In 1936, my grandmother’s School Certificate examination in Domestic Science involved the skinning, butchering and cooking of a rabbit. No one ran screaming from the exam kitchen and a couple of nips, tugs and cuts, and the rabbits were swiftly turned from animal to meat, writes James Waller-Davies.
Would the same happen in 2017? A more likely outcome to today’s youth being presented with a ‘fluffy bunny’ for a food exam would probably be to start an animal rights protest group and wave banners.
A slight exaggeration perhaps, but there’s no denying the ‘Disney effect’ and the anthropromorphing of animals on modern attitudes to meat that doesn’t come in a sanitised cellophane wrapper. Up against Peter Rabbit, Watership Down and Bugs Bunny, it seems only Elvis – ‘you ain’t never caught no rabbit…’ – Presley and Elmer Fudd ever promoted the hunting of rabbit in popular culture.
Rabbit was once a staple of rural living. It was plentiful – a pest even – easy to catch, nutritional and tasty. Today, you’re as likely to find a rabbit as a family pet as you are a family meal, despite it being one of our best wild meats.
Rabbit is available on most of our local markets, or any good butcher will get you one with a bit of notice. In Britain, we eat the stronger, gamier, wild rabbit, as opposed to the continent, where they prefer the milder farmed version. If you’re not keen on the stronger flavour, it can be tempered by soaking the prepared meat in salted water for a few hours.
This recipe is fresh and zingy. Cider is a perfect accompaniment to rabbit and the mustard lifts the dish perfectly. Any leftover meat can be picked off the bones and used in a rabbit pie.
Rabbit with cider and mustard
Ingredients (serves 4)
2 rabbits, portioned
2 celery sticks
2 cloves garlic
1 pint dry cider
1 pint chicken stock
2 tablespoons English mustard
1 teaspoon chopped sage
Flour and butter to thicken
In a large, heavy casserole, fry the rabbit until browned and set aside.
Chop the onion, carrots, celery and garlic and soften in the same pan. Add back the rabbit and mix. Add the cider and chicken stock to cover the rabbit and then stir in the mustard and sage. Season with salt and pepper. Cook on 180C for 75-90 minutes, until the rabbit is soft and comes away from the bone when poked with a knife.
To thicken the sauce, cream a large knob of butter into the same amount of flour and dob into the casserole. Stir in and return to the oven for 5 minutes.
Check seasoning before serving with seasonal vegetables.
A baked potato or a hunk of good bread keeps the dish rustic and honest.