Rabbit isn’t just for…you know, ‘other people’, and it’s none of the things you imagine it might be either - they’re not cute and furry, nor do they require any bush-craft know-how. All you have to do is ring your local butcher and order one for next week – they’ll do the rest and it’ll cost you just £3, and because its wild it comes preloaded with flavour. So, let’s recap: cheap, local, free-range, no knife skills.
Are you still there?
This recipe is hard to get wrong and if it’s your first time with rabbit, no-one is ever going to know. The result is a cross between a pâté and French style rillettes: slowly cooked highly flavoured shredded meat is seasoned, mixed with something moist and unctuous, packed into jars and topped with melted butter to form a seal. Ideal for entertaining, you can make these a few days in advance. In fact, the original idea back in the day, the 16th Century day when they cottoned on to the fact that pots could replace pastry as a means for holding food, was that these could be made several months in advance- perhaps not altogether necessary in this day and age, what with fridges and what have you, but still an effective means of preserving none the less.
I serve this portioned in individual Parfait jars, but you could make one big one in a shallow terrine dish and turn it out – be sure to serve it with the butter on top though, as anyone with any where-with-all will use the butter to spread on to toast before loading on the topping.
(serves 8 – 10)
1 x wild rabbit jointed (by the butcher)
150g pancetta, or smoked streaky bacon, chopped into small pieces
250ml white wine
2 bay leaves
2 sticks of celery
1 large carrot peeled, roughly chopped
1 large onion, quartered
2 average cloves of garlic
A few springs of thyme, tarragon and parsley stalks (save the leaves for later)
6 tablespoons of duck or goose fat (maybe a couple less, maybe a couple more)
2 tablespoons of chopped fresh herbs, a combination of thyme, parsley and tarragon would be best.
250g block of butter – clarified*
(I use a large oval roaster for this, but use whatever you’ve got that’s big enough to let the ingredients move about freely, that has a lid and will go in the oven.)
Preheat the oven to 150 ⁰C.
Set the pan over a medium heat and add a table spoon of duck fat.
Add the chopped pancetta and get it moving about. Colour it like you would crispy bacon, then remove it to a plate leaving behind the hot fat.
Season the rabbit pieces with salt and pepper, then brown them off in the hot fat, in two batches if necessary. Turn them frequently to get colour on all sides, so to speak.
When all your rabbit is browned, chuck the pancetta back into the pan with it, then all the veg, garlic, onion, herbs, the lot. Then add the white wine and let that bubble for a couple of minutes to deglaze the bottom of the pan.
Then add enough water to cover everything – a couple of litres should do it, but don’t scrutinize this little instruction too much – this has got a good 2½- 3 hours cooking time, and even after that we’ll reduce whatever resulting stock is left, so don’t be tight with the water is what I’m saying.
That’s it then, shove it in the oven and clear off for a bit. How long will depend on your rabbit, how old it was, how big it is, both of these things you’ll be hard pushed to know so start checking after 2 hours, but I’ve had some specimens that have taken 3½.
What we’re after is meat that falls away from the bones easily in little shreds – take a piece out of the pan and try to pull the meat with your fingers – if you’re not sure give it another 20 mins and check again. You’ll know when the time is right, and don’t forget wild meats are from active animals and will therefore be more ‘athletic’ and take longer to surrender.
When you’re satisfied the meat is soft enough, tip the whole lot into a colander sat over a bowl.
Return the cooking liquor to the pan, (wipe it out if you need to) pouring it through a fine sieve. Put it over a medium/high heat and reduce the contents to just 200ml.
Meanwhile, back at the bunny, pick the meat from the bones, all the meat from all the bones. There are no ‘no go’ areas, but there are some smaller bones on a rabbit, especially the ribs, and the tibias and fibulas, so keep your wits about you.
Collect all the meat in a bowl and use your fingers to squidge, tear or rip the meat into fibrous shreds. Remember this is a sort of pate and will be spread on toast, so you don’t want great chunks.
Now add some melted duck fat, start with 4 tablespoons and then add the same of the stock reduction. Mix it with your fingers – it should feel vaguely oily and moist, but bear in mind as it cools it will solidify, if you don’t have enough moisture it’ll be hard to spread. Add another tablespoon of each, but don’t add so much you get puddles in the bowl. Taste for seasoning before you add any more; the stock reduction will be a very concentrated flavour and you may find you don’t need to add very much more. Add some chopped parsley, be generous, two good tablespoons should do it. Taste for seasoning again, before spooning into individual serving jars. Smooth and flatten the tops as best you can, any wayward pieces of meat poking through the butter seal will defeat the purpose of the exercise in terms of adding a seal for preservation.
I serve this with a side of piccalilli as rabbit and mustard are a good pairing. Other flavours that go nicely with rabbit include tarragon, bacon, prune, apple, parsley… and so on and so forth.
* Clarified butter has several advantages over butter in its original state, in this case separating the fat from the milk solids extends its shelf life (the resulting product is almost 99% fat and the element susceptible to food spoilage has been removed)
Place the whole block of butter in a small pan over a very low heat and melt it ever so slowly, the fat will separate from the milky white solids which will settle at the bottom. Gently pour off the clear stuff into a jug, leaving behind the unwanted solids in the pan.