It’s been a long time – and two rabbit traps, one from Norfolk and one from New Zealand – coming but this weekend the Boyfriend finally managed to catch a rabbit. When he announced that there was a rabbit in a trap at the back of the garden on Sunday morning I didn’t initially believe him but when fresh back steaks and legs arrived in the kitchen there was no doubting. That’s one rabbit down – probably about 9999 left to go, judging by their attacks on our newly planted beech trees.
Fortunately I’ve been collecting recipes for just such an event since we moved into the cottage last year but, as usual, I took my inspiration from several and made it up as I went along. In the interests of Hayden‘s sustainable cooking challenge, we cooked this with Irish carrots and onions – and some garlic that I personally imported from Barcelona. Although the wine was imported from Chile, most of the ingredients were Irish-made or grown (Odlum‘s unbleached flour, Kerrygold butter) and locally sourced. As it was a cold weekend, we had our little wood and coal-burning stove running so we were able to keep the house toasty, heat up our hot water and simmer this stew on top of the stove. The stove is not normally used for cooking – we do have an electric cooker too – as it normally takes too much stoking to get it hot enough but on a cold, miserable evening, what else is there to do? Not for the first time, I blessed my cast iron pots as they really are the best thing for cooking on the stovetop.
Because our rabbit was wild, it certainly needed all of the two hours’ cooking that it got. Inspired by Jamie Oliver, the Boyfriend put together some herb dumplings which we landed on top of the stew for the last 20 minutes, browning them under the grill for a few minutes at the end. The meat was lean, rich and (almost) tender – it filled me up in minutes – accompanied by plenty of savoury gravy, butter-soft carrots (if you’re a fan of not-so-well cooked carrots, just add them in towards the end, before the dumplings go on top) and light as a feather dumplings, crusty on top from the grill, and soaked in gravy underneath. It’s a great one-pot meal, perfect for a wintery evening. Now, to try catching another one…
Ballyvoddy Rabbit Stew with Herb Dumplings
Rabbit – 1, skinned, gutted and jointed
Flour – 2 tablespoons
Olive oil – 1 tablespoon
Streaky bacon – three rashers, chopped into large pieces
Onions – 2, peeled and sliced
Garlic – 4 cloves, peeled
Red wine – 500ml
Chicken or vegetable stock – 500ml
Carrots – 4, peeled and cut into large 2cm chunks
Thyme and rosemary – large sprigs of each
Sea salt, freshly ground black pepper
Plain flour – 200g
Baking powder – 2 teaspoons
Butter – 100g
Parsley and chives – a fist-full, chopped finely
Milk – enough to mix
Whole nutmeg, sea salt, freshly ground black pepper
Mix the flour with a pinch of sea salt and plenty freshly ground black pepper. Rinse and dry the pieces of rabbit and toss in the seasoned flour.
Heat the olive oil in a large, cast iron casserole dish or heavy-based frying pan. Fry the streaky bacon and onions for 3-4 minutes, then add the whole cloves of garlic and fry for another 2 minutes. Remove the bacon, onions and garlic with a slotted spoon and put to one side.
Heat the casserole dish again and then put in the rabbit to sear, turning as it browns. Turn down the heat and add the bacon, onions and garlic to the pan, together with the red wine, stock, carrot chunks, whole sprig of thyme and the rosemary leaves, stripped from the stalk and chopped finely. Bring to the boil place the lid on top, turn down and allow to simmer until the meat is tender. This will take from 1 hour for farmed rabbit to about 2 hours for their wild brethren. The dish can also be cooked in a 180°C oven.
Meanwhile, make the herb dumplings. Sieve the plain flour and baking powder into a large bowl. Rub the butter into the flour until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add the chopped herbs to the bowl, season well and add enough milk to make a soft dough. Roll into balls about the size of a large walnut, grate some nutmeg on top of the dumplings and refrigerate until needed.
Twenty minutes before you want to eat, add the dumplings to the simmering stew, drizzle with olive oil, and clamp the lid back on top to allow them to cook in the steam. When they are well risen and cooked, preheat the grill and put the casserole under the grill for a few minutes until the dumplings are golden brown. Serves 4.