Wild game, lemons and olives all speak the flavours of the hills, particularly when you add woody herbs like thyme or marjoram; just the kind of cooking that feels right this time of year. So whilst wild rabbit is thoroughly local, and available all year round these days, in summer a Mediterranean stew is the obvious way to prepare it.
I’m slightly ashamed to admit it, but it pleases a townie like myself to buy my food from the man who shot it, after all it’s the closest I get to hunting (gathering I sometimes manage, even London is surprisingly abundant in wild food). So last week I picked up some young wild rabbit from the farmer who had shot it himself a few days earlier. My six-year-old son was very impressed, though not as impressed as if he had seen the gun and kill; rabbit neatly cleaned and jointed might be easier for the cook but is far less impressive to a small boy obsessed (as all small boys are, and always have been) with blood and guts of any sort.
There is a saying ‘eat a rabbit, save the land’ because rabbits are viewed by many as vermin who damage crops, gardens and the countryside. So, that’s another reason to eat a wild rabbit. But, these days most rabbit you see on restaurant menus (and in butchers’ shops) are likely to be the farmed variety. This plumper, more succulent, juicier rabbit cooks more reliably and is unlikely to be tough or bitter from the miscellany the rabbit has eaten.
That said, if you can get hold of a young wild rabbit it is unlikely to be stringy and fibrous, although there is still less meat on a creature that has been running wild. I like the thought of wild food of all kinds, and it is usually better for you too. Wild creatures survive on a wide range of wild plants, meaning their meat is lean, the fat less saturated and full of the vitamins and minerals that wild green plants are rich in.
It is possible to quickly pan-fry a young and tender rabbit but I like to pot-roast rabbit with some aromatic herbs, a light stock and some wine. Maggie Beer in her excellent cookbook Maggie’s Harvest pot-roasts wild rabbit with garlic, preserved lemon and bay; I have done something similar here with lemons, black olives and marjoram.
I love the way that this simple, inexpensive game meat can be pot-roasted with different aromatics to suit the seasons. Maggie Beer also offers the suggestion of braising in verjuice, reduced with chicken stock and cream and this is not dissimilar to the way I cook rabbit in winter, pot-roasted with cider (or wine or verjuice) then reduce the sauce and add thick cream and a spoon of Dijon mustard.
(The beautiful olives shown in the picture above (and used in this dish) are from the groves of Castel Madama and producers Oliodivino).
Pot-roasted Wild Rabbit with Lemon and Black Olives (Serves 3-4)
1 x 1.5 kg wild or farmed rabbit, jointed.
A bunch of baby onions/shallots, peeled but left whole.
2 cloves of garlic, crushed with a little salt.
2 tbsp black olives
The skin and juice of 1 un-waxed lemon/preserved lemon slices
A handful of marjoram sprigs
750ml chicken stock
Salt and pepper
Season the rabbit pieces with salt and pepper and brown in a little olive oil.
Stir in the crushed garlic and before it browns add a generous splash of white wine or verjuice and deglaze the pan.
Tuck the peeled baby onions around the meat and add the stock.
Slice the lemon peel, avoiding any pith, into thin strips (julienne) and add to the stock with the sprigs of marjoram. If you prefer use preserved lemon slices.
Add 2 tbsps of lemon juice and bring to the boil.
Cook for 1½ -2 hours in a moderate oven (or on a low flame on the hob) until the meat is coming away from the bone.
Adjust the seasoning and reduce the stock if it is too weak.
Serve the pieces of rabbit on the bone with the lemon stock, a few black olives, some baby onions, some more marjoram leaves and spinach.
Good with baby potatoes roasted whole in their skins in olive oil and sea salt.