Rabbit, as I’ve mentioned before, is an interloper to these shores. It was probably introduced for farmed meat and fur, by the Romans or Normans. Velouté Sauce is one of the 5 classic “mother sauces” of French Cuisine, as compiled by Auguste Escoffier in his Le Guide Culinaire (printed in 1903), which is still very much in use in culinary schools today. Sauce Velouté (or velvety sauce) is made with a roux of equal parts, fat and flour plus a clear stock, generally veal, but it can also be made using chicken, fish or vegetables. The other 4 classic sauces, are: Béchamel, Espagnole, Hollandaise and Tomate. They are called “mother sauces” because many other “daughter sauces” can be derived from them, such as Mornay from Béchamel, Madeira from Espagnole, Bearnaise from Hollandaise, etc.
My velouté sauce isn’t strictly speaking correct, since much of it is used to cook the rabbit, instead of being a sauce served with rabbit, but nevertheless, the main ingredients are there. Butter and olive oil provide the fat, the rabbit is dusted with flour and the remainder is stirred into the vegetables. A clear chicken stock is mixed into this roux, dry cider is used as a white wine substitute and a liaison with crème fraîche finishes off the sauce.
Rabbit and Mushrooms in Velouté Sauce recipe (serves 3):
1 wild rabbit (jointed)
3 rashers smoked streaky bacon (chopped)
1 large onion (chopped)
6 cloves garlic (finely chopped)
1lb mushrooms (chopped)
3 dessertspoons seasoned flour (with a touch of Colman’s Mustard)
3/4 pint clear chicken stock
1/4 pint dry cider
the leaves from 4 sprigs thyme
2 dessertspoons crème fraîche
a squirt of anchovy paste
a knob butter
a splash olive oil
sea salt and cracked black pepper (to taste)
chopped parsley (to garnish)
Joint your rabbit, or ask the butcher to do it for you. Use 3 dessertspoons plain flour, seasoned with salt, pepper and half a level teaspoon of yellow mustard powder for dusting the bunny. Using a mixture of hot olive oil and butter, brown the rabbit in a cast iron casserole. Do this in batches – too many pieces in the pan (at the same time) will lower the temperature and the meat will poach instead of browning. When done, remove the rabbit to a plate.
Using the same casserole and fat, soften the chopped onion. When it starts to go translucent, stir in the bacon.
Mix in 1lb chopped mushrooms and the garlic. When the mushrooms start to release some water, sprinkle the leftover flour on top and stir it in to make a roux.
Combine with the stock and cider, bring to a simmer to allow the alcohol to burn off.
Mix in the anchovy paste and thyme leaves. Have a taste and add salt and pepper if necessary. Submerge the rabbit in the liquid, put the lid on the casserole and place in a preheated oven at 160º C for 1 1/2 to 2 hours – until the rabbit is tender.
When the rabbit is done, remove it to a warm plate and cover while you add the finishing touches.
Add two dessertspoon crème fraîche
and stir into the sauce. I recommend using the full fat French variety and not the low calorie version – genuine crème fraîche won’t spit when heated, whereas the low fat version is less trustworthy. Check the seasoning and adjust if necessary.
Return the rabbit to the velouté sauce and sprinkle on a little chopped parsley. Serve with boiled potatoes, seasonal vegetables and a glass of traditional cider, such as Wild Rabbit, from Secret Orchard. The dish itself tastes of sharp apples, umami (savoury) from the mushrooms and rabbit, combined with slightly sour cream – absolutely delicious!