Thursday, 19 July 2012

Rabbit in Red Wine with Lardons and Mushrooms

So, after a few days of touring through France, taking in such wondrous stops as Troyes, Kaysersberg, Annecy and Aix-en-Provence, Mrs Ribeye and I finally made it to Nice on the sunny Cote d'Azur.

We had rented a flat, which meant that not only did we have a bit more space to move around in, and a lovely sunny wraparound balcony with far-reaching views across the city, but finally I had a kitchen to cook some good French grub in. I'm not the biggest fan of restaurants. Once the novelty of having someone else serve and wash-up for you has worn off, I really crave a bit of my own cooking. I suppose that, deep down, I actually prefer eating my own food rather than anyone else's.

Luckily for me, there was a huge excellent supermarket located just a few minutes walk away, and I couldn't keep away from it for more than a few hours at a time. The range of fresh produce had my mind in a whirl of creativity. What would I cook first? Obviously, I definitely wanted to plough straight into the wondrously colourful fruit and vegetable racks which were beautifully displayed in concentric circles of tempting deliciousness. For a day or two, the huge green/purple, locally grown, globe artichokes would have to wait (recipe for Artichoke Vinaigrette to follow). Today it would be rabbit. 

Behind the boucherie counter glass were whole rabbits with their giblets and heads still attached - a bit unappealing for a somewhat cosseted Englishman - so a pack of cut-up rabbit pieces, sans tete, in the chilled aisles  it had to be.

The recipe I decided to cook is basically similar to a coq au vin, but with a few potatoes thrown in to thicken the sauce. I could have used flour as a thickening agent, but potatoes add a welcome smooth stodginess, whereas flour can be a bit glutinous.

Rabbit is a lean meat and therefore requires added bacon lardons to give it some richness. In the old days, coq au vin was made with a knackered old rooster which had long stopped doing its manly duties around the farm, but these days it is usually made with fatty corn-fed chicken (pretty much the only type available in supermarkets), which renders the use of lardons as obsolete. Strangely enough, this rabbit dish brings the old coq au vin sensibilities into the modern kitchen. After all, rabbit is a lean (slightly stringy) meat, which evokes memories of what a peasant-y dish coq au vin was always supposed to be - before the trendy modern gastropubs and bistros turned it into a poncey fat-fest.

A kilo of rabbit at the Monoprix in Nice was 10 Euros (about 8 quid in English) - enough to feed four people easily, or five at a pinch; which means that this dish comes in at a very reasonable £2.50 per serving. I served rice with it, but a green salad would do just as well - don't forget that there is some starch in this dish, thanks to the potatoes.

Serves 4-5


2 tablespoons of olive or sunflower oil
1 large rabbit, cut into 8 pieces
1 large onion, cut into 1cm dice
250g smoked bacon lardons
250g mushrooms, sliced
3 cloves of garlic
1 tablespoon of herbes de Provence, or dried mixed herbs
Large pinches of salt and black pepper
300ml red wine
300ml water
3 small potatoes, peeled and left whole

300g cooked rice, to serve

In a large casserole pot on a high heat, fry the rabbit pieces until golden (10 minutes approx), and set aside. Lower the heat in the pan and add the onion, bacon and mushrooms, and allow to soften without colouring them too much. Add the garlic, herbs and seasoning and return the rabbit to the pan. Add the wine, water and potatoes and reduce the heat to a bare simmer. Cook for 2-3 hours until the sauce has reduced and is thick and unctuous. Serve with the rice.

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