Rabbit is a seriously underrated and under eaten meat, so much so that I have to order it in especially from my butcher. Living, as I do, in a wealthy Transition Town where many residents are prepared to regularly fork out Waitrose prices for free range meats and ‘sustainable’ fish, I find this strange. Eating meat is not environmentally sustainable but if, like me, you are loathe to give it up, you can be a bit kinder to the planet by eating wild meats such as rabbit, eating meat less often, and really making the meal special when you do.
Preparing rabbit is not as simple or quick as frying off a chicken fillet, but I believe that we have become too detached from what meat eating involves. In other words: if you’re not prepared to see and handle a bit of blood and bone, then you probably should be vegetarian.
I developed the recipe for these rabbit pies for my first supper club. The dish is adapted from Prue Leith’s mustard rabbit in Leith’s Cookery Bible and Nigel Slater’s slow-cooked rabbit with tarragon. I have tried it with Delia Smith’s quick and easy flaky pastry, with homemade rough puff and Jus-rol. The rough puff is ever so slightly better than the homemade flaky stuff and a world apart from Jus-rol so I chose to make the extra effort and top my supper club pies with that (brilliant step-by-step instructions can be found on Poires and Chocolat). For everyday family cooking I am more than happy with Delia’s quick version.
Part of what attracted me to Nigel Slater’s recipe was his use of wheat beer. My local brewery Harvey’s produce a wonderful full-tasting wheat beer as their seasonal brew for June and I was keen to try cooking my rabbit in that. I previously tried Nigel’s recipe with Hoegaarden which worked quite nicely but the flavour was indistinct. Harvey’s Copperwheat lends the dish an unmistakable richness and depth of flavour that me, my family and supper club guests have all thoroughly enjoyed.
If you are keen to try cooking rabbit for the first time, or if you are an old hand, I promise this is a smasher of a recipe. Taking the time to whiten the meat I think pays dividends by making the meat lighter, more tender and softening its gamey taste. And if you find the thought of rabbit pie a bit too heavy for this time of year, the stew also works well stirred through pasta.
Rabbit and Copperwheat rough puff pie
1 rabbit, jointed into 6
3 tbsp Dijon mustard
2 onions, sliced
3-4 rashers smoked streaky bacon
Bushy bouquet garni with bay, thyme and rosemary
500ml Harvey’s Copperwheat (substitute with a light, fruity ale)
100ml double cream
2-3 bushy sprigs of tarragon, finely chopped
Salt and pepper
Pastry of choice
Joint the rabbit into six being very careful not to splinter the fine bones.
Submerge the rabbit in cold salted water for about three hours to whiten the meat. This will draw out the blood and make the meat milder and more pleasant tasting.
Dry the rabbit pieces, cover in three tablespoons of Dijon mustard and marinate for 6-12 hours.
Melt the butter in a heavy bottomed pan and brown the rabbit pieces on all sides.
Add the bacon and fry until cooked.
Remove the meat from the pan, add the sliced onions and fry until soft and golden. Add more butter if desired.
Return the rabbit and bacon to the pan with the bouquet garni and beer.
Simmer for two hours until the meat comes easily away from the bone with a table knife.
Take the rabbit pieces out of the cooking liquor and set aside to rest for a few minutes before carefully paring the meat from the bones using a table knife and fork. Watch for splinters of bone.
Reduce the cooking stock over a medium-high heat until it has halved in volume then stir in the cream and tarragon.
Divide the rabbit meat between your pie dishes and then ladle over the sauce.
Cover with pastry of your choice, brush with milk, pierce a hole in the top and bake in a hot oven (200c) for 20-25 minutes until the pastry is golden and puffy.
Serve with new potatoes, fresh seasonal veg and a glass of Copperwheat beer.
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