Conejo en Salmorejo is a rabbit dish that comes from las Islas Canarias (the Canary Islands), a Spanish archipelago, about 62 miles off the coast of Morocco, in the Atlantic Ocean. Norman explorers began the Castilian conquest of the Canaries in 1402, but the Spanish didn’t take full possession until 1496.
Conejo en Salmorejo is one of the most popular dishes in the Canaries, but it has definitely evolved since the Spanish arrived, because they are responsible for introducing rabbits. This is unsurprising, as rabbit has always been a staple of Spanish cuisine. The Romans arriving in Iberia (during the Second Punic Wars, around 218 BC), named the peninsular Hispania (after the Phoenician ispanihad) – land of rabbits.
Interestingly, Conejo en Salmorejo bears not relation whatsoever to Salmorejo Cordobés, a cold tomato soup from Adalucía. I discovered a likely origin for Conejo en Salmorejo via a Wikipedia article in Spanish on Salamis, which it says, is known in Spanish as salmorejo, coming from the French Salmigondis, a ragout of game, which has previously been sautéed or roasted (“a disparate mixture or assembly”). Salmigondis is known in English as Salmagundi, a popular dish with pirates, which also relates to Solomon Gundi from the Caribbean. Larousse Gastronomique describes Salamis as a sauce thick enough to coat pieces of previously roasted and jointed game. This reminds me of the Louisianan technique of smothering – more on that at a later date. I also came across a Salamì of Rabbit from Lombardi (no, not a sausage!) – I suspect Vindaloo may be a relative …and then there’s Jugged Hare.
Conejo en Salmorejo recipe (serves 2):
1 rabbit (jointed) or 4 chicken legs
6 cloves garlic
1 hot red chilli pepper (de seeded)
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds (ground)
1/2 teaspoon pimentón de la Vera picante
1/2 teaspoon pimentón de la Vera dulce
3 bay leaves
a handful fresh coriander cilantro (chopped)
200ml dry white wine (preferably Spanish)
5 dessertspoons red wine vinegar
5 dessertspoons extra virgin olive oil
1 red pepper (capsicum)
extra virgin olive oil to brown the rabbit
sea salt and cracked black pepper (to taste)
Chop the rabbit up into pieces and place it in a non reactive container (glass or plastic).
Brown the rabbit’s liver and kidneys – allow to cool.
Remove the seeds from a red hot chilli pepper – people in the Canaries like their food spicy!
Put all the marinade ingredients into a liquidiser, including the offal. Traditionally this would have been done with a mortar and pestle. Everything in the above recipe list goes in, except the rabbit pieces, sweet red pepper, salt and pepper. If you don’t fancy the liver and kidneys, leave them out!
Pour the marinade over the rabbit, cover and refrigerate for 24 hours.
Take the rabbit pieces out an hour before cooking, wipe them dry and allow to come to room temperature.
While the rabbit is warming up, blacken the sweet red pepper all over – on top of the hob, under the grill (broiler) or on a barbecue.
When done, put it in a paper bag or sealed container to steam in it’s own juice. Once cool, it will keep in the fridge like this for 24 hours or so, if necessary. The black skin will peel off easily and you can rinse the pepper under the tap to clean it off. You can buy these in jars, but they taste much better when home made. The sweet smokey flavour is delicious!
Remove the stalk and the seeds, then cut into pieces.
Turn the pimiento into pulp with a mortar and pestle.
Brown the rabbit in batches. Don’t overcrowd the pan or it will poach instead of brown. Even when frying, the smell of the marinade is exquisite!
When all the pieces have taken some colour, return to the pan.
Pour the marinade over the top. If using a terracotta cazuela, make sure you warm the marinade first – putting cold liquid into a hot terracotta dish will crack it!
Mix in the pimiento (smoked red pepper). Cook for 20 minutes on a medium heat – add some water if the salmorejo reduces too much. By this time the rabbit should be tender, but continue to cook on low while the accompanying potatoes boil. In the Canary Islands Conejo en Salmorejo is commonly served with Pappas Arrugadas (wrinkled potatoes) and Mojo Verde.
Cook some small new potatoes (with their skins on) in seawater – or use tap water with 2 heaped dessertspoons coarse sea salt. I know this sounds extreme, but it’s replicating the sea. In the Mediterranean it’s common to cook shellfish in seawater and these days you can buy it purified, in casks – Agua de Mar. I’ve bought it myself in Barcelona (you wouldn’t want to use the stuff in the harbour). After 15 minutes (or when tender) pour off the water and allow the potatoes to steam in the hot saucepan. The skin should wrinkle and a little salt should precipitate all over. You can produce a similar wrinkled potato effect in the oven, by cooking on low for a couple of hours in olive oil, sprinkled with sea salt and a couple of sprigs of rosemary. Serve with Mojo Verde or Mojo Picon.
Mojo Verde recipe:
4 handfuls fresh coriander (cilantro)
3 cloves garlic
a large pinch of coarse sea salt
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
3 dessertspoons extra virgin olive oil (add more if necessary)
3 teaspoons sherry vinegar
2 dessertspoons water
Warm the cumin seeds in a frying pan until you can smell them (don’t let them burn). Grind the cumin and salt with a mortar and pestle. Chop the garlic and add it to the mortar, keep grinding to make a paste. Chop the coriander and mix in to the garlic paste. Drizzle in some of the oil and keep working it with the pestle, drizzling in a little more every minute or so. Pour in the sherry vinegar and taste. Use the water to thin the mojo – not necessarily all of it and again to taste. Sprinkle on a little salt if necessary. This can be done in a food processor if you wish and substitute parsley if you don’t like coriander! Mojo Verde will keep in the fridge for a couple of days. Spoon the Mojo Verde over the Pappas Arrugadas.
This is probably the most tender wild rabbit I’ve ever cooked and eaten – no doubt due to the marinade. No salt was added – it tasted prefect as it was (and there was definitely enough in the potatoes). The chilli pepper in Conejo en Salmorejo had my mouth tingling and then the Mojo Verde on the potatoes bit my tongue, by way of the raw garlic. This is a perfect combination of flavour with fire, but not blow your head off like Vindaloo! Serve with a chilled Er Boqueron – a sea water beer.