We have a little morning tradition in this house. When the Little Paddler comes in to our bedroom, Mr. Fairweather gets up with her to make the pot of coffee. They have a little look out the window and ask, “Fox?” “No fox.” The day can proceed then because the lone surviving hen is safe for another while.
One morning though, I got up before everyone. The call of the tiny pregnant bladder cannot be ignored. On my way back to bed, I glanced out the window automatically and said, “Fox?”. Except this time, I spotted what looked like a big shaggy dog fox crossing the field only twenty yards from our hedge. Our fabulous guard dog was fast asleep in her kennel and oblivious to the whole thing. As was Mr. Fairweather. I answered myself, “Yes fox.” There was no movement in the bed. I tried again. “That’s a big dog fox.” He sat bolt upright in his bed. I had his attention now.
He had a quick glance and went for his gun. In the meantime the fox crossed the field and made it safely in to the woods. Mr. Fairweather used a decoy to call a few times but he didn’t return. Instead, two rabbits appeared further down in the field. One stayed for dinner. Mr. Fairweather brought the Little Paddler down the field after breakfast to collect. She was fascinated and kept telling me that the bunny and been hopping in the field and then daddy shot him dead and now he was hanging in the boathouse but then he was going to hop in to the dinner. Life is so simple when you are two.
I was so excited as well. I have been dying to try rabbit. And the place abounds with them here (no pun intended). Hares too, but they are strictly off the menu. But I had no idea how to begin tackling a rabbit. Never fear, Mr Fairweather to the rescue again. He said he would teach me how to skin and gut if I did the cooking. No problem I thought. I’ll find a rabbit stew recipe. But no. Mr. Fairweather was way ahead of me and had found a rabbit pie recipe he wanted me to try. He should have been a Scout. Always prepared.
So I learned a lot. Apparently there is more than one way to skin a rabbit. Mr. Fairweather started with the leg.
Our neighbour tells me her mother started at the head. Everyone agrees that you should gut and bleed asap. While Mr. Fairweather had made a great neck shot, he left the rabbit sitting out in the field too long before gutting and some of the meat and the heart spoiled.
So to be on the safe side we discarded the front legs and shoulders. Which isn’t too bad as the money cut in a rabbit are the incredibly muscly hind legs. And Mr. Fairweather was thrilled to be able to have the kidneys and liver for his lunch later on. I pleaded out based on pregnancy. Offal is still something I struggle with, although I have no problems with blood puddings – go figure.
It was a steep learning curve for me. But the top tip is always gut somewhere that’s well ventilated. Mr. Fairweather suggested I stand over at the door with the Little Paddler when it came to removing the guts and there’s a good reason he did it. But when everything was all said and done, he handed over the best present and went to make a pot of coffee. But now I had this rabbit in my fridge, I wasn’t sure where to start. Turns out the internet has an answer for everything, including how to butcher and portion a rabbit.
The recipe Mr. Fairweather found on Donal Skehan’s website and is an old recipe from The Pleasures of the Table by Theodora Fitzgibbon. I have a ban on buying more cookbooks but after trying this recipe, I am sorely tempted to break that ban. I have pretty much copied and pasted the recipe below for you but if you want to visit the original site, click here.
Braised Rabbit Pie
1 rabbit, jointed
3 tbsp oil
1 large onion, sliced
3–4 carrots, sliced
2 or 3 rashers of chopped bacon
1 tbsp flour
Pinch powdered marjoram
Salt and pepper
600 ml chicken stock or half stock, half cider
1 beaten egg
250g plain flour
170g very cold, butter (cut into small cubes)
1 tsp sea salt
1 tbsp of balsamic vinegar
30 ml ice cold water
Pat the joints dry. Heat the oil and fry the joints on all sides until brown. Lift out and put into a casserole.
In the same oil lightly fry the vegetables, add the marjoram, sprinkle a little flour over and stir. Add the stock gradually, stirring until smooth.
Pour this over the rabbit, cover and cook in a moderate oven at 180°c/350°F/ gas mark 4 for about half an hour, then lower the heat to 150°C/300°F/gas mark 2 for a further 1 1⁄2 hours or until tender.
While the rabbit is cooking, place the flour and butter in a bowl and using a butter knife, cut the butter into the flour until you have a rough pebble mixture.
Whisk together the egg with the balsamic vinegar and sea salt. Add this to the butter and flour and using two forks gently toss through until the dough begins to come together.
Add a little cold water to bring the dough to a rough ball.
Turn the pastry out on to parchment paper or cling film, parcel up and place in the fridge to rest for 30 minutes.
Take the meat when cooked from the bones, add 2 or 3 rashers of chopped bacon and fill the stock to come up to within 2.5 cm (1 in) of the rim of the dish. Roll out pastry until it’s 0.5 mm thick. Brush the edges of pie dish with a beaten egg.
Lay pastry on top and prick the edges with a fork. Brush the top of pie with remaining egg wash and cook for about half an hour, until golden brown.
A few points to note if you are trying this recipe:
It mentions a marinade but no indication of what that marinade is. I skipped that step altogether.
Also, there is no indication of temperature for the oven at which to bake your pie crust. I set mine at 180C as that’s what I cook an apple tart at. It worked fine.
I can’t tell you what size casserole dish to use. I resorted to an apple pie dish as it’s good and deep while still being a manageable size.
That pastry is the most delicious thing I have tried in a while. We polished off most of the pie in one sitting. I made an attempt to save a piece for our elderly neighbour but Mr. Fairweather polished it off in a midnight feast instead. I cannot wait for the next rabbit to have the misfortune of wandering into Mr. Fairweather’s sights.