Thursday, 3 September 2009


Some people are a bit funny about eating rabbits - and I’m exclusively talking about the wild variety here - but I’m not really sure why. The older generation still worry about myxomatosis (a bastard form of pest control, which thankfully is not nearly so prevalent these days) and the younger ones won’t eat anything that they knew once had a face. The fact of the matter is, that bunnies exist in abundance, lead a jolly happy life, eat well, reproduce like - erm - rabbits, and taste very good. It also happens to be cheap, unless you live in London, where nothing is cheap. But you’re used to that aren’t you?

There is no closed season on wild rabbits - they’re classified as ‘vermin’ rather than game - but try to avoid them during the mid-summer months when they are bringing up their young. Their flesh tends to be a little milky, and think of all those orphan bunny-babies! Generally though, this means that they are readily available throughout most of the year, the young ones getting oh-so-gradually tougher and fattier as winter approaches.

I like to get rabbits that have been rifle-shot or ferreted. Animals that have been killed with a shotgun tend to be peppered with shot, bruised, and rather fiddly to deal with. If you’re lucky enough to have a decent butcher he’ll be more than happy to tell you about the demise of your supper.

Rabbits should be paunched (gutted) as soon as possible (preferably within 12 hours of death). Personally, I like to eat rabbits fresh-ish, not having been hung for too long. Unlike ‘proper’ game birds and beasts, ie; pheasant, hare, venison and so on, I find that rabbit takes on a rabbity, rather than gamey flavour if it has been left to hang for more than a day or two. I appreciate that this might not mean much to a rabbit-eating novice. Just take my word for it, if you want.

Again, to avoid this ‘rabbity’ flavour / pong as mentioned above I tend to give my (skinned) rabbits a good rinse before cooking them. Chaps like Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall or Fergus Henderson would more than likely thrash my culinary bottom for suggesting this sort of treatment, but it’s a personal thing. I like my rabbits to taste of rabbit, and I would never tell people that they taste like chicken, but sometimes they can give up an overly strong grassy musk, which can be easily rinsed away. As a point of interest, boy rabbits exude this whiff more so than the girls.

As it is often difficult to determine the age and therefore toughness of a skinned rabbit, I find that the two best treatments for him are either a long marinade and / or a gentle slow cook. If however, you have a particularly little, tender wild rabbit it will need neither of the above treatments. Also if you have yourself a miserable, fat, intensively farmed rabbit, the same applies. You bastard.

Things that (dead) rabbits like:

- Tarragon, and for that matter any aniseedy stuff. Pernod, star anise etc. Just go easy with it
- Sage. Again, take it easy
-Wild mushrooms. Dried or fresh. If using dried, keep the soaking liquid for God’s sake!
-Mustard - for some reason Dijon more so than English
-Smoked bacon, pancetta, just make sure it’s good stuff. Rabbit tends to be rather lean so look for good amounts of fat.
- Good dry cider or perry

Rabbit Pie with Cider or Perry

I first made rabbit pie on a whim. I had some London friends coming to stay for the weekend and I thought they might appreciate a groaning pie, chock-full of country goodness. And, I’m delighted to report, appreciate it they did.

The making of a rabbit pie (the way I make it anyway) is a labour of love, but an enjoyable and satisfying labour if ever there was one.

The cider / perry option is very much down to you. I’m lucky enough to live close to some of the happiest apple and pear orchards in England. You’re looking for a slightly floral note from your booze that will befriend your rabbit well. Strongbow or Babysham will simply not do. Something pure is essential. Look for the best.

You will need (for a pie for eight hungry Londoners):

Stage 1

-Three wild rabbits; Have your butcher chop them into four bits - Front legs, saddle section, and two hind (hopping) legs

- Three carrots, peeled and split lengthways

- Three onions peeled and quartered

- Three sticks of celery, trimmed and split lengthways

- One bouquet garni (bay, parsley, thyme, tarragon)

Pop all of the above in a large casserole and cover with water (anything up to about eight pints). Bring to a gentle simmer and skim, skim, skim! When you are bored of skimming, place your casserole with a lid in a low oven (100 degrees C) and leave it for at least three hours. Poke your bunny with a sharp knife, and when it gives without a sigh, remove from the oven. Remove the lid and allow your rabbity-stocky brew to cool slightly for an hour or so.

Stage 2

When your bunny is cool enough to handle, remove all the pieces from the pot and set aside. You will now be left with a large pot of wonderfulness. Strain this pot through a colander and keep the remaining liquid. It will serve you well. The remaining buggered veg will do well in the compost heap.

Your first job is to remove your beautifully poached bunny flesh from its bones. You must be careful here because whilst this seems rather easy, bunny bones have a rather annoying habit of creeping into your pie. Be especially careful around the ribcage. A choking weekender is not a pretty thing.

- Pop all of the bunny flesh into a bowl and put to one side.

Stage 3

Finely dice three onions, two celery sticks, two carrots, and eight rashers of good happy streaky bacon (remember: lean bunny loves good fat) and fry gently until it all starts to turn lightly golden.

Now’s the time to add all the lovely bunny meat. Chuck in a handful of flour and stir until well coated. Add a bottle (about a pint) of booze and stir. Cider/ perry/ dry white wine - all good!

Let the liquid bubble and reduce a bit, you will notice it starting to thicken. Now add a small pot of double cream, the juice of half a lemon, a good couple of pinches of salt, and a small handful of chopped tarragon. You want the sauce to be thick, but not too thick, runny but not too runny. Let all of this simmer very gently for ten minutes or so.

Tip all of this loveliness into a big sexy pie dish (I would suggest popping a pie funnel in first – it looks good, and will support the pastry). Let this all cool for a good 20 minutes.

Roll out a large block of ready made puff pastry to a size that will cover your dish (I use Dorset Organic - quite expensive, but worth it - for preference, although the Jus-rol all butter stuff is fine), dampen the rim of the dish with a little water, plonk your pastry on top and press it down firmly all the way round.

At this stage, I like to decorate the pie with pretty pastry leaves or bunnies – this is of course optional, but worth the effort I think. Now brush the pastry with an egg beaten with a little milk to ensure sexy golden pastry perfection. Pop in a hot (180 degrees C) oven for 25 minutes, or until the pastry is a lovely colour.

Serve, and bask in your own glory.

Published in Ludlow Advertiser: 27/8/09

Dear Sir

Although I say it myself, I think that I have had a rather wonderful idea which may interest your readers.

This wonderful idea will, I strongly believe, help Ludlow to become even more unappealing to visitors and residents alike. It will further assist our formerly lovely town to become more like every other bland, homogenised market town in England.

My rather wonderful idea will (and I’m particularly proud of this bit) take place now, in the middle of a grim and terrible economic depression. I will make this idea happen now, because what the residents of Ludlow need is for the value of their houses to decrease further. I will also do it now because it will discourage tourists from visiting Ludlow, and we all know what tourists do, don’t we? Yes! They come to Ludlow and spend lots of money, and then they go away and tell all their friends about how lovely it is. And we don’t want that, thank you very much.

So my rather wonderful idea is this: I shall make it even more difficult, and even more expensive for people to park their cars in Ludlow. I shall make it so difficult, and so expensive in fact, that nobody will want to live here, and nobody will want to visit. I shall organise a team of men to drive around in a fleet of trucks to dig up the roads so that they can install many more parking meters, and paint many more double yellow lines and cause merry havoc. I think I shall organise for this to happen in the middle of August when there are hoards of nasty tourists around. I’m not sure how I shall pay for my rather wonderful idea (for it will surely cost an absolute fortune), but I expect I will be able to find a way to pass the expense on to local residents.

I’d be surprised if any of your readers also think that this is a rather wonderful idea, but perhaps you’d be kind enough to run it past them.

Yours sincerely

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Possibly the best restaurant in the world.

There is a street in Florence where there is, possibly, the best restaurant in the world. Although this street is within a dong and a clang of the Duomo’s Campanile it is not one down which tourists saunter, licking gelati in gormless hoards. On this street live two hookers, one at each end. One is a retired army officer, a transvestite until recently, but now a transsexual. She has started wearing tighter trousers since her operation we’re told by a local. The other has been doing the same job since the end of the war. She must be into her seventies and judging by the amount of time she spends sat on her doorstep greeting the neighbours with “buon giorno” and “buona sera”, one might imagine that regular trade (amongst other things) dried up some time ago.

This is a street that doesn’t get much sleep. The windows of the tenement blocks are permanently open at this time of year and the ups and downs of life go on around the clock. There is a Somalian immigration office half way down the road, and next to it a twenty-four hour Egyptian sandwich shop. And opposite is, possibly, the best restaurant in the world. We are sent there by a local man, an ex-pat but after thirty years in the city, more Florentine than Bostonian. If it weren’t for him perhaps we’d have never been, despite staying only two doors down. This place, a trattoria, is not in the guidebooks, and even the internet gives it up grudgingly.

The greatest restaurants are great in a way that is hard to describe. Professional critics write column after column, week after week, and still struggle to say what it is that truly makes a restaurant great. So I shan’t really attempt it here (after all, I’m no professional critic). This trattoria, on this street in Florence just does it. So well. Perhaps it is that it has been here for nearly 150 years and has barely changed the formula. Maybe if it were in a more affluent neighbourhood and in all the guidebooks then it wouldn’t be such a thrill to score a table for two there on a Friday night. I just don’t know. But the things that they can do with a couple of eggs and some artichokes for a primi, and the magic they turn with a piece of chicken and some butter as a secondi, are simply beyond my wildest gastronomic dreams. Their ingredients are of such quality that they are happy to serve a large raw tomato as a single course, and a bowl of unadorned tiny wild strawberries as a dolce. The interior is utterly stunning in a way that modern restaurateurs could only dream of recreating.

An aside:

There is a disease in the UK that started in London, and possibly some of the more ridiculous Cotswold gastropubs, but is now spreading with more vigour than swine flu: Restaurants that are ‘ingredient-lead’ and advertise as much on their press-releases / menus / waiters’ polo shirts. Is this not quite the most daft and horrific indictment of all that is wrong with eating out in Britain? What on earth else should ‘lead’ a restaurant? Intricately folded napkins? Pretty waitresses? Sweet-smelling bogs? For pity’s sake. What is a decent eatery if its kitchen does not start with good ingredients? Why have we in this country got to the point where chefs have to advertise the fact that they actually care about food? Admittedly there are a few restaurants over here that can achieve great things seemingly effortlessly, but not enough.

Thursday, 14 May 2009

14th May, is a good day.

I suppose we’re still in the last throes of the “hungry gap”, but today’s farmers’ market gives me a joyous sniff of the great things to come. Wood pigeon fattened on early rape; the creamiest lemony young goat’s curd – a happy by-product of lush, wet April grass; purple-green asparagus, in the rudest of health picked this morning form the sandy soil of Evesham; local new potatoes that give the now much overrated Jersey Royal a run for its (vast sums of) money. There’s a lady selling bunches of sweet peas too. Summer cannot be too far away now. With eggs and tiny leaves from the garden we have the makings of a supper to match no other.

A lot of chefs now talk about their menus being ‘ingredient lead’, which whilst it may be faddish whimsy, in my opinion can only be a good thing, so long as these chefs know what they’re doing with their ingredients.

I shall happily salute a huge Fuck Off to cooks who persist with unnecessary smears, foams, jus, and all that bollocks. Plates look good with food on them. Pictures look good with smears and jus. We’re at the start of the worst economic wobble in living memory. Why should we be paying for air and smugness?

Asparagus with goat’s curd

I think the worst thing that can be done to asparagus is under-cooking. Cooking it brings out the sugars and general asparagusiness. Give fat stalks at least five minutes in rapidly boiling water.

Drain the asparagus, dollop curd, or young goat’s cheese over it, season, and shuffle all around in the pan.

Pigeon, bacon and potato salad.

In a big, beautiful, flattish white plate throw some small, sexy salad leaves. It matters not what. My choice would be a mix of chard, little gem and mizuna.

Get the tiniest spuds, not much bigger than a thumbnail and boil until tender. Keep them nice and warm. Slice some good smoked bacon into small pieces and fry in a little oil until crispy and brown. Keep that nice and warm too.

In the bacon fat fry as many pigeon breasts as you need (two per person should do it as a main course) for three minutes on each side. Keep them warm also.

At this point, poach one egg per person.

With the heat still gently on beneath your pigeon pan, whisk in the smallest slosh of good olive oil, a little French mustard and a gesture of white wine vinegar or lemon juice.

Chuck spuds, bacon and pigeon (slice it up first) on top of the leaves, add your warm dressing and stir around vigorously. Put on pretty plates and plonk a poacher on top. You will not often get a finer supper.

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

I’ve not been a blogger before. I’ve never kept a diary, or Twittered. I think my friends have become bored of Facebook updates, so I shall blog. No-one has to read this and perhaps no-one will. I suppose the nice thing about this is that is doesn’t really matter.

I shall use this blog as a place to write about some of the things that interest me, don’t interest me, annoy me, make me happy. I shall use this place to write about some of the things that happen in Ludlow, or anywhere.

Ludlow is one of the things that interests me. It is a place that I love and sometimes hate and it is nestled quietly in a small corner of south Shropshire. Ludlow is a few miles off the beaten track. It is not near a motorway and not near any big city, but ten thousand or so people live here. If you care to, you can do your own research into the history and geography and what-not of Ludlow. That’s your job, if you feel so inclined.