Rabbit used to be the chicken of England with everyone eating rabbits that live in copious amounts around the countryside. I am not sure why chicken took over from rabbit in our nation’s hearts, but it might be as simple as the fact that it is easier to get the meat off an enlarged chicken breast than cutting the fiddly meat off the rabbit skeleton. And there are still so many rabbits around that I do not know why we have never taken up this as the poor man’s food – free food from the countryside that also keeps their numbers down instead of factory farmed fowl.
Anyway, I like the light, gamey meat taste of rabbit, so on Saturday I prepared this wintry rabbit casserole for eating on Sunday; Sophie and I were out in our village for a party, so we did not want any particular hassle with the cooking on Sunday. Thanks to Sally and Paul for the fantastic party and delicious curries. This is the classic stewing sauce that I make for all game, meat and chicken, varying the amounts of each ingredient depending what is lurking in the vegetables area or in the fridge. The key is the basic ingredients of onions, carrots, bay, salt and pepper, together with the stock plus a long slow cook to let all the flavours infuse together; everything else can be tweaked and changed.
2tbsp sunflower oil
1 desertspoon butter
1 medium onion, finely chopped
3 celery sticks, halved and chopped finely (approx 1mm)
3 medium carrots, peeled and chopped finely
8 mushrooms, cleaned and halved
200ml / 7 fl oz red wine (roughly a wine glass)
2 x 400g tins of chopped tomatoes
300ml / ½ pint chicken stock
1tsp lemon juice
1 tbsp chopped parsley
2 bay leaves
600g / 1¼ lb rabbit, cut into 3cm / 1 inch dices
5 rashers streaky bacon, cut into 3cm long strips
Salt & pepper to taste
Preheat the oven to 180C / 350F.
Add 1 tbsp sunflower oil and the butter to a heavy bottomed casserole pot and heat to really hot. Add the onions and cook until translucent and just starting to brown at the edges, which will take about 5 minutes over a medium heat. Add the sliced celery, carrot and mushrooms, stir and lightly fry for about 3 minutes until translucent.
Add the red wine, then the chopped tomatoes and chicken stock, and bring to the boil. Cook the stock for about 10 minutes on a full boil and with the lid off to allow it to reduce.
Meanwhile, fry the streaky bacon in 1tbsp of sunflower oil. When browned add the bacon to the tomato stock. Add the chopped and prepared rabbit to the streaky bacon oil and cook until sealed and lightly browned. Add to the tomato and simmer for about 5 minutes with the lid off.
Transfer to the preheated oven and cook for 15 minutes at 180C / 350F, then reduce the heat to 160C / 320F and cook for another 45 minutes.
If possible cook this on the day before eating and leave overnight for the flavours to fully infuse, meld and develop.
Serve with mashed potato.