Rabbit itself is very much considered meat in Spain, unlike the UK where most people (these days) see it as a pet. It is said that the Carthaginians, arriving in Spain (around 300 BC), named the region Ispania (from Sphan meaning rabbit), land of rabbits, which later became Hispania under the Romans and España today.
Cazuela de Conejo recipe (feeds 3 – 4 people):
1 rabbit (jointed)
4 slices smoked streaky bacon (chopped)
1 large onion (chopped)
6 pieces of garlic (finely chopped)
2 large carrots (chopped)
1 red pepper (chopped)
1 large tomato (grated)
25 button mushrooms
1 pint of game stock (chicken is a good substitute)
a glass of red wine
a splash of red wine vinegar
a dessertspoon of tomato purée
a squeeze of anchovy paste
a pinch of crushed chilli
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 frying
Joint the rabbit and dust it in plain four and a teaspoonful of ground mixed herbs. Heat some extra virgin olive oil in a large cast iron casserole or Spanish terracotta cazuela (mine is sadly too big to fit in the oven) and brown the meat. Don’t overcrowd the pan, you can do this in a couple of batches. When the rabbit has taken a little colour, remove it to a plate.
Using the same casserole, fry the onion until it goes translucent, then stir in the bacon and a pinch of crushed chilli. In Spain jamón is more often used then bacon, but they sell the offcuts cheap as tacos (small pieces or crumbs) in all the charcuterías (which they don’t do here).
When the bacon has browned a little, add the chopped carrots
and then the red pepper and garlic.
Cut the tomato in half and grate the flesh into the casserole – you should be left with two round pieces of skin, which you can discard.
Return the bunny to the casserole, put the lid on and remove to a warm oven at about 150ºC for 90 minutes. Turn the rabbit pieces about half way through and taste the casserole after an hour and a half. Poke the rabbit with a fork to ensure it is tender, adjust the seasoning and return the dish to the oven, without a lid, for a final 30 minutes. Rabbit is less predictable than farmed meat, but I find that 2 hours of gentle cooking will normally soften it up nicely. Do look for smaller, younger rabbits to be on the safe side.
Serve the Cazuela de Conejo with potatoes and seasonal vegetables. A robust Spanish red, like Carta Roja Grand Reservada, will make a perfect accompaniment.