food

'Girl Hunter' shoots, eats squirrels -- and makes it gourmet

Jan. 4, 2012 at 9:52 AM ET

Georgia Pellegrini hunting at Joshua Creek Ranch in the Texas Hill Country.
Terry Allan
Georgia Pellegrini hunting at Joshua Creek Ranch in the Texas Hill Country.

Georgia Pellegrini has viewed herself as an adventurous meat eater for years. The classically trained chef would never shy away from the strange cuts and unusual parts she’d find at outdoor markets and Asian butchers.

And then one day, while Pellegrini was working at the farm-to-table restaurant Blue Hill at Stone Barns in New York, the head chef gave her an unexpected assignment: slaughter five turkeys for that night’s dinner.

Her first reaction was paralysis, followed by a serious contemplation of life as a vegetarian. Ultimately, though, she and some other cooks held the turkeys down, cut their windpipes, dunked them in boiling water, plucked their feathers, gutted them and prepared every edible part of each bird.

“This switch in me sort of flipped,” Pellegrini, 30, told TODAY.com. “It really clicked for me that this is what has to happen for the turkey to get to my plate. ... It was intense, emotional and a little bit scary. But I realized that if I’m going to be a chef and a meat eater ... I needed to experience it from beginning to end.”

Mark Zuckerberg isn’t the only Harvard-educated foodie out there who’s developed a taste for killing what he eats. Pellegrini — who, incidentally, attended Harvard, Wellesley and the French Culinary Institute in New York — chronicles her personal transformation from being a lover of meat to becoming a passionate hunter in her new book, “Girl Hunter: Revolutionizing the Way We Eat, One Hunt at a Time.”

Georgia Pellegrini's braised rabbit with preserved lemon and olives.
Georgia Pellegrini
Georgia Pellegrini's braised rabbit with preserved lemon and olives.

In “Girl Hunter,” which is part memoir and part cookbook, Pellegrini is just as committed to exploring humans’ relationship with their food as she is to making virtually any kind of game meat — from dove to javelina to bison to rabbit to squirrel — taste fabulous.

She writes about the powerful experiences of hiking outdoors for hours before making a kill and paying “the full karmic price” of a meal, then makes readers drool with her descriptions of the dishes she’s prepared and eaten. There are brandy sauces, sherry sauces, whiskey glazes, delicious stuffings and mouthwatering marinades — all of which could pair well with a vast array of meats.

“Game really can taste as high-level as any other protein,” Pellegrini said. “You just have to change up the ingredients a little bit and be careful when you cook it. These animals are athletes, basically, so their meat is really lean. It’s less fatty with no marbling in their flesh.”

Image: "Girl Hunter" book cover
De Capo Lifelong Books

But do athletic little squirrels taste good?

“They’re delicious,” Pellegrini enthused. “I think it’s one of my favorite game meats right now. Think about it: You are what you eat, and they eat acorns. People spend a fortune for acorn-fed pigs. Squirrels are buttery and a little bit sweet because when animals eat nuts it makes their flesh sweet and nutty, and it creates an inherent fattiness in the meat.”

Not entirely convinced? You can check out Pellegrini’s recipe for squirrel Brunswick stew with acorns (yes, acorns! a nice touch!) by clicking here. If squirrel isn't up your alley, you can also get her recipes for Moroccan bison stew, turkey meatloaf and partridge with pancetta in orange brandy sauce. Each recipe offers suggestions for alternate proteins if you don’t have quite the right one handy in your freezer.

Pellegrini hopes you’ll give some new meats a try — and also consider what it might be like to hunt for your own meals.

“Even if you don’t think you can pull the trigger yourself, thinking about it can make you a more conscious meat eater,” she said. “It can change the decisions you make about the quality, variety and sources of your food.”

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