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):
-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.
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.
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.