Game

Rabbit stew with wheat beer and tarragon

rabbit.jpg

Rabbit stew looks like dog food. No amount of herb garnish or photographic brilliance can make it look good. So instead I offer you a photo of my favourite ‘rabbit’ apron.

I don’t cook rabbit very often but when I do I always use this recipe which started out life as a Nigel Slater one. The ingredients remain roughly the same but I’ve tinkered with the cooking method, preferring a slow cook in the oven to one on the hob.

I only buy wild rabbit from my local farmer’s market but I have to admit I find cooking rabbit a real challenge.  Even decapitated the body is unmistakably a rabbit (visions of Watership Down dance in my head) and I’m too squeamish about this to joint the rabbit myself. If you’re pathetic like me I recommend asking your butcher to do this bit for you. I ask my husband and he does it willingly because this is one of his favourite meals.

This is not a difficult recipe to make but it does take a long time to cook and picking the meat off the bones at the end is a bit fiddly. Nigel, prefers to serve the meat on the bone but I like to concentrate on eating rather than worrying about choking. Some of the rabbit bones are tiny and troublesome.

If you’re not a huge fan of game (like me) then rabbit is a good one to try. It tastes rather like the dark meat from a really good free range turkey. The sauce in this recipe is amazingly rich with the tarragon adding an important note of freshness. We should probably eat more wild rabbit, they are plentiful and farmers see them as pests and shoot them to preserve their crops. Although there is no closed season for rabbit hunting a moral farmer* will not shoot while they are raising their young.

Ben likes his stew served in a giant Yorkshire pudding – unconventional, but delicious (but then again anything served in a Yorkshire pudding is usually good).

I have also used the meat as a ravioli filling with the sauce tossed through the pasta at the end before serving.

*such as Picks Organic Farm who sold me my rabbit back in March – it’s been in the freezer a while

Rabbit stew

Serves 2

  • 2 onions, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 1 whole rabbit, jointed into 6 portions
  • A thick slice of butter (about 1 cm thick)
  • The needles of 2 bushy springs of rosemary
  • 4 sprigs of thyme
  • 1 litre of wheat beer
  • 150ml of double cream (or less if you don’t like things too creamy – I just used a dash)
  • The leaves of 4 sprigs of tarragon, roughly chopped
  • Salt and pepper

In a heavy based casserole dish melt the butter over a medium heat and cook the onions until translucent. Remove the onions.

Season the rabbit pieces well with salt and pepper and brown in the pan for around 5 minutes on each side until you have a nice deep brown colour. Add the onions back in.

Add the rosemary, thyme and wheat beer to the pan and bring to the boil.

Put a lid on and cook in an 150oC oven for 3 – 4 hours until the rabbit meat is tender and comes away from the bone easily. The amount of time this will take will depend on the age and provenance of your rabbit. Wild rabbits will generally take longer than farmed (but will taste better).

Let the stew cool and then pick the meat from the bones. This is a finicky job. Discard the bones and put the meat to one side.

Then pass the liquid through a fine sieve, mushing up at the end with a spoon to get all the best onion juices, then add to the rabbit meat. Heat through again on the hob and then add the cream, then the tarragon and season with salt and pepper.

You can prepare this in advance but refrigerate before you add the cream and tarragon. Reheat in a 160oC oven for 30 minutes, then finish with cream and tarragon on the hob.

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Do not be afraid of GAME – roast haunch of venison

Venison

On the whole I don’t like game, but my husband really does, so in an effort to buy something that might please us both I asked my butcher*, “Can you tell me what is the least gamey sort of game?”.

How dumb? But he just smiled and offered me a rolled, boned, haunch of venison (that looked very much like a joint of beef) and I was so embarrassed by my stupid question that I felt compelled to buy it.

It then sat in my fridge for a week (terrifying me) while I decided what on earth I was going to do with it. Seriously out of my comfort zone I faffed around on the internet looking at various recipes and then tried the following – an amalgamation of a few.

It worked so well that I completely annoyed my husband by going on (and on) about how surprised I was at how good it tasted (it was pure relief, not gloating I promise). Unlike venison I’ve had in the past it was not at all liverish but very tender and possibly even nicer than roast beef.

Roast haunch of venison

  • A 838g haunch of venison, rolled and deboned (see note below)

Marinade

  • 1/2 a bottle of good red wine (I used a light Rijoa)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 sprigs of rosemary
  • 5 juniper berries, roughly crushed
  • 2 cloves of garlic, roughly crushed

To roast

  • 30g of butter
  • 3 slices of bacon, streaky or back, bashed until thin with a rolling pin

Gravy

  • marinade liquor, sieved
  • juices from the roasting pan
  • 1/2 Knorr beef stock pot (or equivalent)
  • a dollop of blackcurrant jam (or other sweet jam)
  • a teaspoon of cornflour ‘slaked’ (guess whose programme I’ve been watching?) with a little water

Bathe the joint for at least 24 hours but for up to two days in the marinade ingredients above.

Take the venison out of the marinade and reserve and strain the liquor. Pat dry and leave uncovered in a cool place for a few hours to dry out a bit. Cover loosely with kitchen roll if you’re worried about flies or other contaminants.

Smear the joint with butter and lay the bacon over the top.

Roast in the oven for 20 minutes at 220oC.

Then another 20 minutes at 170oC.

Take out of the oven and leave to rest, covered in tin foil, for 15 minutes.

For the gravy, boil the sieved marinade until the alcohol has burned off and it has reduced by about a quarter. Add the stock pot and the juices from the roasting pan. Then stir in the cornflour mixture and cook on a medium heat, stirring all the time, until thickened. Add the jam. Taste and season with salt and pepper if you think it necessary.

Carve the venison and serve with the gravy.

I served mine with peas and pommes coq d’or (you need to scroll down the page, past the gammon, for the recipe).

NOTES:

*Coates Traditional Butchers, Bramcote Lane, Wollaton – I’m not saying this because I want freebies or discounts, I just want people to support really good butchers. If you live this side of Nottingham then please use Coates instead of the Waitrose round the corner.

There are no photos of the venison because I was so convinced it was going to be awful that I didn’t have the camera ready.

If you have a different weight of meat (very likely) here’s the maths to work out the cooking time. Weigh your meat in grams and get a calculator. Whatever the weight cook for 20 minutes at 220oC. Then multiply the weight of your meat (in grams) by  0.024 and that is how long you need to cook it for at 170oC. This is for medium rare.

Use any leftover meat to make rissoles. I use a Delia recipe which will probably appear here soon.