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.
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.
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.
#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
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.
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.
‘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.
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.