London chef Ivan Tisdall-Downes is dishing out grey squirrel lasagne at Borough restaurant Native. This may sound nutty, but he argues that squirrel is one of the most sustainable sources of meat.
The UK's grey squirrel population is over 2.5 million according to the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust. With such an abundance of squirrels (many of which end up being culled due to them being a nusiance animal), they make for a sustainable alternative to factory-farmed meat. Not to mention that the eradication of grey squirrels helps the UK's endagered and native red squirrel population.
Many would argue that culling animals without making another use for them (such as food), is a waste. This is why Native has decided to incorporate grey squirrel into its menu. But how does a restaurant make something like squirrel appeal to consumers?
Head chef Ivan explains: “The aim of Native is to make all these foods accessible to everyone, if they desire to eat it. But also to play our part in educating people on how to cook with more unusual produce, in a manner that people are comfortable eating. For example, as a squirrel lasagne or Southern-fried rabbit, instead of serving a whole animal on a plate which is bound to put people off.”
Native’s squirrel lasagne has been met with intrigue and excitement. While regulars eaters of Native's foraged menu haven’t blinked twice at the dish, it's a completely new experience for the majority of the public.
Native's squirrel lasagne
“We’ve already had numerous people walking in for lunch today wanting to try squirrel” says the chef. "We make a ragu for the lasagne by slow-cooking meat from a squirrel's hind legs, and the squirrel is supplied by the same hunters who provide the restaurant’s other game."
But will we ever start eating squirrel in our own homes? Ivan seems to think so: “There are some great online food vendors that are selling squirrel. I’m not sure it will ever take the place of chicken in a Sunday roast, but I’m 100% sure a lot of keen home cooks will be seeking it out soon.”
Native's head chef Ivan Tisdall-Downes
However, Ivan reiterates that meat should be eaten when it’s ready to be consumed, rather than when consumers desire it: “If there are no squirrels available, it’s not on the menu, if the fisherman can’t fish because of the bad weather, there’s no fish on the menu. We need to let the food chain dictate to us what we can serve at the restaurant.”
However, Ivan admits sustainable meat is pricey and makes it tricky to obtain for families. He believes that eating less meat may be the way forward. Ivan recommends “buying whole chickens and making two or three meals from one bird, which is savvy cooking.”
Do you think you could stomach Native's squirrel lasange? You can read our review of the restaurant and book a table here.