Rabbit, Rabbit

photo Apologies for the rather long break (I’m sure you’ve all been on tenterhooks). I’ve just started a new job and have been rather busy testing dishes, writing menus, and pickling lots of things, so while I’ve had plenty of new recipes to share, I haven’t had the time to write anything about them. Even if I did, I’m not sure a lot of them would translate that well into the home-cooking format – like a lot of professional recipes they are broadly split between “take a lot of expensive and hard-to-source-ingredients and put them on a plate” and “subject cheap ingredients to a three-day process of dismemberment”. Still, I feel I’ve got to write about something, and putting things on a plate wouldn’t be very interesting, so dismemberment it is. This recipe uses one of my very favourite meats, and is one I’ve been working on – I don’t like to say refining, but certainly improving – for the last few years. Despite the increasing fashionability of game, rabbit is still pretty cheap to buy, and is a plentiful and guilt-free meat, the things being a pest in most of the country. Like most wild meat, though, it does need careful cooking, and can be a stringy and unpleasant eating experience if handled badly. This recipe is designed to minimise that possibility. People seem to treat the cooking of game as if it’s some great mystery, requiring an almost magical touch in the kitchen; basically, though, the meat is both hard-working – think how much a rabbit runs in its short life – and lean, and requires a healthy dose of moisture and fat to help it along. In this, as in so much, pigs are your friend. So. This is a lengthy process, but none of it is particularly hands-on, and is, I think, worth it. (I would say that though). To shorten things a little I’ve assumed that you’ll get the rabbit jointed, although as this is a satisfying procedure in its own right, I do suggest you give it a go sometime.

RABBIT RAGOUT

Happily serves four.

DAY ONE

All this can be done some time in advance.

TROTTER JELLY

3 pig feet (you’re not using the flesh for this, so don’t worry about shaving them)

2 onions

2 sticks of celery

2 fat carrots 2 leeks

1 head of garlic

A few cloves, peppercorns & juniper berries

Put the feet in a large pan, cover with water, and bring to a boil. Blanch for about 15 minutes, to drive off some of the scum. I’ve skipped this step before and ended up with a pan of sickly green, so please do it. Chop the veg into chunks, washing the leeks, and halve the garlic along its tummy. Drain the feet, rinse off any clinging scum, then put all in the pan and cover with fresh water. Bring to a bright simmer, and leave there for at least three hours, maybe more, until the trotters have completely collapsed, with bones poking all over the place. Drain the stock into jars or tubs, and discard the solids somewhere that won’t attract rats. Leave to cool, then refrigerate.

BRINE

300g fine sea salt (not table salt; it’s got stuff added to it)

200g granulated sugar

2 cloves of garlic, lightly squashed

A few cloves, juniper berries and peppercorns

Put everything in a pan, cover with two litres of water, and heat gently, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Turn up the heat and boil for a couple of minutes. Leave to cool, then refrigerate this too.

DAY TWO 2 wild rabbits, jointed

The brine

Put the rabbits in the brine, or the brine on the rabbit. Weigh down with a plate or something, and put in the fridge.

DAY THREE RABBIT Brined rabbit (you don’t need the saddles for this; they are much more tender and quick to cook than the legs, so save them for something else)

1 onion

1 fat carrot

1 stick of celery

1 leek

trotter jelly

chicken stock (if you have some)

Again, chunk the veg, and use them to make a rabbit bed in a suitable pan. Drain the rabbit, and rinse under running water for a good few minutes, then arrange the joints on their bed. Add enough trotter jelly to cover the rabbit once melted; it might need a top-up with stock or water. Cover and braise gently for a couple of hours, until the meat starts to fall off the bone.

SAUCE

1 large onion, finely diced

1 carrot, finely diced

1 stick of celery, finely diced

1 lemon, zest only

2 sprigs of thyme, stripped

2 tblspn tomato puree 100ml full-fat milk

50ml white balsamic or other nice vinegar

Extra virgin olive oil

Sweat the vegetables in a good slosh of oil until very soft, then stir in the zest and thyme leaves and cook for a minute until fragrant. Add the puree, increase the heat, and fry for a minute or two. Turn down again, add the milk, and let it bubble away to nothing, then do the same with the vinegar.

TO FINISH

rabbit sauce

a handful of chopped parsley Shred the rabbit meat of the bones and add to the sauce, then strain in enough of the braising liquid to just cover. Simmer until everyone seems happy together, then serve with something bright and green, and polenta or pasta.

Dishes of the Year

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It’s that time of the year (Listmas? Ugh), when we gorge ourselves on the opinions of others, hope that we can make up for a year of apathy by digesting the entire cultural calendar in a bullet-pointed frenzy. With nothing much else to do (I’m not going to blog my Christmas dinner, am I?) I thought I’d wade into the fray. In chronological rather than ranking order, these are the best individual dishes I have eaten this year. I might have had better meals (that cheap, boozy fish dinner in Barcelona) or sampled better ingredients (salmon pastirma, perhaps), but these are the finest considered, composed plates of food I have sampled. For fairness and variety, I’ve only picked one dish from any meal or holiday – I could have chosen six from the Sportsman, for example – while for reasons of not being an arse, I have excluded anything cooked by myself.

SPAGHETTI WITH SEA URCHIN
Piccolo Napoli, Palermo, 28/2
Just a triumph of simplicity, which I wrote about at the time. Spaghetti, fresh sea urchin gently cooking in the heat of the pasta, parsley (chilli?) and oil. Outrageously tasty, supremely redolent of salt and sea, it made me want to eat urchin all the time.

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EEL AND EGG
The Sportsman, Seasalter, 16/4
The most impressive part of a very impressive meal, the full tasting menu at this Michelin-starred seaside pub. A warm poached egg yolk, a cool whipped eel cream, hiding little chunks of smoked eel and a violently fresh parsley sauce, all housed in an eggshell. Technically magnificent, beautifully flavoursome.

TROTTERS IN MUSTARD
Mousel’s Cantine, Luxembourg City, 26/5
This is a little unfair, as half the fun was the place itself – a little brasserie around which waiters rushed, looking like extras from Asterix, carrying trays of foaming stone beer mugs, platters of choucroute and beans and potatoes – but this dish was lovely. Boned out feet, stuffed with something piggy, braised in a sauce rich with ham and mirepoix, sharp with mustard. You know it’s going to be good when the waiter warns you it’s “special”.

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PAPADA BUN
Tickets, Barcelona, 12/6
Not actually from the tapas bar itself, we had this from a food festival pitched up in the Ramblas, with various revered eateries offering little bites. I can’t even remember what else was in this bun, just the glazed softness of the brioche and the melting fat of a pig’s double chin.

GRILLED ONION SALAD
Mangal 2, London, 9/7
Blackened white onions and fat tomatoes and a vast pile of herbs, with a couple of lettuce leaves and bits of cucumber for form’s sake, all drenched in pomegranate molasses, lemon and oil. Powerfully delicious, I could drink that dressing by the mug.

WET POLENTA
Polpetto, London, 6/8
Not really a dish? I was going to put the octopus, absurdly tender, spiced just so, charred in all the right places – but then I realised I had completely forgotten the beans that had come with it, and thought it was unfair to include a dish I couldn’t even remember properly. That polenta, though – I can taste it now. So rich, so delicately seasoned.

PUFFED JALAPENO
Billy Franks, London, 3/9
A canapé! Don’t worry, it’s the only one (I don’t make a habit of eating canapés). Served at the Young British Foodie awards ceremony, which we were shortlisted for. I must have eaten about ten of these. A dried, deep-fried jalapeno, topped with an n’duja cheese sauce, pineapple bacon jam and some kind of powdered beef jerky, this was exactly the sum of its parts and therefore filthily tasty.

HERB SALAD
Ciya, Istanbul, 28/9
Parsley, a purple herb I didn’t recognise, white cheese. Pomegranate, oil. Come on.

KOREAN CHICKEN WINGS
The Wingman, Norwich , 20/11
A brand new popup at the Birdcage which I hope we see more of, this is certainly one of the most exciting things to happen to Norwich for a while (not counting Pickle and Smoke, obviously). Sweet, sticky, spicy, covered in sesame, fresh spring onions and herbs, melting off the bone. The kimchi was pretty underpowered, but you can’t have everything. Give it time.

CONFIT GOOSE
The Granville, Canterbury, 23/12
This is the Sportsman’s sister pub. Not quite as fancy, it confines itself to doing ‘pub grub’ very well. Annoyingly, they weren’t doing their cheap lunch deal in December (which they didn’t mention when I booked), so we spent a bit more than intended. Still delicious though. Tender meat, crisp skin, perfect roast potatoes. Nothing groundbreaking, no, but that’s not always what you want. A good start to the feasting period.

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