Pretty much everyone loves fried chicken, so why not apply that method to small game? My brother Matt asked himself that question years ago, and he became a huge advocate of browning squirrels and rabbits in a pan and then finishing them in the oven. The biggest risk with chicken-frying small game is that the meat will be too chewy. Vigorously tenderizing the meat with a sharp-tined fork and then soaking it in buttermilk will solve that problem. This recipe will have you skipping work in order to hit the woods with your .22 rifle in search of more ingredients.
• 4 squirrels or 2 rabbits, skinned and cut into 4 legs and 2 loins each (about 2 pounds total)
• 1 quart buttermilk
• 2 tablespoons hot sauce (I like Frank’s)
• Peanut or canola oil
• 1⁄2 cup all-purpose flour
• 1 teaspoon cayenne
• Kosher salt
• Freshly ground black pepper
Using a two-tined fork, pierce the quartered squirrels or rabbits many times. Lay the meat in a baking dish or a food-safe tub. Pour the buttermilk over the meat and add the hot sauce, stirring to combine. Cover and refrigerate for 4 hours or overnight.
Heat 3 inches of oil in a deep cast-iron pan over low to medium heat until it reaches 325°– 350°. Use a deep fry thermometer to measure the temperature.
In a pie plate or baking dish, combine the flour and the cayenne pepper. Remove the meat out of the marinade, let the excess liquid drip off, and set the meat on a plate. Season the meat with salt and pepper, then dredge the meat in the flour.
Working in batches, fry the meat on one side until golden brown and crispy. Using tongs, turn each piece over and fry on the second side until browned and crispy.
Lift out a piece of meat and place it on a rack set into a baking sheet or on a baking sheet lined with paper towels. Use an instant-read thermometer to check the internal temperature of the meat; it should be at least 160°. When all the meat is cooked, let the pieces drain. Season with additional salt as soon as they come out of the oil.
This post was initially published as part of The Complete Guide to Hunting, Butchering, and Cooking Wild Game: Small Game & Fowl by Steven Rinella.