Wild rabbit was a staple food for centuries in Britain and we relied on it during the Second World War. In the Middle Ages rabbits were bred in warrens for their meat and fur and nowadays farmed rabbit is available in the UK although wild rabbit meat is generally leaner and tastier. You can find it in butchers, food markets and online. Rabbit meat is a source of high quality protein and it can be used in most ways chicken meat is used however rabbit is leaner than beef, pork, and chicken meat.
French monks in the Champagne region of France are credited with the domestication of the wild European rabbit in the 5th century. It’s thought that the original European wild rabbits evolved about 4,000 years ago in Iberia. In fact the visiting Phoenician merchants referred to part of Iberia as I-shephan-im which means land of the rabbits. This was translated as Hispania . . . or as we know it . . . Spain.
We are always told that the Normans introduced the rabbit to Britain but many national newspapers reported in 2005 that the bones of a Roman rabbit had been found in Norfolk, and that this might be the earliest rabbit ever found in Britain. However there is proof that rabbits lived in Britain long before the Romans set foot on British soil. Remains of rabbits dating back half a million years were found at Boxgrove in West Sussex and Swanscombe in Kent. It’s thought that they probably died out in the last Ice Age, only to be reintroduced later by the Romans.
I have a lovely recipe for rabbit stew if you fancy trying it for yourself.
Country Rabbit Stew
3 tbsp plain Flour
2 tbsp chopped fresh Thyme
Salt and freshly ground black Pepper
2 tbsp sunflower Oil
2 young wild rabbits jointed into 10 pieces – Fore Legs, Rear Legs and Saddle
2 Onions, chopped
500ml dry Cider
300ml chicken or vegetable Stock
2 Bay leaves
350g carrots cut into julienne strips
150g frozen Peas
Preheat the oven to 170 degrees C. Gas Mark 3. Place the flour, thyme, a good pinch of salt and plenty of pepper into a large freezer bag and add the rabbit shaking well to coat all the meat. Heat the butter with 1 tbsp of the oil in a large frying pan and add the joints, frying until browned on all sides. Place the leg and thigh portions into a large ovenproof casserole but leave the saddle portions , loosely covered, to one side to be added later in the cooking time.
Add a little more oil to the pan and fry the lardons until browned and crispy then add to the casserole. Add the remaining oil to the pan and fry the onions. Add them to the casserole and sprinkle over any remaining flour from the bag.
Pour half of the cider into the frying pan and stir well to remove all the sediment and then pour into the casserole with the remaining cider, stock and Bay leaves; stir well. Cover and cook in the oven for 30 minutes.
Remove the casserole from the oven and add the saddle pieces, making sure that they are well covered with the stock. Return to the oven and cook for a further 2 hours. Add the carrots and cook for a further 30 minutes. Check that the meat is tender (falling off the bones) and transfer the casserole to the hob. Add the peas and bring to a fast simmer to reduce and thicken the liquid to the consistency of gravy.
Check the seasoning and serve with crusty bread.
With rabbit dishes you need a wine that will compliment and enhance the flavours rather than over power them.
Chateau Ballan Larquette Bordeaux Clairet 2010 (8.99). Clairet is particular to Bordeaux and is not a a Rosé. Bordeaux Clairet is darker than Rosé wines and has more fruit, power and structure. If the name sounds familiar, that’s because Clairet was the style of Bordeaux enjoyed in England until the 18th century – hence the name Claret. Ballan Larquette is lusciously intense, mouth watering and a dark cherry colour with an opalescent sheen. It has the flavours of crushed strawberry, mango, pineapple, pomegranate and redcurrant with rounded silky-smooth tannins.
Chateau Chadeuil 2009 (£8.25)
This is a cracking merlot based Claret, dark ruby in colour with flavours of black cherry, mocha, spice, plum, blackberries and a hint of vanilla. It is a medium bodied, supple wine with very well balanced tannins and a long smooth finish.
Cuvee de Jean Baptiste Audy (£6.99)
A captivating wine that is full of character made with 15% Syrah in the blend. Cuvée is a dark garnet colour with intense aromas. In the mouth the wine has a good backbone with smooth tannins and good fruit. With notes of blackberry jam, ripe dark plums and black pepper with a hint of smoke Cuvée goes particularly well with food especially game.
Chateau Des Trois Tours 2009 (£9.10)
Trois Tours has an intense bouquet and flavours of ripe blackberry, coffee, raspberry and vanilla; and a hint of oak coupled with a very fine long liquorice finish. The wine is a deep dark garnet colour with well balanced, silky tannins.