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Chef hopes city diners will go nuts for squirrel

Often berated by wildlife lovers for single-handedly driving their red cousin into near extinction, the grey squirrel’s rampant population growth may be halted by the arrival of a very dangerous predator – hungry Scots.

Glaswegians are being invited to tuck into the rodents at a special culinary event next month, designed to introduce diners to a range of avant garde ingredients.

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The idea is the brainchild of Colin Clydesdale, owner of the popular west end bistro Stravaigin, which last year opted to offer diners rook.

The unusual ingredient proved so popular he has decided to take this year’s “Wild Food” event a step further, and on May 20 will be serving up a menu that includes roe deer, rook, rabbit and squirrel.

The squirrel is served with truffle, spinach and pine nut tortellini porcini veloute and a Parmesan wafer.

Stravaigin manager Calum Robertson said: “Last year we had rook on the menu and it went down very well so we decided we wanted to try other new and exciting things.

“The squirrel -- not the red ones but only the bad greys -- comes from Northumberland. We have never had them on the menu before but our chefs like a challenge and squirrel keeps things interesting for them.”

Mr Robertson said the feedback from customers has been positive and he has already taken a large number of bookings.

He added: “One customer told me he thought serving squirrel was a little strange but generally the feedback has been positive. We believe it is good to give people the option to try different things but squirrel is quite possibly the strangest thing we have served so far.”

Squirrel meat is low in fat and completely free-range, which gives it a firmer and chewier texture similar to rabbit.

Mr Robertson said they had also previously served gannet and snails. “People will have to wait and see what we do next year,” he said.

The owners of a Cornwall shop, which began selling squirrel in 2008, say customers cannot get enough of them.

Some say the meat tastes like wild boar while others describe it as more of a cross between duck and lamb.

One diner, who has tasted the unusual delicacy, said: “It is moist and sweet because, basically, its diet has been berries and nuts.”

The animal is low in fat and low in food miles. It is claimed it is about as ethical a dish as it is possible to serve on a dinner plate.

Food writer Joanna Blythman said she would be happy to dine out on squirrel cutlets, and particularly welcomed it as part of the growing “food security” trend in restaurants. It’s completely free-range, whereas if you buy a chicken here it has probably been reared in very cramped conditions in a battery farm. This fits the idea of food security perfectly -- eating something that is here and which we already have too many of.”

However, a spokeswoman for the vegetarian society criticised the move. She said: “There seems to be so many animals killed already for meat that adding another type of animal to the lists seems a little bit unnecessary. I think quite a lot of people would be upset by the thought of it.”

  Uncovering secrets of the squirrel The grey squirrel was introduced to Britain in the mid-19th Century from the US. Its population grew due the lack of natural predators, displacing the native red squirrel. One of Elvis Pressley’s lesser known food facts was that he used to tuck into squirrel. The cheap meat was offered up alongside possum, crow and rabbit. London restaurant St John was among the first to offer diners the meat, serving it braised with bacon and dried porcini mushrooms. Conservative peer Lord Inglewood said Jamie Oliver should promote squirrel to schoolchildren. Gordon Ramsay showcased the meat on an episode of the F Word.

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