Rabbit stew

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.

IMG_0104Here’s what I used

  • 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.

IMG_0103

 

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