Saturday, August 20, 2011
Cooking Rabbit & Getting Over The Guilt Of Eating Your Favourite Cartoon Characters
Guest post by Dom Bailey
Rabbit was once a staple in the English diet. But having grown up with Myxomatosis and Watership Down, it was never that appealing as a supper time treat. And I don't remember it ever being on the menu at home, friends' homes, or in the shops.
I did skin and boil one once, on an adventure training course as a teenager, but it was a meal for fuel rather than taste.
More appetising was the conill a la brasa they served in a restaurant I worked in as a waiter in Catalonia – split down the middle, BBQ-style, served with the pungent garlic emulsion, allioli. But it was fare rarely served to the staff.
After years in a rabbit-free wilderness (London), I now live near a farm shop that has, cheeky Cockney chappies might say, more rabbit than Sainsburys. It also has fridges packed with the usual cuts of free range duck, chicken, pork, pink veal, beef and lamb.
But the rabbit comes into the "wonder what they'll have this week" section that is the beauty of the farm shop - the seasonal game, or more unusual cuts, that you'll struggle to find in Sainsburys.
I'm as wide-eyed as my five-year-old at a whole beef tongue (farmer says "boil for a long time, then peel" - which I've not yet tried), or half a pig’s head ("popular with the local Gurkhas" - again, something I’ve yet to try), or the venison liver ("the marksman's cut" - which I will always buy when I see it, salt and paprika then flash fry), or even the venison saddle (great for slicing into minute steaks and grilling over wood).
The list goes on depending on the time of year, and the hunter's luck... wild goose, wild duck, partridge, pheasant and rabbit (sorry, Roger Serjent, never seen rook in the fridges).
So having skirted around the idea of rabbit for so long I finally decided, why not? It's been wild, chomped freely on woodland grass and woodsman's gardens - generally, a happy bunny.
I never feel guilty about quality food, origin is everything. But sometimes it is hard to shake off the English reluctance to eat our favourite cartoon characters. To rub it in, driving home, no lie, Florence And The Machine's Rabbit Heart came on the radio as I pulled up behind a Rabbits Vehicle Hire van.
But how to cook it?
Most seem to be pot recipes - country kitchen-style from days when the cook had to make do with whatever aged animal the shooter or trapper brought home. And fitting a gastro experiment in around family life, I was looking for a minimum fuss and preparation, in the oven, and forget about it option.
So I imagined a rabbit, chomping on some thyme leaves, nibbling at garlic tops, chewing a bay leaf, digging up a few carrots. Ok, I let my imagination go a little further with it raking up a truffle, knocking over some olive oil, while getting pissed on fermented apple juice and discarded lemon peel. But you get my drift.
So first take your rabbit. Hopefully it has been skinned. If not, consult Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall or Bear Grylls or suchlike. Even head, skin and cottontail-less it still looks rabbity. But with a family of four - everyone gets a leg...
The fore legs (that do seem unnervingly fore-army) are smaller than the hind legs, naturally. The rear legs are meaty from all the hoppitty-hop, but all the front legs have to do is put on eyeliner, lipstick, and crack open another Caramel ("Hey Mr Beaver etc").
Cut just behind the ribcage then take off each arm, I mean, leg. Saddle, down to where the hind legs are, then split the hind legs. Six pieces. A couple of sprigs of thyme, three cloves of garlic, salt and pepper, a glug of truffle oil, and a sliver of fresh lemon peel - into a freezer bag, seal and chill in the fridge for a few hours.
In a casserole dish on the hob, one chopped onion, in olive oil, low heat till transparent, with a few chopped carrots. Empty the bunny bag into the dish and brown the meat before adding a can of cider (440ml) and a dessert spoon of mustard (I used English but whatever takes your fancy). Bring to the boil, add some peas, top on, then into a pre-heated oven at 200C for 30 minutes until the meat is tender.
Take out the thyme sprigs and lemon peel. Then add a few glugs of single cream, and season to taste. If you're not ready to eat, or are cooking in advance, just turn off the oven and leave the casserole in there for a fuller, meat-falling-off-the-bone flavour.
You are left with a meaty, earthy, tangy hotpot. If you've slightly overdone the lemon (as some fool writing this did) a little more cream, and/or a sprinkle of sugar balances things out. Serve with white rice or bread to mop up the sauce, or use some of the sauce and some stock to boil some green lentils.
If you live with someone who would never consider eating rabbit - for Watership Down/Thumper reasons - tell them it's pheasant. If they can count, tell them it's two pheasants - but one had really stubby legs.
:: Dom Bailey is a writer and singer-songwriter. His songs are here at domssongs.blogspot.com.