First catch your squirrel

Mr Nutkins has made his way on to the menu of one London restaurant. So, asks Michael Bateman, why can't we have horseburgers and real hot dogs?

Squirrel is on the menu at St John, a restaurant near London's Smithfield market, and it's delicious – like tender wild rabbit, braised with bacon and dried porcini mushrooms, musky flavours to echo its woodland habitat. But some might prefer to steer clear – because it borders on taboo.

To some, squirrels are thought of as rats with bushy tails; to others the rodent in the garden or park is almost a pet. Put those groups together and you get a good number who find the meat stomach-churning.

What is and isn't OK to eat is in our minds now as the World Cup in Korea approaches, and fans face the prospect of dogmeat. The sport's governing body, Fifa, wants it banned near stadiums, but many Koreans don't accept that the meat should be taboo. Professor Yong-Geun Ann, a nutritionist at South Korea's Chungchong College, insists it is not only tasty but healthy too – lower in cholesterol that pork, chicken and beef, and more digestible.

I asked Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, who once cooked a human placenta on television, to give me his thought on food taboos. He was quick to establish that he could never eat meat if cruelty had been involved. This is a hot topic with dogmeat – dogs are often kept and slaughtered in the most inhumane manner, hung or beaten. What about eating other cute, furry friends? "I deplore sentimentality," he says. He loves squirrel meat. And things that creep and crawl? Apparently there are folk out there who eat woodlice – in fritters – so why not? People seem squeamish about eating land insects, but not similar sea creatures, he adds.

Some taboos are important. The trade in bushmeat, for example, is illegal because it threatens extinction of many of Africa's apes. But even the more illogical taboos are adhered to, even by serious gourmands – like the diners at London's Club Gascon. Fois gras, the liver of geese enlarged by overfeeding with maize, is considered cruel by many, but it's a favourite with the clientele at the exquisite French restaurant. Still, chef Pascal Aussignac knows he could not dare to put horsemeat on the menu. "But I love it, it's my big passion," he says. "It's tender and soft and cuts like butter. When I was a child in La Rochelle, it was very popular, more so than steak. It tastes like venison but less gamey." But even his South African girlfriend is repelled by it. The strictest taboos, it seems, are reserved for animals we might keep as pets.

As for me, I'll stick with wood squirrel. Fergus Henderson, chef at St John's, started cooking it after his mother saw the critters in her local Wiltshire butcher. And that's where it's best to find it – by asking your local game butcher, especially in the countryside. He may be able to get some, or put you in touch with a farmer with a good shot. Try Henderson's recipe, for the less sentimental among us.

Five outrageous dishes

Man bites dog

It is thought that 10 per cent of people in Korea eat dogmeat, mainly as poshintang, a brothy stew. A million dogs are bred for the table each year and 6,000 restaurants have them on the menu. It's thought of as a centuries-old part of the culture, but opponents, such as the Korea Animal Protection Society, say dogmeat became common after the Korean war, during widespread starvation. Technically the meat is illegal, but recently there were moves to reclassify dogs as livestock.

Off the hoof

In France, horsemeat is often cooked like steak, peppered or with a bearnaise sauce. Despite accepting frogs' legs and snails, the UK has not taken to the introduction of horsemeat. In 2000, Le Tigre et la Grenouille, a French restaurant in London's Bethnal Green, put it on the menu, only to provoke angry headlines such as this: "This is Sophie, a beautiful four-year-old horse whose only problem is that she cannot run fast enough for her French owners. Her fate? A dinner plate in a chic London restaurant."

Shell shock

In the Philippines, balut is made by keeping new-laid, fertilised duck eggs warm for around 16 days, while the embryo develops inside. Then it is eaten, including the unhatched chick. It's certainly no rarity – the country's street vendors serve it from dawn until midnight.

A hiss before dying

In his book, A Cook's Tour, Anthony Bourdain visits a Saigon restaurant specialising in snake. The chef kills a 4ft cobra at his table, handing him the still-beating heart to swallow like an oyster. It tasted of nothing much, apparently, though a glass of serpent's blood mixed with wine was "like the juice from rare roast beef", and a glass of green bile was "bitter, sour, evil".

Flip out

Seal flipper pie – a traditional dish of Newfoundland, Canada – has hit the silver screen in The Shipping News. The flippers are fatty, but once soaked in water and baking soda, the fat turns white and is removed. Then it's cooked with pork and turned into a pie. Not popular with environmentalists.

News
David Beckham
peopleFootballer joins No campaign
Sport
Angel Di Maria
Football
News
Piers Morgan tells Scots they might not have to suffer living on the same island as him if they vote ‘No’ to Scottish Independence
news
News
i100Exclusive interview with the British analyst who helped expose Bashar al-Assad's use of Sarin gas
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game
film
Arts and Entertainment
Rob James-Collier, who plays under-butler Thomas Barrow, admitted to suffering sleepless nights over the Series 5 script
tv'Thomas comes right up to the abyss', says the actor
News
newsIn short, yes
Sport
Angel Di Maria celebrates his first goal for Manchester United against QPR
Football4-0 victory is team's first win under new manager Louis van Gaal
News
Denny Miller in 1959 remake of Tarzan, the Ape Man
people
Arts and Entertainment
Cheryl despairs during the arena auditions
tvX Factor review: Drama as Cheryl and Simon spar over girl band

Arts and Entertainment
art
Arts and Entertainment
Calvin Harris claimed the top spot in this week's single charts
music
Sport
BoxingVideo: The incident happened in the very same ring as Tyson-Holyfield II 17 years ago
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    USA/Florida Travel Consultants £30-50k OTE Essex

    Basic of £18,000 + commission, realistic OTE of £30-£50k : Ocean Holidays: Le...

    Marketing Executive / Member Services Exec

    £20 - 26k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Marketing Executive / Member Services Ex...

    Sales Account Manager

    £15,000 - £25,000: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for ...

    VB.NET and C# developer (VB.NET,C#,ASP.NET)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: VB.NET a...

    Day In a Page

    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week
    The fall of Rome? Cash-strapped Italy accused of selling its soul to the highest bidder

    The fall of Rome?

    Italy's fears that corporate-sponsored restoration projects will lead to the Disneyfication of its cultural heritage
    Glasgow girl made good

    Glasgow girl made good

    Kelly Macdonald was a waitress when she made Trainspotting. Now she’s taking Manhattan
    Sequins ahoy as Strictly Come Dancing takes to the floor once more

    Sequins ahoy as Strictly takes to the floor once more

    Judy Murray, Frankie Bridge and co paired with dance partners
    Wearable trainers and other sporty looks

    Wearable trainers and other sporty looks

    Alexander Wang pumps it up at New York Fashion Week
    The landscape of my imagination

    The landscape of my imagination

    Author Kate Mosse on the place that taught her to tell stories