#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.

#338 Beefsteak Stewed with Oysters

This is the third and final recipe that uses the classic combination of beef and oysters. I was so dubious about it at first but now I relish and look forward to recipes like this. This one is a simple stew that is easy to prepare and uses few ingredients. It probably was at its peak of popularity in Victorian times – I have mentioned before a few times how oysters were so cheap they were used as a seasoning. The final product isn’t overly fishy as one might expect.

This will feed between 3 and 5 people depending upon greediness.

Start with your oysters; you need to prepare 18 of the buggers. However, this is only if you are using the small British ones, if you are using the large Pacific or Atlantic ones, you can get away with half or even a third of the amount. Luckily, being in the USA at the moment it is pretty easy to find the little bivalves pre-shucked in tubs in their own liquor. If you can’t get hold of the pre-shucked kind, I hear you can easily open them by putting them flat side up in the freezer and when the oysters fall asleep they open up. I have never tested this so it may all be nonsense. However you get your oysters, make sure you drain them well through a sieve and keep the liquor.

Next, the beefsteak – any kind ‘will do for this recipe, from chuck to rump’ – you need 1 ½ pounds in all. Cut it into large neat pieces and season well with salt and pepper. Melt 2 ounces of butterin a large deep pan with a lid and brown the beef, in batches if necessary. Once that job is done, add around ½ pint of water and the oyster liquor. Cover, bring to a simmer and cook until tender between one hour and 90 minutes depending on the cut of meat.

Whilst it gently bubbles away, mash together ½ ounce of butter with a rounded teaspoon of flour.  When the meat is ready, add 2 ounces of port and stir the butter and flour mixture in small knobs until the sauce thickens. You might not want to add it all. I like a sauce on the thick side so I did. Don’t let the sauce boil hard though. Next add the oysters – if large, cut into two or three pieces – and season with salt and pepper. Heat the oysters through for a couple of minutes – no longer, or they’ll be rubbery.

‘Serve very hot’, says Griggers, with triangles of bread fried in butter‘tucked around the sides’.

#338 Beefsteak Stewed with Oysters. I love this combination so much! What a shame there are no more recipes left like this. The water had become a rich but not overpowering sauce that goes so well with the iodine-scented oysters. The fried bread was a great contrast in texture and the recipe is so easy and quick compared to a pie or pudding too. It is such a shame that oysters are so expensive. I am wondering if mussels could be used as a substitute. This one is going to remain a staple whilst I am in the USA where oysters are cheap! 10/10.

#225 Cockie-Leekie

And my lords and lieges, let us all to dinner, for the cockie-leekie is a-cooling.”

Sir Walter Scott, to his dinner guests

Cockie-Leekie, or Cock-a-Leekie, is a very Scottish dish, or so I thought. Apparently it turns up in several versions in Scottish and Welsh cook books and a rather complicated recipe in an English cook book where it is called Hindle Wakes. It appears in English food, but I haven’t done it yet.

So it is not necessarily exclusively Scottish. It is also not a soup. It’s a good, hearty and simple dish: beef, chicken, leeks and prunes all stewed together. All you need is some slow cooking time. Have a go and make it for a lazy Sunday dinner as I did. It serves at least 6 people:

Start off by placing a two-pound slice of stewing steak in the bottom of a deep stockpot. Cover with water and bring it to a boil slowly, skimming off any scum as it rises to the top. Simmer for an hour and hten season well with salt and pepper. Meanwhile trim three pounds of leeks and tie half of them in a bundle. When the hour is up place them in the pot. Simmer for a further half an hour before adding a whole chicken or capon and sit it on top of the beef (you can use a boiling fowl; if so, add it when you add the leeks). The cockie-leekie now needs to simmer gently for an hour and a half. Twenty minutes before it is ready remove the bundle of leeks and add a pound of prunes. Now slice the remaining leeks up and add those in the final five minutes. Easy.


To serve it, place some beef and a piece of chicken in large bowl and cover with the thick, dark and rich stock. A meal in itself, though I did some boiled new potatoes too.

#225 Cockie-Leekie. Really good food, especially for this time of year when all is miserable and wet outside. This is home-cooking at its simplest and finest. The stock produce from the beef and prunes was lovely and rich, but did not detract from the subtly-flavoured chicken. Really good one this one. 7.5/10.

#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.

#197 Sedgemoor Eel Stew

The first of four eel-based recipes from the book (five if you include the elvers recipe) and hopefully the star turn for my dinner party. I chose this one first because I knew them some people would be squeamish about them and this one seemed the least scary. It’s called a stew, but really it’s poached fish in a parsley sauce; a dish that everyone’s had in some way or form before. It’s a classic Somerset recipe this, where there are eels in abundance (according to Griggers); this is not the case so much these days, certainly for Manchester. However, I did get them. Try your fishmonger and you never know; I got mine from Out of the Blue in Chorlton. Be warned – you do get them live, so be prepared to kill them and prepare them yourself. Read how I went about it here.

This serves six easily.

You need three to four pounds of clean and skinned freshwater eel for this recipe. Begin by cutting the eel(s) into even-sized portions of around two inches in length. Season them lightly. Make a stock from the eel heads and skin as well as the flat part of the tails: Place the trimmings in a pan and cover them with half-water, half-cider (use good dry cider). Bring to a boil and then cover and summer for twenty minutes.

Arrange the eel pieces in a shallow pan and pour over enough hot stock to barely cover the eels. Poach the eels for around fifteen minutes, until the eel meat starts to come away from the bones. Don’t let the stock come to a proper boil though – steady poaching is the key, and it may take longer with thicker eels. When cooked, remove the eel pieces and arrange them on a serving dish, cover them with cling film and keep them warm.

Now make the sauce by boiling down the cooking liquor until it tastes strongly and then add ¼ pint (i.e. a 150 ml pot) of clotted, Jersey or double cream and four tablespoons of chopped parsley. Season again if required. Pour the sauce over the eel and serve. She suggests serving this stew with toast or fried bread. As fried bread had already featured in the last two courses, I went for toast. I also served some broccoli too.

#197 Sedgemoor Eel Stew. This was really good; the sauce was both sharp and creamy due to the cider and fresh with grassy parsley. The flavours were robust, but not too strong to mask the eel itself. It was very delicate in flavour; you could tell that they had come from a very good river as it tasted of fresh springwater. It stayed beautifully moist due to the gelatinous nature of it too. Much superior to salmon or trout, I think. Now that people don’t eat eel, I feel I have found a real hidden gem. I just have to go through the rigmarole of killing and cleaning them! At least I can say that this was the freshest fish I’ve ever had! 8.5/10

FYI: delicious as eel maybe, beware if someone offers you raw eel, say as sashimi. Eel blood is toxic before it is cooked, so if you get given a bloody bit, it could be a bad man trying to do away with you.

#188 Ragout of Lamb

Another bargain from Orton Farmers’ market – a nice leg of lamb for a tenner. I love lamb, I do. Griggers actually half-inched this one from a chap called Michael Smith. I don’t know who he is. Anyway, I wanted to do this one because I got to use to use up a massive punnet of tomatoes that I also got from the market. This recipe is not worth making with those crappy old chlorosed supermarket thingies. Get some proper ones; if you grow them yourself, alls the better. It’s a nice recipe this one, a nice summery stew.

You need 2 pounds of leg of lamb that has been cubed for this recipe. If you get the butcher to bone it, don’t forget to ask for the bone – you’ve paid for it, make some stock out of it! Shake the cubed meat in a bag along with two tablespoons of well-seasoned flour. Brown them in a pan with a couple of tablespoons of vegetable oil. Place the browned lamb in a casserole and then brown 2 diced carrots and half a head of celery that has also been diced in the pan. When done add those to the casserole. If you have a casserole that can go straight onto the hob, then you can do it all in one. Now add ½ teaspoon of Cayenne pepper, 2 crushed garlic cloves, a sprig of rosemary and the grated rind of a lemon to the meat and vegetables and pour over 1 ¼ pints of chicken stock. Bake in the oven for 1 ½ hours at 190⁰C.

At the mid-way point, you need to add around 18 caramelised spring or pickling onions. To make them prepare the onions: leave about 2 or 3 inches of green stalk on the spring onions. If it’s pickling onions, you are using, just peel them. Melt ½ an ounce of butter in a pan and add the onions, plus 1 ½ teaspoons of sugar. Cook until caramelised, making sure they all get coated and browned evenly.


The final stage of this recipe is to cook the tomatoes lightly – they are used as a topping: peel the tomatoes, halve them, scoop out the seeds and dice them up. Melt ½ an ounce of butter in a saucepan and cook the tomatoes lightly. Take the ragout out of the oven, skim it of fat, check for seasoning, place it in a bowl and place the tomatoes on top. Scatter with chopped basil. Serve with a baked potato.

#188 Ragout of Lamb. A really nice stew this one; the meat was beautifully tender and the chicken stock, tomatoes and basil really lifted and made it light and summery – it’s a shame we have no actual summer to speak of. The onions collapse into sweet, sweet mush too. Great stuff – 7.5/10.

Everything you wanted to know about bouquet garnis but were afraid to ask…

Ok, you weren’t afraid to ask…

Not really had time to add extra entries other than the stuff I’m cooking from the Tome. However, I did come across this information in the very excellent book A Celebration of Soup by Lindsey Bareham on the subject of bouquet garnis – I usually guess as to what should go in mine, and try and match it to the ingredients of the soup/stew etc, but Lindsey gives an ultimate list here, which I’m reproducing – I’m using it as a benchmark from now on and thought you might like to know too… So whenever I mention that I’ve used a bouquet garni, unless Griggers is very specific as to what should go in it, it’ll be one of these and I’ll link back to this post. Hope it’s useful!

Poultry – stick of celery cut in half, parsley stalks, a couple of sprays of tarragon, a bayleaf, a sprig of thyme and leek trimmings.

Game – A sprig of rosemary, ½ an onion, 3 inches of pared orange peel and a sprig of thyme.

Fish – A couple of fennel stalks or leaves, a sprig each of chervil and tarragon and leek trimmings.

Meat – One clove of unpeeled garlic, parsley stalks, a bayleaf, ½ an onion studded with a few cloves and a sprig of time. (I’m also adding a spring of sage with pork and rosemary with lamb).