Operation: Eat bunny

Hi all and welcome to the start of my personal mission. The aim of which is to convert people to a different way of thinking about what goes into their food.

I am an adventurous eater and I take an enormous amount of enjoyment in trying new things, while taking even more joy in introducing other people to new things. This has led me to what I am writing about now, as not nearly enough people can really appreciate the kind of great produce our country has to offer if they are limiting themselves to what is available at the supermarket meat counter. This is not the consumers fault, but supermarket’s specialise in providing people with products they think sell well, which includes the usual cuts of beef, lamb, pork and a sprinkling of ‘acceptably fresh’ fish and I see it as a real shame that butchers are closing down all over our country because we are preferring the corporate convenience to the art of providing real, local produce in a butchers shop. The supermarket chains are forcing us to not have an option, due to killing off all of the independent businesses in local areas around their stores with mass produced (and sometimes low quality) meats. They mostly care about profit margins not quality of produce, the recent horse meat scandal is a good example.

I have no issue with using supermarkets for things and I am certainly not saying they aren’t great ways to get a half decent range of foods and ingredients on your doorstep on short notice, especially when they are open 24 hours a day. My only gripe with it is they limit the opportunity to try new things because they have set products that they stock in every store, unlike your local butcher. who can give you what you ask for or maybe offer you something new, because they prepare it right in front of you with their vast knowledge of the animals they use.

My granddad was a butcher for a number of years so I have an appreciation for the trade, a trade that is dying. This is why I am concerned, not because I am standing on my soap box and hopping on my high horse trying to feel superior to people because I like to try new things and they don’t, what I am saying however is that because we are becoming so detached from the process of the butchering of animals, it is changing the way we see our food. Nearly gone are the days you see the pig hanging from the hook in the window as you go in to buy the joint for your Sunday roast, now all you see is the rows of air tight packaging and labels. There is no connection to the fact it has been reared on a farm, cared for, put down and cut into that form by fantastic, skilled people. I believe this is slowly changing us into fussier eaters. Which is not a problem but it is a real shame. As I really don’t like the idea of people missing out on some truly great food just because it is not on the shelf at ASDA due to them deciding it’s not what you want. Ultimately, there are less options out there for us as consumers without the family butcher physically being able to offer you different options and sticking to what we know from the shelf.

It’s for this reason certain animals and former staples in the UK are fading away and causing people to be desensitised to what actually goes on to produce what ends up on their plate. A perfect example is when I stated I was on the hunt for a few rabbits to experiment with and was met with absolute shock and awe by my friends. ‘That’s just wrong’ or ‘I couldn’t eat a rabbit its just plain sick’ and even ‘Your evil’ which really got to me, as I am not evil!. Less than 50 years ago it was possibly on par with chicken as one of the more commonly eaten meats in England. There are estimated to be over 40 million rabbits in the UK and getting your hands on one isn’t really hard, I got a whole jointed rabbit for £3.50 at my local butchers (Chandlers, Stafford road, Wolverhampton). The meat is darker than chicken, having much more depth in flavour and being more gamey. Although very similar to the untrained tongue, given to any unknowing chicken lover and I am pretty sure I’d get the thumbs up.

If you haven’t tried it yet I would encourage you to give it a go at least once, and if you don’t like it, fair enough, But….

 

The biggest problem in peoples thinking is this:

20090417-wild-rabbit-1-1

I love animals. I do. I have a pet dog and I’ve had many pets in the past so I can, in one sense understand that the picture above has a certain warmth to it. He’s cute, nobody can deny it. But he still tastes pretty great and in these times of apparent austerity people don’t have the money they used to, while still spending on expensive cuts of meat and overlooking perfectly good alternatives because they used to have of rabbit as a pet when they were 7. I just don’t understand the logic when people eat lamb, but say rabbit is too cute to eat. Its well worth a go, it really is. Rabbit is just one option too, there are a vast range of game birds out there that are less popular today that make great eating like Grouse, Pheasant, Partridge, Wood pigeon or my personal favourite niche bird, Guinea fowl.

Your Lamb shank used to look like this!

Your Lamb shank used to look like this!

Something else that has been a point of discussion between me and a few friends is my willingness to get out there and physically find and hunt wild game, which was also met with mostly negative views of how I could kill something. I don’t have a problem with that view but it’s certainly how society has conditioned us to be. As I said above, we no longer look at a joint of gammon or pork and see a pig, we see its shiny plastic wrapping and the thick piece of fat that we all love and fight over when it’s roasted in its crunchy, golden glory. I believe knowing where your food has come from is a great way to get the best out of it in the kitchen, so this post is the beginning of my journey to do all the leg work so you don’t have to.

I am becoming more and more interested in being a part of the journey from field to plate and will be going to great lengths to experience hunting and producing the food we eat in the coming months from Signal Crayfish to game birds, visiting farms and butchers. Hopefully I will be able to give you everything you could ever wish to know, accompanied by some great recipes for you to try too. Expect a lot more on this very soon…

So to start off, here’s my recipe for all the culinary braves out there willing to try to battle their preconceptions and try eating some really great wild rabbit!

This is a brilliant but simple little recipe for you to enjoy with your family or to scoff all by yourself, with a changed attitude towards rabbit and genuinely bring a big food induced smile to your face. This can serve around 3-4 people.

I served this with black pudding and really luscious mashed potato, which I do also cover below.

Stewed wild rabbit. Using a slow cooker.

 

Ingredients:

  • 1 Whole jointed wild rabbit (available from a good butcher at under £5)
  • 4 large rashers of un-smoked bacon, chopped into lardons.
  • 4 minced garlic cloves
  • 125ml white wine
  • 1.5 pints of vegetable stock
  • 8 chantenay carrots, tops cut off but left whole
  • 1 whole medium white onion
  • 2 celery hearts, chopped roughly into chunks
  • sea salt
  •  black pepper
  • Olive oil

additional ingredients:

  • 8 Large potatoes great for mashing, peeled and cut into 4 pieces
  • 3 tablespoons natural yoghurt
  • 1 heaped tablespoon of cream cheese
  • 1 teaspoon of butter
  • salt, white pepper
  • 6 even pieces of good black pudding

Method:

  1. Add the olive oil to a pan and bring to a medium heat. Pre-heat your slow cooker ON ‘High’,
  2. Add the rabbit to the pan and brown off evenly on all sides. You may want to do this in batches of 2 pieces at a time, then remove from the pan and put to one side.
  3. Add the bacon and garlic, cooking them in the rabbit enriched olive oil until the bacon starts to brown. Then remove the bacon.
  4. Turn the heat up to a medium-high heat and pour in the wine and 500ml of the stock, stirring well. This will bond all the lovely juices and fats that have escaped the meat with the liquid. Simmer for 5-6 minutes.
  5. lay the rabbit evenly in the bottom of the slow cooker, covering it with the remaining stock.
  6. Add the carrots, chopped celery, bacon, onion, big pinch of sea salt and black pepper. Followed by the reduced pan liquid.
  7. Give it a quick gentle stir without disturbing the underlying rabbit, pop the lid on and leave to cook for 4 hours.
  8. Around 40 minutes before the rabbit has finished its lazy 4 hours in its golden bath of yumminess, fill a large saucepan with water, add a pinch of salt and bring to the boil.
  9. Add the potatoes and boil until they slide from a skewer and are soft and fluffy, but not crumbling into the water. (Usually about 30-35 minutes give or take on high)
  10. Mash well with the butter, yoghurt, cream cheese and a pinch of salt and pepper to season. Pre heat your grill.
  11. Grill both sides of the black pudding until crisp and warmed through.
  12. Removed the rabbit from the stewed vegetables and stock and rest for a few minutes. Strip the meat from the bones with a fork. Be careful as there are some tricky little ones hiding in there.
  13. Serve the now shredded rabbit with a big ball of mash and a few pieces of black pudding.
  14. Add the carrots from the slow cooker on the side (which should now be beautifully tender and flavourful)
  15. Finally, take a few cups of the liquid from the slow cooker and add to a pan on a medium-high heat and reduce for a few minutes until it thickens slightly. (I do cheat sometimes and add a heaped tablespoon of onion gravy granules to thicken it up and create something quite unique and a little more intense) Add a few spoons worth over the rabbit, and the potato. Finishing it off nicely. It truly is heavenly.

I hope the recipe is to your liking and I will close with this, the only reason I have written this is because I care. I care about great food. I care about people making the most of what we have. I care about people not missing out on great produce and finally I care about great, skilled people being wasted and fading away. Don’t be scared, go to your local butcher or green grocer and buy something you wouldn’t usually buy and try something new. You might love it.

Phil

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