Rabbit Ragu

For a long time I didn’t ‘get’ rabbit. “It tastes just like chicken,” people told me. Why not eat chicken, then, I wondered. It was like frog’s legs (which, by the way, taste like chicken only if one imagines one’s chickens cold-blooded and amphibious). I.e., it seemed to me like bourgeois foodie one-upmanship. And there’s the cute factor. When I tweeted about making this ragu, someone replied mournfully that their father had killed their pet rabbit and they never got over it. I too had a pet bunny as a child, and I have cats, and the little rabbit carcasses uncomfortably remind me of my kitties. But if you are a carnivore, wild rabbit is about the most sustainable meat you can eat. Rabbits breed, well, like bunnies (apparently a wild rabbit will have five to six litters a season), unlike most animals we eat they spend their whole lives outdoors, they are killed humanely, and the meat consists entirely of lean white-meat protein. Rabbit beats all or almost all other lean meats for protein to fat ratio. In the UK, you can buy a whole two to three kilo wild rabbit for about £4, which, considering that nearly all of that is usable meat, is extraordinarily good value for those of us trying to cook well on a budget. And rabbit doesn’t really taste like chicken, any more than monkfish tastes like lobster.

When I’m cooking lean gamey muscular meat, I like to do three things to it, usually in this order: marinate it; braise it; and stew it. It’s a lengthy process, but once you’ve determinedly battered at the collagens with low, slow cooking, the meat relaxes, absorbs all the delicious braising juices, and attains mythic proportions of deliciousness. The first time I cooked a rabbit ragu I was astonished by how flavourful it was. The meat stood up to the rich sauce, maintaining its density and distinct, subtle flavour. The first time I cooked a rabbit ragu was also the first time I jointed a rabbit. Nobody had ever showed me how, and it’s possible that actual butchers and chefs would throw up their hands in disgust at my efforts, but it wasn’t too difficult.

When you are buying a rabbit (if you’re motivated by environmental concerns, do cook wild rabbit – farmed rabbits have almost the same impact on the environment as farmed chickens), look for a rabbit with firm, dark-pink flesh and a sweet smell. Rabbits shouldn’t smell particularly gamey. You probably will start out with something that looks like this (tender-hearted vegetarians, don’t read further; this blog post has bunny carcass photos): Continue reading

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Braised Oxtail with Red Wine and Shallots

If you’re anything like me, you keep the bones from any meat you’ve cooked and use them for stock. I’m a bit fanatical about this: after I ate the Hawksmoor Breakfast, I was so distressed by the thought of all the lovely marrow bones and carcasses from our feast going to waste that I asked for the bones in a doggy bag. (The servers were maybe a little more snarky about my request than they needed to be – but who cares? The stock I made from those bones was fantastic.) I’ve blogged about making white chicken stock, and there’s also a similar concoction called white veal stock made from veal marrow bones, but 99% of the time what I have to hand is beef bones, and I make a brown beef stock. Continue reading

Braised Shoulder of Venison with Damsons and Juniper

It is autumn.

YESSSS.

I love cooking in the summer (although I must admit I love it a wee bit less now that I don’t have a grill or a garden) but I REALLY love autumn food. In London, meat purveyors start selling game at prices I can afford and the weather is cool enough so that braised meats are exactly what you want for dinner. Last weekend I took my dad to the Marylebone Farmer’s Market where, as usual, I indulged my addiction to Guernsey cream (more about how I used that in another post), bought some beautiful ripe damsons, and got a gorgeous venison shoulder. Venison in general is a very lean meat, and venison shoulder is a chunk of muscle that gets worked a lot. The best thing to do with a piece of meat like this is braise the hell out of it. Continue reading