So my son and I are at the market doing the weekly shop. After eggs, veggies, meat and bread, we stop at the poultry store. My chicken thighs ordered, I see him eyeing off the rabbits at the other end of the display case — whole slender rabbits, skinned, gutted and ready for the pot. ‘Dad, have your ever cooked a bunny?’ he asks. ‘Um, yes,’ I reply sheepishly, the thought of Fiver in Watership Down staring up at me from the cutting board. ‘But probably not for twenty years,’ I add. ‘That’s before I was born, dad,’ he says, ‘Let’s buy the bunny.’ So we do.
For a long time rabbit was considered the poor man’s food. My dad hunted them as a boy on a wheat farm up in the Mallee. Wild rabbits, tough and stringy meat that could only be salvaged by a sturdy stew pot and hours of slow cooking. I’m sure my bunny was farmed for the purpose, but slow cooking is still the best option. I chose a recipe favoured by the Maltese. Stuffat tal-fenek it’s called. Apparently it provides two courses in one — its rich tomato sauce added to a pasta for an entree and then the rabbit served with vegetables for the main. Personally, I’m not so hung up on the two courses thing. One does me just fine.
- 1 whole rabbit cut into pieces. They did this for me when I bought it.
- 1.5 cups of red wine
- 6 fresh bay leaves
- 6 cloves of garlic
- Olive oil
- 1 brown onion, diced
- 3 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 litre of tomato puree or passata
- 2 cups of stock
- 8 small cocktail potatoes, peeled
Here’s what I did
- I put the rabbit pieces in a large bowl and added the wine, 3 of the bay leaves and 3 garlic cloves. I covered the bowl in glad-wrap and placed in the refrigerator overnight.
- The next day, around 4 hours before dinner, I rescued my marinade from the cold, strained off the liquid and set it aside, discarding the bay leaves and garlic cloves.
- I then pre-heated the oven to around 150C.
- In a heavy based ovenproof dish I heated some olive oil and gently browned the rabbit pieces a few at a time, seasoning them with fresh ground black pepper and salt as I went. I then set the pieces aside.
- In the same dish and in the remaining oil I sautéed the onion and the remaining three garlic cloves finely chopped.
- To this I added the tomato paste along with the marinade liquid and cooked for a minute or so.
- I then added the tomato puree and stock and brought the whole thing to a gentle simmer.
- I returned the rabbit to the liquid along with the potatoes and remaining bay leaves and continued to simmer for a few more minutes.
- I then put the lid on my cooking pot and placed it in the oven, leaving it to cook for around 3 hours. It fills the house with the most gorgeous aroma. You can sit and read the Saturday paper as it does its thing, and life feels good.
- To serve it I ladled the stew into bowls, added to each one a couple of slices of toasted olive bread smothered in butter, then passed them around. Yum.