#368 To Dress Rabbits in Casserole

Rabbits are vermin and therefore, unlike most other game, have no ‘season’ and can be hunted all year round. This does not mean they are dirty animals of course; they simply breed like nobody’s business. The reason for this is that they are an introduced species, the Normans raised them on farms and inevitably there were escapees. Rabbit became the ultimate peasant meat and a stigma became attached. Rabbit and other game seem to be having a bit of a comeback. Bring it on, I say.
Farmed and young rabbits have pale, tender flesh and older wild rabbits have much darker flesh; almost black in some areas. Florence White, writing in her wonderful book Food in England gives us some sage advice on cooking and selecting wild rabbits: A young rabbit shot clean in the fields, is white like chicken and should be treated as such… Fat old country rabbits make good pies and stews. Thin, scavenger rabbits, trapped, broken-legged, and killed in fever and slow misery should not be eaten at all. They are definitely unhealthy food.
This is the last rabbit-based recipe in the book and probably my final one from the Gamesection until next season. It is an 18th century dish that comes from The Art of Cookery by Hannah Glasse, a lady that pops up a lot in English Food.
Hannah Glasse’s recipe serves four.
Joint one wild rabbit or ask your butcher to do it for you. Season some flour – around an ounce – with plenty of salt and pepper and liberally coat the rabbit pieces with it. Melt 2 ounces of butter in a pan and fry the rabbit pieces a golden brown colour – don’t overcrowd it, fry in a couple of batches if need be. Place the browned pieces in an ovenproof casserole dish. Deglaze the frying pan with ¼ pint of dry white wine and pour over the rabbit along with a pint of beef stock. Make a bouquet garni with suitable herbs and spices (I used bay leaves, rosemary, lots of thyme, parsley stalks, pared orange peel and a few whole black peppercorns) and pop that in too.
Put on the lid and bake in a low oven – 120-140⁰C (250-275⁰F) for at least 90 minutes. It is best to let the rabbit cool in the oven then reheat it the next day – this will produce nice tender rabbit – alternatively cook for another hour or two at that very low setting.
Fish out the meat and herbs and keep the rabbit warm somewhere. Strain the sauce through a sieve and bring to a simmer. Make a beurre manié by mashing two ounces of butter with a rounded tablespoon of flour. Whisk in pieces of it until the sauce is of desired consistency. I like a nice thick sauce so I used it all.  Add the juice of a Seville orange to the sauce and season with more salt and pepper if you think it needs it.
Slice two more Seville oranges thinly and nick out small triangles from the slices is a decorative manner. This is a very fiddly and boring job and I must admit I did give up after a couple of slices. Add the little nicked pieces of peel to the sauce.
Arrange the pieces of rabbit on a warmed serving dish with the orange slices arranged around it. Lastly, pour the sauce over the rabbit and serve it nice and hot.
#368 To Dress Rabbits in Casserole. This was a good dish – the rabbit was nice and tender and the sauce was light. The only problem was that there wasn’t much flavour from the Seville oranges in the sauce. I think that the juice of 2 oranges would have been better. Perhaps it was my fault for giving up nicking my little triangles from the orange slices. I would also lose the pointless decorative slices. 6/10.

#359 Rabbit

Clarrisa Dickson-Wright was on the telly yesterday as part of the BBC2 series The Great British Food Revival where various chefs and food writers highlight British foods that have fallen out of favour and are in danger of falling completely out of use. Needless to say, I approve. Ms Dickson-Wright’s food of choice was the humble rabbit.

Why has it fallen out of favour? There are two main reasons really – there’s the ‘Fluffy Bunny Brigade’ as Clarissa calls them that couldn’t possibly eat something fluffy and cute. This opinion is fine if you are vegetarian or vegan. Otherwise it’s a great double-standard. Another reason is the association with myxomatosis virus – a deadly bug that killed off 99% of them. It’s under control now, but mud sticks.

I think there are other reasons too: rabbit is thought of as poor people’s food, and people also have a problem with eating wild animals. Well the bottom line is that rabbits are a huge pest (they are not indigenous to the UK) and need to be controlled. In fact they are one of only two official game species, along with wood pigeon, that do not have a hunting season. We are over-run and they must be killed in order to manage the countryside efficiently.

It is for this reason that they are relatively cheap, and because they are wild they are truly organic and free-range and low fat too.

I coincidently cooked a rabbit recipe from English Food the other day. It’s less of a recipe and more of a suggestion really with very sparse instruction. Here’s the full entry:

Wild Rabbit

roast: 1 hour, mark 6, 200C (400⁰F)

serve with: see hare [redcurrant jelly, port wine sauces…]

Here’s what I did to roast the rabbit:

First up is to prepare your rabbit – you should find inside the kidneys, liver, heart and lungs. Remove those. If you like you can chop the liver and use in the stuffing. Instead, I made a little offal kebab from the heart, kidneys and liver. Then I larded the rabbit’s legs, loins and saddle with some thin slices of back fat. You can buy a special larding needle for this job but I used a skewer (it was a bit of a nightmare so I have bought myself a needle for next time). I then seasoned it inside and out and loosely stuffed it with the herb stuffing (see herefor the entry for that) before placing it in a roasting tin with a jacket of back fat. You could use streaky bacon if you’d prefer.

Then it was straight into the preheated oven for an hour.

I had some stuffing left over so I rolled that into small balls and wrapped them in some smoked bacon. I popped those in for the final half hour until brown and crisp.

When the hour was up, I took the rabbit out of the oven and let it rest on a serving plate and covered it with foil. I then got to work on making some gravy. I put the roasting tin on the heat and deglazed it with a splash of red wine and then some chicken stock and a tablespoon of redcurrant jelly. After it reduced and started to thicken, I took it off the heat and whisked in a couple of knobs of butter to thicken it further and give the sauce a nice shine.

Hey-presto! A roast rabbit!

#359 Rabbit. Well I enjoyed preparing this one and it did look like something from a medieval feast when it was finished. The flavour was good, though it was on the dry side; my rabbit was a young one I think and perhaps could have done with 45 minutes. Nevertheless, a tasty and fun meal to eat, though not quite as good as the rabbit pie. It did make delicious soup the next day though! 6.5/10.

#325 Rabbit Pie

A British classic. It is rather difficult to say how far back the rabbit pie goes – as far back as pies themselves go, I would imagine. The rabbit pie is the archetypal hunter’s family meal and is certainly a cheap – or free – way of getting some good protein in you. These days of course people tend to get their rabbits from the butcher, including myself, but rabbit is getting popular again now that people are trying to cut back on their spending. I wonder if more people have taken up owning an air rifle to hunt their own. The idea strangely appeals. It is worth considering: rabbits are a pest and do not have a hunting season. The reason they are a pest is because they are an introduced species, just like the pesky grey squirrel, only these little blighters came not from America, but from France. The French have kept rabbit farms for a long time and so after William the Bastard/Conqueror came over with his Norman pals to take the English Crown, the later Plantagenet kings brought their farms over. The rabbits escaped and bred like billy-o and we have been stuck with them since.

Still Life with Rabbits, a Game Bag and a Powder Horn
by Jean-Baptiste-Simeon Chardin, c1755

What is strange is that the French did (and still do) love farmed rabbit and prefer it over wild. Griggers – in all her rabbit recipes – specifies that it must be wild; “[d]omestic rabbit by contrast is as insipid as a battery chicken, even nasty in texture and taste.”

Rabbits were very popular in Northern England as a pie filling in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and an alternative meat for a steak and oyster pie – back in the day when oysters were poor people’s food.

If you see a wild rabbit in the butcher’s shop try one – it’s cheaper than a chicken and is truly free-range and organic to boot!

Rabbit – like all game – is very lean so it needs a little helping hand with some additional fat, in this case streaky bacon which also helps the meat go a bit further. Forcemeat balls are often added to dishes like this – something stodgy that again increases bulk. I’m a big fan of forcemeat balls, so I was glad to see them appear in this recipe. Last and by no means least is the herb thyme which is essential in any rabbit dish. Don’t scrimp on it. Because it is used quite liberally, use fresh thyme.

This rabbit pie is the last in a trio of game recipes I cooked whilst I was in England over Christmas. It serves 6 to 8 people.
First of all joint a wild rabbit (or ask your butcher to do it) and soak it in salty cold water for around 1 ½ hours.

I am not quite sure why one needs to do this step. Perhaps it reduces the amount of water in the rabbit by osmosis for some reason? If you know, leave a comment, I’d be most grateful. Drain the rabbit and place it in a saucepan. Pour enough fresh water to cover the beast, bring the water to a boil and let it simmer for 3 or 4 minutes. Drain and dry it.

Roll the rabbit pieces in some seasoned flour and brown it in butter, lard, bacon fat or dripping in a large, deep sauté pan then fry a large chopped onion and 5 or 6 ounces of streaky bacon or salt pork. When lightly browned, add the grated rind of a lemon, a heaped tablespoon of parsley and four good sprigs of thyme.

Add enough light beef or veal stock to just cover. Cover and simmer until the rabbit is cooked. Jane doesn’t give a time here, but it will depend upon the age of the rabbit. Mine took about 1 ½ hours. To test it, I just sampled a bit of leg meat. Let the mixture cool and bone the rabbit if you want; I did because little ones were eating it.

Now the pie needs to be made. Place the mixture in a pie dish, piling it in the middle and scatter forcemeat balls around it (look here for the recipe). If you have a rather broad or long pie dish, it may be worth placing a pie funnel in the centre – I didn’t have one and the pie sank a little.

To cover the pie, roll out some shortcrust or puff pastry. Cut strips from the pastry and use it to line the rim of the dish, gluing it in place with some beaten egg. Next, cover the pie and trim any excess pastry and use it to decorate the top. Glaze with beaten egg.

My niece and nephew, Emma and Harry, expertly decorate the pie

Bake at 220⁰C (425⁰F) for 20-30 minutes and then turn the heat down to 160⁰C (325⁰F) for another 30 minutes. As usual, protect the pastry with some brown paper should it colour too much.

The best picture of the pie I could get –
it got gobbled up pretty fast!

#325 Rabbit Pie. I am on a roll with the pies at the moment because this was another excellent one. The rabbit was very tender and not too rank tasting as the previous rabbit had been. I suppose it is the risk one takes with game. The very lean rabbit was ‘fattened’ up excellently with all the streaky bacon it was fried with. Plus it was complemented perfectly by the fresh thyme and the lemon zest. Really good – now that wild rabbit is getting more common meat in Britain’s butcher shops, there’s no excuse in giving it a try. 8/10

#219 Jugged Hare

I’d heard of jugged hare before and had always assumed that ‘jugging’ meant that some strange spices were added, but it simply means that it is cooked in the jug. The idea being that the hare can cook away in the jug that is, in turn, in a pan of simmering water. The way of cooking goes back to when people had to cook over their hearths. Jugged hare therefore has gone out of fashion because we make it into a casserole or stew (as in this recipe here) in the oven. I bought the hare from Shaw meats a few months ago and had had it stowed away in the freezer for quite a while, so it was perfect as the main course of my emptying-the-cupboards themed dinner party. Here’s how to jug a hare (or a large rabbit).

First joint your hare, and if you like lard it with some bacon fat or pork back fat. It is wise to do this if the hare is not a youngling. If any blood that drains off, keep it in a bowl (in fact, if you can get the butcher to keep the blood when hanging the hare, even better), rub the hare with salt, black pepper and Cayenne pepper and place the pieces in a large stoneware jug along with an onion that has been studded with three cloves, a bouquet garni (I used, parsley, bay, rosemary and pared lemon peel), and four ounces of butter. Cover with foil and tie securely and tightly with string. Place the jug in a roasting tin half-filled with boiling water, put it on the heat and bring to a simmer and then cook on the hob or in the oven for three hours.

When cooked, remove the pieces and allow them to rest while you make the gravy. Strain the juices (there will be a surprisingly large volume) in a sauce pan and add a quarter of a pint of red wine, a chopped anchovy and a pinch more of Cayenne pepper. Bring to a simmer and thicken: either with a beurre manié made from half an ounce of butter and a tablespoon of flour mashed together and added in knobs, or by adding the blood of the beast (don’t let the sauce boil though, otherwise it’ll will go like pink scrambled eggs). The blood I had reserved was only a small amount so I popped it in at the end. Lastly, add a squeeze of lemon juice. Griggers suggests serving it with fried bread, but I went with game chips (see here), forcemeat balls (see here) kale and ‘Carrots from 1599’ (see the next entry, when I get round to writing it).


This pic makes the hare look rather unappetising, but it did look good in real life!

#219 Jugged Hare. A really good hearty winter stew this, the hare was very well-flavoured and gamey and the gravy was really delicious – very dark and very rich. Although it was good, it wasn’t as good as the hare stew I did last winter, which had a much more complex flavour. Still, it deserves an above average 6.5/10.

#171 Herb Stuffing

I have been trying to address an FAQ recently: “how far through the book are you?” I have been a right old geek and calculated it on a spreadsheet! Unfortunately I can’t work out how to put a table into Blogger and I’m no good with html script. If anybody reading this knows how to do a table please leave a comment. I did notice that I have not paid much attention to the Stuffings section, having done the Parsley and Lemon Stuffing at Christmastime. I went for this herb stuffing for two main reasons: firstly, Grigson uses this stuffing in many other recipes; and secondly, I had all the ingredients. I wanted to judge it in its own right and not part of another recipe, so I made it and used it to stuff a roast chicken for Sunday dinner.

By the way: There is no method for roasting a chicken (or goose for that matter) in English Food, so I went for the method normally used: 20 minutes a pound plus an extra 20 minutes at 200°C. Make sure when you calculate the cooking time, you weight the chicken after you’ve stuffed it. Place the chicken in a roasting tin, rub in plenty of butter into the skin and season well. Cover with foil and baste every half an hour. Remove foil for final 30 minutes and baste every 15 minutes until cooked. Leave to rest for 15 minutes before carving.

Anyway, back to the stuffing: Gently fry a chopped medium onion in 2 ounces of butter until nicely soft and golden and pour the contents including juices into a mixing bowl. Now add 2 ounces of chopped ham or bacon (I went with the latter; black bacon from the Cheshire Smokehouse), a tablespoon of chopped parsley, a tablespoon of chopped thyme, 4 ounces of breadcrumbs, and egg, an egg yolk and finally a seasoning with salt and pepper. Stir well and use it however you like: stuff poultry, veal, rabbit or tomatoes, or even roll into balls and bake on a tray in the oven.


#171 Herb Stuffing – 9/10. Absolutely delicious! Such a massive return for such little effort. It is really full of flavour; it is very important that you use good ham or bacon and fresh herbs for this as they should be the dominant flavours. There’ll be no Paxo in my house ever again! If you are doing a roast chicken dinner, give it a try – you will not be disappointed.

#130 Boiled Wild Rabbit with Onion Sauce

Tis the end of the game season here in Old Blighty; though any game fans out there needn’t panic as rabbit is available all year round. This is due to the fact that they are evil vermin and should be ‘disappeared’. They were introduced by the Romans and by the Normans as farm animals, the little critters escaped and we were overrun. I am assuming they outcompeted the hares, causing their numbers to drop. So shoot away – even if you don’t want to eat them. You will be doing a service to the country.

FYI: Easter bunnies do not refer to rabbits, but hares, as it is they who display their ‘mad’ March behaviour. Rabbits are similar and much more common and so have been mis-named. If you spot anyone making this minor error, be annoying and pull them up on it and then do your best smug face to infuriate them further

Anyway, I’d never eaten wild rabbit and had had farmed only the once and totally cocked it up, but since I am loving the game thus far in English Food I knew I’d like this one. Only wild rabbit will do here, people, if you can’t get wild rabbit use duck instead. What also interested me was the huge amount of onions required for this recipe – it’s very rare that onions are used as a vegetable. It’s another Eighteenth Century dish. If you got your rabbit whole and intact, you should use the jaw bones and stick them in the rabbit’s eyes and fill its mouth with myrtle or barberries. Whatever they are.

Here goes…

For 4.

Truss your wild rabbit (or duck) with string, place it in a pan, cover with water, add a bouquet garni (I used parsley, bay, thyme, rosemary and some pared orange rind) and some salt and pepper then bring it to the boil and simmer ‘until done’. Having no frame of reference here, meant checking every now and again. Apparently, younger lithe rabbits cook quicker than old gnarly ones, so check every half an hour after the first hour is up. Once simmering, get to work on peeling 2 to 3 pounds of onions. Pop them in whole along with the rabbit after half an hour and take them out after another half an hour. Now chop them up – a boiled onion is a slippery customer, so be careful with them knife. Fry the onions in 4 ounces of butter until golden in colour, add 4 tablespoons of double cream and season with salt, pepper and nutmeg.

Remove the cooked rabbit and let it rest for a little while and then cut up into serving pieces – two rear legs, two fore legs and the saddle cut into 3 pieces. Arrange on a serving dish and smother with the sauce. Serve with spinach and potatoes as instructed by Griggers herself (I did mash).


#130 Boiled Wild Rabbit with Onion Sauce – 5/10. Not sure if I liked this. It wasn’t vile, as I finished my meal, but wild rabbit has an unusual flavour that is pungent and slightly unappetising. Butters said it tasted like sewage. Weirdly, he wasn’t far away with that description. In fact reading ahead to other rabbit recipes, Griggers herself says that rabbit needs strong flavours to balance its ‘rank flavour.’ This begs the question: if I don’t like it, should I cook the other recipes? They all ask for wild rabbit, however, it is only this recipe that absolutely requires wild, so maybe I should try farmed next time. Not sure. Slightly disappointed that I dislike something – I pride myself in not being a fussy eater. Anyways, the onion sauce was lovely and rich and creamy – loved that. Perhaps using a duck would have been better all round.