Friday, 23 November 2012

Rabbit casserole with apple and cider

Rabbit was something I ate regularly during my sojourn abroad - it was fairly easy to find on the butchers' slabs in the Parisian markets and surprisingly easy to buy in Amsterdam's supermarkets. Joy of joys, I've just found a butcher in my city that has them every day - a discovery made purely by chance as I'd actually gone to buy fish because my local fishmonger was inexplicably shut (the butcher and fishmonger in town being next door to each other in an indoor market).

A whole rabbit for £4 was too good to turn down. If you've never eaten it, the meat is white and very lean, has a texture like chicken and a similar but slightly gamier flavour. As there's virtually no fat on it and the meat is well-developed muscle, rabbit is best cooked slowly for 2-3 hours. There's not a lot of meat on one - a small rabbit will feed two people, so for a solo cook that's a portion for dinner now and one to freeze.

The classic pairing in the UK is with apples and cider. In France they cook it with prunes and red wine. It goes well with root vegetables in the pot and mustard is a classic seasoning. Some people add bacon for an extra layer of flavour.

What you need:
1 rabbit, whole or jointed
6 round shallots, peeled but left whole
3 tart apples
2 parsnips
1 turnip
1/2 litre of cider or scrumpy
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
1tbsp grain mustard
 A little olive oil
A generous knob of butter
A few sprigs of fresh thyme

What to do:
Heat the olive oil and butter in a casserole on the hob and brown the rabbit on all sides. Cut the parsnips and turnips into chunks, peeling first if the skins look wrinkly and tired. Quarter the apples, remove the core and pips then cut the quarters in half. Add the shallots to the rabbit and sauté them until they start to soften slightly. Put all the veg in the pot, pour in the cider and add the mustard, thyme and a little sea salt and black pepper.

Put it in the oven at 180C for an hour then take it out to check it's not drying out and to taste for seasoning. Turn the heat down to 140C and cook it for another hour. At this stage check it again - the meat should be falling off the bones. If not pop it back in for another half-hour (and top up with boiling water if it looks dry).

Dish up.
Cook's tips:
If you buy a whole small rabbit (around 750g), make sure the butcher guts it for you if it hasn't already been done and to cut it up if you prefer joints. You'll get 4 small joints - 2 hind legs, a torso and the saddle, which is the back and the prize meat.

It's getting increasingly hard to find Bramley apples now. My greengrocer told me he'd stopped stocking them as he couldn't sell them when so many people now buy apple pie instead of making it. Granny Smiths are the way to go as they're the sourest eating apple - he assured me chefs use them to cook with now. Peel if you wish - I prefer to leave the skin on for extra flavour and fibre. If you do find Bramleys, 2 will be plenty.

The root vegetables should be plenty to fill you up, but some celeriac mash on the side is a great accompaniment if you feel inclined and it'll soak up some of the sauce, which will have thickened as the apples collapse.

Don't be alarmed by the amount of mustard - the length of cooking takes the heat out of it, leaving a mellow flavour.