Let Us Now Praise Famous Soups And the cultures who created them.

By on November 11, 2012
Hmong Squirrel Stew

Hmong Squirrel Stew

My son, Jay, pointed me to a gorgeous website/blog called hunter angler gardener cook and can be found at www.honest-food.net.  The author, Hank Shaw, got his chops as a political writer in D.C. but just couldn’t get away from his true heart’s desires: hunting, fishing, gardening, and cooking.  Oh, and I forgot to mention his true métier, which is writing.  Such a graceful writer.

And so now he has created this thoughtful website which I recommend to you without reservation. And even if you don’t hunt or fish,  you’ll like this site.

So this week, he put up a recipe for Hmong Squirrel Stew.  According to Hank, when the Hmong people came to the states after the Viet Nam War, they had no idea there were such things as fish and game rules and they nearly wiped out the squirrel populations in California and Texas.

Because, while most urban and suburban folk consider squirrels to be little better than rats with tails, they would not consider eating them.

Squirrels: Pets, Pests, or Meat

Texas had a slightly different take on the lowly squirrel.  An East Texas story poses the question; what is an East Texas Seven Course Dinner?  And the answer is a squirrel and a six pack.

My husband Joe, like our son Jay, was a hunter and bagged a squirrel or two.  I cooked one once, but it did look – in its pot ready state – a lot like a rat – and I never cooked another one.  What did it taste like?  I honestly can’t remember.

But when I saw Hank Shaw’s  recipe,which he credits to Cooking From The Heart: The Hmong Kitchen in America, I thought of two things.  Grand Torino, the Clint Eastwood movie about the intersection of the Hmong and his character in a Minneapolis suburb.  It’s a gorgeous movie which I recommend highly if you like your high art dished out in easy to digest bites.

The other thing I remembered were my 20 years living on the Pacific rim of the U.S. where Asian restaurants and grocery stores were as easy to find as loaves of wonder bread.

I knew I had to try this recipe. It reminds me of street food I had in Malaysia.  such gifted cooks can be found there.   And I knew I’d be doing it with chicken legs.  I also knew from long experience living among Asians, that there would be as many iterations of this recipe as there are cooks.  Here’s mine.

street food

Yes, it did require a special trip to Kamman foods,  my local Asian supermarket, and a reminder that ethnic cooks are often the remaining “real” cooks in our culture. Their shopping bags are filled with greens, and yard long beans, and fresh fruits and sometimes live fish, and fresh poultry.  These folks value real cooking.

I had to wait my turn to choose the knob of fresh ginger, because the woman ahead of me took such care to choose just the right one.

Hmong Squirrel Stew

Made with chicken

Makes 8 servings

1-1/2 pounds chicken legs or thighs

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

2 tablespoons cooking oil

6 cloves garlic, smashed

1 stalk lemongrass (discard woody shell and green parts), chopped

4  red “bird” peppers, crushed

1 tablespoon minced galangal (find it frozen in the asian super)

2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger, peeled

1 quart chicken stock

Juice and grated zest of 1 lime (OR 6 kaffir lime leaves)

kaffir lime leaves available in Asian grocery stores and online

½ cup dried sliced shitake mushrooms

1 tablespoon fish sauce (Or soy)

1 pound baby bok choy, chopped (or chard)

¼ snow peas

1 teaspoon ground Sichuan peppercorns

Garnish:

½ cup chopped cilantro

½ cup chopped green onion

½ cup chopped mint

½ cup roasted, salted peanuts,  chopped

1 lime,  cut into wedges.

Using a large stew pot,  raise temperature over medium high heat, then season chicken with salt and pepper and brown on all sides, working in batches so as not to have more than one layer of meat in the pan at a time.

Remove meat to a plate.  Now, lower heat to medium and add – in order, the garlic, lemon grass, chiles, galangal and ginger.  Stir and cook until fragrant (no more than a minute), then add chicken broth, lime juice, dried mushrooms and fish sauce.

Add chicken back to the pan.  If the broth doesn’t cover everything by an inch,  add water.  Now cook over low heat until the chicken is falling off the bone, up to an hour.  Remove from the pan, remove skin and bones, then chop the chicken and add it back to the pan.

Add bok choy, snow peas and Sichuan peppercorns and cook just until tender, about 10 minutes.  Correct seasoning with salt and pepper.

Serve in wide, shallow soup bowls, garnished with cilantro, green onion, and mint. Top with peanuts and serve. Pass additional lime quarters for people to squeeze over their soup, as they wish.

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Linda Eckhardt

About Linda Eckhardt

Linda West Eckhardt, is an award winning journalist, food writer, and nutritionist. Her more than 20 cookbooks have garnered prizes including the James Beard prize for the best cookbook for a text she wrote with her daughter, Katherine West DeFoyd, entitled Entertaining 101, Doubleday. Their follow-up book, Stylish One Dish Dinners, Doubleday, was also nominated for a James Beard prize. Their next book, The High Protein Cookbook, Clarkson Potter, remains a best seller after 12 years. That book was designed to accompany low carb diet plans. Her ground-breaking book, Bread in Half The Time, Broadway Books, was named the Best Cookbook in America by the prestigious IACP, The Julia Child award. Her award winning radio work with Jennifer English, for a national show on the Food and Wine radio network, was nominated for a James Beard Prize for a show called, “I Know What You Ate Last Summer.”