Rabbit is not an indigenous British species, it’s thought that they were brought here by the Romans or Normans, to farm for meat and fur. Vegetable farmers have to do a considerable amount of shooting and trapping in order to protect their crops (our food). It’s all very well for rabbit lovers and vegetarians to protest, but countries like Australia have biblical plagues of rabbits, which, like locusts, eat everything in their path. I’m not suggesting eliminating rabbits, but we should be eating them instead of factory farmed chicken. Wild rabbits get culled regardless. In New Zealand they are planning to eliminate rabbit completely with a disease. To be fair to New Zealanders, the rabbit is not a native species and it probably outnumbers the 4.5 million human population by at least ten to one. Apparently 7 – 10 rabbits consume the same amount of vegetation as a ewe in a single day (though sheep arrived by boat, with the British, too!). But I digress, so on with the recipe…
Conejo al Vino recipe (serves 2 – 3 people)
1 wild rabbit (jointed)
3 slices smoked streaky bacon (chopped) or a little Spanish jamón serrano
1 large onion (chopped)
a whole head of garlic (finely chopped)
500ml dry white wine
a splash red wine vinegar
rabbit blood (optional)
a few sprigs of thyme
2 bay leaves
2 heaped dessertspoons of plain flour
1 teaspoon of rosemary, sage and thyme (a few sprigs of each), juniper berries, coarse sea salt and black peppercorns ground in a mortar and pestle
sea salt and cracked black pepper to taste
extra virgin olive oil for cooking
Save the blood to thicken the sauce later on (pour a little red wine vinegar into it to stop it coagulating).
Cut the rabbit up into about 6 pieces. Dredge the meat in seasoned flour (I mix in a teaspoon of ground herbs and juniper berries) and brown lightly (in batches, don’t overcrowd the pan) in extra virgin olive oil. When the rabbit has a little colour remove it to a plate. Do include the heart, liver and kidneys for flavour – if they are not your thing, you can remove them before serving.
Using the same cast iron casserole and oil, fry the onion with the bacon. When the onion goes translucent, stir in the garlic. After a few minutes, sprinkle on any leftover flour and mix to form a roux.
Pour in the wine and a splash of red wine vinegar. Return the rabbit to the pot, along with a few sprigs of thyme and 2 bay leaves. Bring the liquid to a simmer and allow it to bubble away for a few minutes to burn off the alcohol, before putting the lid on and removing the casserole to a preheated oven at 150ºC. Cook for about an hour and turn the rabbit about half way through.
After 60 minutes, taste and adjust the seasoning as necessary. Stir in the blood to thicken the sauce.
Return the casserole to the oven for a final 10 to 15 minutes with the lid off. The rabbit is done when it feels tender to a fork. Serve with mashed potato and seasonal vegetables. I recommend dry white wine as an accompaniment, or better still, cava!
As with all game, mind your teeth – watch out for lead shot and pellets.