I have been planning to do a Catalan rabbit post for several weeks, however, Mr McGregor is a poor hunter, so all 60,000,000 rabbits (estimated UK population), have got off lightly! Fortunately, Jake the Poacher is a crack shot, so I’ve adapted the recipe for pheasant instead. In Barcelona, pheasant is sold (in season) alongside rabbit on the Avinova stall in the Boqueria.
Pheasants were probably introduced to Britain and most of Europe, by the Romans, because aside from being delicious, they are easy to hunt. They don’t move very fast and when they take do flight they announce the fact loudly, making them easy to spot.
Catalan Pheasant (Faisà Català) recipe (feeds 2):
1 medium to large pheasant (cut into 6 pieces)
3 pieces of streaky bacon (chopped)
1 large onion (chopped)
6 pieces garlic (finely chopped)
5 tomatoes (grated)
2 bay leaves
a sprig of thyme
1/2 pint pheasant (or chicken) stock
a small glass of dry white wine
parsley (finely chopped) garnish
extra virgin olive oil for frying
sea salt and cracked black pepper
1 teaspoonful parsley (finely chopped)
12 blanched peeled almonds
3 pieces garlic (chopped)
1 slice fried bread (chopped)
2 dessertspoonfuls stock
a teaspoon red wine vinegar
2 pinches sea salt
a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil
Chop the pheasant up beforehand, into 6 pieces (legs, wings and breasts) and any small bits of meat from underneath – leave it out of the fridge for at least an hour to come to room temperature. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and do save the carcass for your stock pot. Take out any stray feathers – they taste quite bitter. If your pheasant has feet, twist them to disconnect the bone and pull them off – the small leg bones and tendons will come out with them. This makes eating the legs less of a chore later on.
A typical Catalan recipe starts with a sofregit, similar to a sofrito, but simpler and more fundamental. The word sofregit means to under fry or fry gently. Generally this base for a recipe would be slow cooked onions and tomatoes, though tomatoes have only been included since the discovery of the Americas.
Ideally this should be cooked in a Spanish terracotta cazuela with a diffuser underneath to provide gentle, even cooking. However, I’m sure similar results can be obtained in a cast iron casserole. When cooking a sofregit, bacon isn’t cooked with the onion, so I’ve fried it until crispy first, which adds flavour to the olive oil from the outset. When done, reserve the bacon for later.
Next, brown the pheasant all over – when it has a nice golden colour, remove it to the same plate as the bacon.
Turn the heat down low and cook the onion in the pheasant and bacon flavoured oil. It’s very important to cook the onion slowly – it must not burn! Frequent stirring is a must. This is much easier than it sounds with a cazuela and diffuser – the above onion cooked for about an hour with only minimum stirring, at which point it had almost begun to melt. You may be able to cheat this in a cast iron casserole with lid, at a low temperature in the oven…
Garlic is an optional sofregit ingredient – add it to the onion when it has reached a golden colour and 5 minutes before grating in the fresh tomato. Cut the tomatoes in half and push the wet side into the grater as you move your hand up and down. It’s quite simple and easier than blanching and peeling. Discard the skins or save them for stock.
When the tomatoes have cooked in for about 10 minutes, the bacon and pheasant can go back into the cazuela, along with 2 bay leaves, a sprig of thyme, a small glass of dry white wine and about half a pint of pheasant (or chicken) stock. The meat should just be poking up above the liquid. Let the dish bubble away gently for about an hour and then check the seasoning.
To finish off a Catalan sauce, it needs to be thickened with a picada – this is a paste, usually made of fried bread, almonds (or hazelnuts), garlic and olive oil, ground up with a mortar and pestle.
I fried some bread, earlier in the day – typically Spanish bread comes in a barra (baguette), so a couple of slices of French bread would be about right.
Put all the solid picada ingredients into the mortar – chop the bread, garlic and parsley beforehand.
Give everything a good pounding with the pestle and drizzle a little olive oil in as you do so. What you want is a smooth, pesto like paste. It should start to look quite thick, at which point pour in a little stock. Once the paste looked right I tasted it and thought a dash of red wine vinegar was needed to give it a kick. The picada should have a robust flavour and be smooth with no lumps. You can use a food processor if it’s easier.
N.B. If your pheasant or rabbit comes with liver intact, it should be fried with the meat and ground up in the picada. Sadly, Jake the Poacher had made off with my liver!
Remove the bigger pieces of pheasant (temporarily) to facilitate stirring.
Mix the picada into the sauce to make it rich and creamy.
Return the pheasant pieces to the pot and cook for 10 minutes.
Sprinkle on a little parsley as a garnish. Serve with seasonal vegetables and a glass of Cava from Sant Sadurní.