A rustic rabbit recipe from Catalonia that’s delicious enough to turn even bunny-phobes into finger-licking fans.
Rabbit’s not what it used to be. The miserable, mass-produced specimens that line the chiller cabinets of Catalan supermarkets don’t have much to recommend them in terms of either flavour or farming ethics. I’ve talked about this before. You can shoot your own, of course, but there aren’t many bunnies to blast in the middle of Barcelona. Fortunately, you can now get local, organic rabbit sent to your door from companies like Ecoviand de Brugarolas.
I did and I was very happy with the service. I was contacted immediately to inform me of availability and the expected delivery date, and the rabbits (and duck) that arrived were of the highest quality. 9/10 – it would have been 10 but the rabbit’s liver was missing; a gastronomic supply crime in my book.
I encourage you to seek out a good rabbit, either wild or organic (or at least free-frange) and give the following recipe a try. It’s a Catalan-style braised rabbit (not with a separate romesco sauce but featuring the main ingredients and flavours) that will leave you licking your fingers and persuade even those who are squeamish about eating rabbit (Brits and Americans, mainly, in my experience) that it’s a superb meat.
- 1 rabbit
- Pancetta, cubed
- Chicken stock or dry white wine
- Plain flour
- 2-3 onions
- 6-7 ripe tomatoes
- 6 tablespoons olive oil (not pictured)
- Sherry vinegar
- Salt & pepper
- Rosemary, thyme, bay leaf (plus parsley if you want)
- Dried nyora peppers
- Smoked paprika
- Hazelnuts (50g-80g)
- 3 cloves garlic
A food snob note on ingredients:
Buy the best you can find. Ibérico pig pancetta can be found in Spanish and Catalan supermarkets and is perfect here. Good bacon’s fine too but don’t tip in a plastic pouch of chemically cured bacon cubes and expect the dish to taste OK. Tomatoes should be ripe and taste of tomatoes; no imported, flavourless rubbish please. Tinned tomatoes are better than those. Nyora peppers are widely available in Catalonia; if you can’t find them near where you live, Google Is Your Friend.
First, make the base for the braise. Catalan cooking purists will say that the following doesn’t have enough onions to be a proper sofregit, or too many tomatoes. That’s as may be. Feel free to add more of one and less of the other. Both ways work here.
Regardless, heat the oil in a pan and add the finely-diced onion. On a low, low heat, allow to slowwwwly soften and caramelize. This will take a while. Split your tomatoes in two around their equators and rub them against a box grater above a bowl to get the flesh off the skins, Catalan-style.
Add a clove of minced garlic to the almost-soft onion then the tomatoes. Season and allow to reduce until there’s very little liquid left. Pour off any obvious excess oil.
Put the nyora peppers into some warm water to soak. They’ll keep floating up to the top and drive you insane so scuttle them with a knife and weigh them down with one too if necessary.
If your rabbit didn’t come ready-jointed, it’s time for you to practice your butchery skills. Remove the liver and heart and set aside. Chop off the head and divide the rest into 6 pieces with a cleaver, chef’s knife or kitchen scissors depending on your level of dexterity. You can discard the head; I’m not that hardcore. Put 100-200g of flour in 2 large ziploc freezer bags and season with salt and pepper. Put the rabbit pieces in the bags, seal them and give them a shake. Fun eh?
Brown half the diced pancetta in a heavy-based pan (ideally one you can put a lid on and put in the oven but a saute pan is fine; you’ll deglaze it later anyway). Add half the now-seasoned rabbit pieces a couple at a time, making sure you don’t crowd the pan. Remove to a plate and repeat the procedure with the rest of the pancetta and rabbit.
Deglaze the pan with a couple of glasses of dry white wine or 400ml-ish of chicken stock.
Add the rabbit, the herbs (tied in muslin and/or with kitchen string into a bouquet garni) the onion and tomato reduction, a fistful of chopped parsley, a mere pinch of paprika and a teaspoon of sherry vinegar.
Pop a lid on and simmer on a low heat for about 30-40 mins. If it dish looks dry, filter some of the pepper-soaking liquid through a sieve and add that. While it’s xup-xup-ing gently, make your picada. Toast the hazelnuts in a dry frying pan then pound them in a pestle and mortar. Mince and pound a clove of garlic, a couple of strands of saffron and the liver and heart from before. Or, if you’re lazy like me, put them all through a hand blender mini chopper first, then pound them. You’ll have time for an extra glass of wine that way. You’ll need it to be patient enough to gently scrape the flesh from the inside of the skin of the soaked nyora peppers. Throw the seeds away. It’s a fiddly job but nyoras are a key ingredient. Sorry.
Now pound it all together with the pestle and add it to the rabbit when the 30-40 minutes are up.
If you own one, stick a food thermometer in the rabbit’s leg and set the alarm for about 66ºC. It’ll take about 10-20 more minutes of cooking.
Let it rest for ten minutes then serve on warm plates. Garnish with the parsley if you like. Catalans would probably have chips (fried potatoes) with the rabbit because, hey, any excuse, right? But just some good bread and a side salad would do. Skip the bread and spuds and it’s a slow-carb/low-carb treat.
Prepare to get your fingers dirty as you pick up the rabbit portions and nibble at the exquisite, tender meat.