I remember with great fondness the dumpling soups my mom and grandma would make: giant kettles of soup (grandma had 11 kids of her own and always an assortment of cousins and grown-ups wandering in and out of the farmhouse on any given day) with big white, glistening dumplings floating on top. They were wonderful. Hot and doughy on the outside, soft and bready on the inside. Arguably the pinnacle of comfort food.
BTW, this recipe is for friend Tim Suchoki, whose birthday it is and who asked me to share the recipe. Happy birthday Tim.
I made two separate batches, two days apart, one with regular white flour dumplings and one with acorn flour dumplings. I used two squirrels, plus their giblets, per batch (hearts and kidneys) (the livers wouldn't go well here, so I sauteed them and ate on toast while the dumplings were simmering). The second batch that I made the following day, was more of a stone soup recipe, as I decided to use a few things off the cuff, so to speak. I'll give the basic, extremely-loose-on-amounts recipe, understanding that the second batch really only differed in a few spices and the addition of acorn flour to the dumplings.
* 2 squirrels, cleaned, with hearts & kidneys
* stock, about 2 quarts. Chicken stock is preferred, but I used some turkey stock I made from the Thanksgiving turkey for the first batch. Second batch I used a combination of turkey, squirrel and beef stock, as I had some partial containers of each to use up.
* 4 or 5 carrots, diced about ½"
* 1 or 2 white onions, diced about ½"
* 3 or 4 garlic cloves, fine dice
* any other veg you might want to add (I added peas to the second batch)
* egg noodles
* spices (I used fresh thyme & sage, as well as dried cayenne, celery seed, red pepper flakes, basil flakes and of course sea salt and crushed peppercorns. a bay leaf or two doesn't hurt either.)
* butter or bacon fat
* 2 cups flour (for the acorn dumpling I used about 1½ cups reg flour and ½ cup acorn flour)
* 4 tsp baking powder
* 1 tsp baking soda
* pinch salt
* pinch of grated nutmeg if using acorn flour
* ¾ cup milk
* couple tbl butter or lard
Cover squirrels is salted water and bring to a hard simmer until the meat is falling off the bones. Periodically skim the scum from the surface. Remove the squirrels and allow them to cool enough to handle. Save the water as you'll be able to use this in the soup.
Once the squirrels are cool enough to handle remove the meat from the bones. Pay particular attention around the spines and ribs. There are some small bones in those areas, so take your time when picking everything clean.
Sweat the onion and garlic in bacon fat or butter until the onion is soft and translucent. Add the squirrel meat, giblets, and spices, and saute just long enough for everything to make a first impression, just a few minutes. Add stock to the pot with the squirrel broth (you should have only a cup or two of the broth), add the meat/onion/spice mix, any veg you might want as well as a bay leaf or two. Heat to simmering.
I like to cook the noodles separately and add as I bowl it before eating, otherwise they tend to get a bit too soft. But you can do that now if you wish, or wait until you're ready to eat. After all, egg noodles only take 5 or 6 minutes to cook. There apparently is some debate over the appropriateness of having both noodles and dumplings in a soup. I like both, so that's what I did, convention be danged.
You can, of course, bowl it up and eat right now. It's great just like this. But if you do want to add dumplings it's easy enough to whip up a batch.
For the dumplings, mix together all of the dry ingredients. I added a pinch of freshly grated nutmeg to the acorn dumplings because I think it adds a little magic in bringing out the acorny goodness. In a small pot add the butter or lard to the milk and gently warm until the fat melts. Whisk to blend. Add the liquid to the dry ingredients and roughly and quickly mix until the dough just comes together in a rather ragged manner.
Roll the dough out into rough balls, but don't work it too much or compact the dough balls. Rough and quick is the way to go.
Gently drop the dumplings into the simmering soup, cover and cook for 10 or 12 minutes. When done the insides will be like freshly baked bread: kind of between moist and dry, and bready in texture.
That's it. I like my dumplings best right away. If they sit too long in the liquid they get heavy and doughy. My wife, however, likes them heavy and doughy. To each his own.