Rabbit recipes | Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (2024)

This summer's weather may not have suited us all, but it doesn't seem to have bothered the bunnies. Bolstered byall that lush, green, rain-induced fecundity, they seem to be doing very well indeed. And when Isee those fluffy white cotton tails bouncing about in such abundance, I can't help but lick my lips.

I've long been a huge fan of rabbit in the kitchen (I'm less keen on them in the kitchen garden). It's cheap, lean and very tasty. It's also sustainable and truly wild, having lived the life nature intended. Killing and preparing rabbits requires some skill, so they're still the preserve of the hunter and traditional butcher, rather than the factory farm and supermarket. (You can get farmed rabbit, but it's attended by welfare issues similar to those for intensively bred chicken.) The fact that it's still something of a minority meat is, Ithink, down to rabbit's appearance rather than its taste. Askinned rabbit looks like a naked version of the creature it is, with its very obvious bone structure; it may also reveal a dark patch of blood in the meat – a reminder of how it met its end. This is a food that requires you to acknowledge you are eating an animal. That's a good thing: if an oven-ready chicken looked more like, well, a chicken, more of us might choose the free-range option.

To get the best from a bunny, you need to understand its character. What you shouldn't expect is meat that oozes with moisture – there's not a lot of spare fat on a rabbit. So, while it's not hard to make it tender and delicious, it does require some well-chosen lubricants. Fatty bacon or pancetta is the default addition to stews (or to wrap round young rabbit for roasting), but yoghurt, cream and coconut milk are nifty, too. What you always get in spades is flavour, with ahint of gaminess and that lovely, herbal undertone from wild animals that have foraged widely.

Because of its leanness, the fail‑safe way to cook rabbit is slowly and carefully. Stews and braises are good treatments, and gentle cooking is key to tenderise the meat: be abunny simmerer, not a bunny boiler. Fast, hot roasting is more risky – it will work with a bacon-barded young bunny, but that's not always easy to identify unless you've shot it yourself.

Because of this uncertainty of age and therefore toughness, cooking times will vary, even for a stew – you need to check on the tenderness of the meat as it cooks. Some rabbit is tender in an hour, but a tough old buck may take upwards of two.

And if those bones bother you, just remove them. In fact, many of my favourite bunny recipes call for jointed pieces of rabbit to be cooked, then the meat stripped from the bones and returned to the pie, pâté, stew or sauce. It's an easy job, if a slightly messy one: just roll up your sleeves and enjoy a bit of truly hands-on cookery.

Rabbit rillettes with apple relish

Rillettes are a sort of coarse pâté. This rabbit version is amazingly easy, a lot less fatty than some, and extremely tasty. Serves six to eight.

500g rindless, fatty pork belly, cutinto 2-3cm cubes
1 rabbit, jointed
1 good sprig fresh thyme
3 bay leaves
1 whole head garlic, cut in half through the centre
Sea salt and freshly ground blackpepper
1 good pinch ground mixed spice
1 good pinch ground mace

For the apple relish
1 large cooking apple (a bramley, say), peeled, cored and finely chopped
1 shallot, peeled and finely chopped
1 tbsp cider vinegar
1 tbsp olive or rapeseed oil
1 tsp sugar

Heat the oven to 220C/425F/gas mark 7. Put the pork belly and rabbit pieces in a casserole dish or roasting tin into which they'll fit snugly in a single layer. Add the herbs and garlic, pour over 250ml water and cover with alid or foil. Roast for 30 minutes, then turn down the heat to 140C/285F/gas mark 1 and cook for two and a half hours more, until the rabbit is tender and can be shredded with a fork.

Remove from the oven and leave until cool enough to handle. Pull all the rabbit meat off the bones, discard the bones, then shred the meat with a pair of forks or your hands. Put it in a large bowl. Shred the pork, too, in whichever way you find easiest, making sure you include all the fat, and add to the bowl. Work the two meats together, crushing the pork fat thoroughly into the mix so it is evenly spread. Add plenty of salt and pepper – you'll need in the region of half a teaspoon of salt – the mixed spice and mace, and some cooking liquor from the casserole. Stir, and add more liquid as necessary, until the mix is a coarse, fairly loose pâté texture. You may not need all the liquor. Taste, add seasoning or spices as needed and transfer to a bowl or jar. Cover and refrigerate for a day or two – this helps improve the flavour.

To make the relish, combine all the ingredients in a small pan, bring to a simmer and cook for a minute or two. Leave to cool, then season and add more sugar or vinegar to taste. Serve the rillettes cold or at room temperature, with good bread and the apple relish alongside.

Tandoori rabbit

An unusual and delicious way to serve rabbit legs, and a good option if you want to cook rabbit quickly (use the other meat from your bunny in either of this week's other two recipes). Serves six as a starter.

6 rear rabbit legs (ideally from ayoung animal)
Juice of 1 lemon
1 thumb-sized piece root ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
3 garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped
1 green chilli, finely chopped
1 bunch fresh coriander, leaves picked and stalks roughly chopped
2 heaped tbsp bought tandoori paste
1 tbsp roughly chopped mint
1 tsp garam masala
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp chilli powder
350ml plain, full-fat yoghurt
2 tbsp sunflower oil
Sea salt and freshly ground blackpepper

Slash the meat on the rabbit legs and toss them in the lemon juice. Put the ginger, garlic, chilli and coriander stalks in a small food processor and blitz to a paste, adding a little water if necessary (alternatively, crush everything using a pestle and mortar). Combine the resultant paste with the tandoori paste, mint, garam masala, cumin, turmeric and chilli powder, then stir into the yoghurt. Stir in the oil and season with black pepper. Toss the rabbit legs in the mixture, making sure they are well covered, cover and refrigerate for at least a few hours, ideally overnight.

Next day, sprinkle the legs with alittle salt, then cook under avery hot grill or on a hot barbecue for eight to 10 minutes a side, or until cooked through. Turn them a few times during cooking, and baste with the yoghurty marinade. Alternatively, bake in a hot oven – around 200C/400F/gas mark 6 – for about 25 minutes, until cooked through. Scatter over the coriander leaves and serve with naan bread.

Rabbit pie with mushrooms and cider

A good old-fashioned pie is agreat way to enjoy rabbit. This takes a little time, but it's very straightforward. Serves six.

2 tbsp olive, rapeseed or sunflower oil
200g streaky bacon (a whole piece, if possible), cut into chunky dice
2 rabbits, jointed
250ml dry cider
2 stems celery, chopped
1 large onion, peeled and chopped
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
1 bay leaf
250g mushrooms, thickly sliced
10g butter
10g plain flour
About 225g puff pastry
Beaten egg

Heat a tablespoon of oil in a large frying pan and fry the bacon gently until nicely browned. Scoop out the bacon, leaving most of the fat in the frying pan, and add it to a large casserole or stockpot. Season the rabbit pieces and brown them a few at a time in the bacon fat, transferring them to the pot as you go. Tip out any excess fat from the frying pan and deglaze the pan with cider, scraping up any tasty bits from the base. Tip into the rabbit pot, add the celery, onion, carrot and bay, and squash everything down as much as possible to minimise the amount of water you'll need to add. Pour on enough water just to cover the meat, then bring gently to a boil. Cover, reduce the heat and simmer very gently for about an hour, until the meat is tender and comes easily from the bone. (Or do this in a low oven – about 140C/285F/gas mark 1.)

Fish out the pieces of rabbit and bacon, and set aside. While the rabbit is still warm, pick off all the meat with your fingers, breaking it up into generous pieces, and combine in a bowl with the bacon.

The stock left in the pot should be tasty and rich – if not, boil it to reduce it until it tastes good to you. Measure out 500ml of the stock.

Heat a tablespoon of oil in a large frying pan over a medium-high heat, add the sliced mushrooms and fry briskly until the liquid they release is driven off and they are starting to brown. Add these to the rabbit bowl.

In the same pan, over medium-low heat, add the butter and, once it's foaming, the flour. Stir to make asmooth roux, cook for a few minutes, then add the 500ml stock a little at a time, stirring well after each addition, to create a smooth gravy. Let it simmer for a few minutes. Taste and season as needed.

Put the rabbit mixture into a pie dish and pour in the hot gravy. Roll out the pastry. Brush the rim of the pie dish with beaten egg, put the pastry on top, press down at the edges and trim off any excess. Brush the top of the pastry with more beaten egg, cut a couple of steam holes, then bake at 190C/375F/gas mark 5 for 30 minutes, until the pastry is golden brown and the filling bubbling. Serve piping hot with potatoes – mashed or boiled – and a green veg such as kale.

For the latest news from River Cottage HQ, go to rivercottage.net

Hugh's new book, Three Good Things, is published by Bloomsbury at £25. To order a copy for £16 (inc free UK mainland p&p), go to theguardian.com/bookshop or call 0330 333 6846.

Rabbit recipes | Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (2024)
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