There’s nothing traditional about eating rabbit at Easter but in my household it has always been a staple, usually on Good Friday. It probably started when my kids were young, with me telling them that I was going to eat the Easter bunny, so who would bring their eggs? As the years went by, my kids forgave me, realising that the eggs turned up all the same and eventually they grew to enjoy eating tasty rabbit as much as I do.
And so, to your local supermarket here in the Algarve where fresh rabbit is cheap and readily available. It is also a lean and healthy meat, high in protein and, most importantly, packed with flavour.
There are many traditional Portuguese dishes, such as Coelho à Caçador (hunter-style rabbit), a recipe developed for cooking wild rabbit by stewing it slowly in red wine until tender.
The farmed rabbit sold in supermarkets, however, is a tender meat that can be treated much like chicken. Quickly cooked on the barbecue straight over hot coals makes for a delicious alternative to grilled chicken.
Here is a recipe (with a variation) that I like to cook at home and which involves removing the loin meat and legs in order to make a stock from the carcass.
Either ask your butcher to do this for you or do it at home with a sharp knife. The only tricky bit is removing the loins.
Make a stock from the rabbit carcass chopped into a few pieces and add to a pan with some chopped carrot, celery and leek. Cover with water, bring to the boil and simmer for 30 minutes. Strain the stock and keep warm.
|| Rabbit with saffron sauce
Serves 3 to 4 persons
This recipe involves cooking the leg and shoulder in two stages, with the loin meat cooked very quickly at the end.
■ 1 rabbit
■ Carrot, leeks and celery for stock
■ Onion or shallot
■ A pinch of saffron
■ 1 glass dry white wine
■ Sea salt
■ Freshly ground black pepper
■ Cooking cream
■ Unsalted butter
Pre-cooking the rabbit legs and shoulders
Using the pre-prepared stock, add the legs and a little more water to cover. Cover the pan and set over a medium heat. Simmer for 20 minutes. Add the shoulders and simmer for a further 30 minutes or until the meat is very tender. Carefully remove the legs and shoulders, wrap in foil to keep warm, and set aside whilst making the sauce.
For the sauce
Finely chop three shallots or half a medium-sized onion and soften in a saucepan with a little olive oil, add one clove of garlic, finely chopped, and a pinch of thyme and the saffron stems. Fry for another minute of so, without letting the onion or garlic brown.
Increase the temperature and add a glass (around 15dl) of dry white wine and 30dl of the rabbit stock. Bring to the boil and reduce by half. Add around 15dl of cream (to avoid splitting the cream, stir ladles of the hot sauce into the cold cream in a separate bowl until well combined sauce, then return to the pan). Bubble the sauce down to the desired texture, season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Keep warm.
Pan-frying the rabbit
Season the pre-cooked rabbit legs and shoulders and the raw loin meat with sea salt, pepper and a sprinkling of thyme.
In a heavy frying pan, heat a large knob (around 70grs) of unsalted butter until it is bubbling but do not allow to burn. Add the rabbit meat, first the legs and shoulders placing them carefully in the bubbling butter, then add the loins.
Reduce the temperature a little so that the butter does not burn and fry the legs and shoulders on both sides until golden brown. This should allow just enough time to leave the loins very slightly undercooked. Remove from the pan and cover in foil to rest, finishing the cooking of the loins.
This dish goes very well with peas and good homemade chips or mashed potatoes. Pour the sauce onto a warmed plate and arrange meat atop the sauce.
For the risotto alternative
Use the stock to make a nice risotto instead of the sauce. I like to add some chopped bacon at the beginning of proceedings and a little of the rabbit meat around half way though. Saffron optional. Peas go very well too.
By PATRICK STUART email@example.com