I don’t eat much rabbit. Not because I don’t like it but because the battery-farmed, flavourless specimens usually available to buy are unjustifiable, either ethically or gastronomically. Fortunately I recently happened upon an organic rabbit which was much more like the real, wild thing. I decided to improvise a dish using some classic Catalan/Spanish flavour combinations and techniques; I have imaginatively decided to call it conill amb prunes i pinyons — rabbit with prunes and pine nuts. Bear in mind that the following is home cooking, in all its imperfect glory. If you want a show-off dinner party dish, please don’t copy me!
First I jointed the rabbit. I will spare the sensitive readers out there photos of it with its head still on and tongue sticking out…
Separate the liver, kidneys and heart, discard any other internal organs.
Brown the jointed pieces, ideally in a Spanish earthenware casserole or — if you, like me have broken yours — any big pan. Don’t crowd them or they’ll steam. I had some fat in the fridge I’d poured off the tin from a roasted chicken but you could use lard here or even some fatty bacon.
Remove the browned pieces and add some chopped onion. Cook it on a low heat for as long as it takes to become extremely soft and transparent — don’t let it colour or burn.
Next you need some tomatoes. You can, of course, boil water to de-skin them but that’s always a bit of a faff for just 2 or 3 toms. Instead, try the Catalan method: slice them horizontally (i.e. not through the stem) and scoop out the seeds. Then holding the skin side, press the flesh against a box grater and carefully get to work. Mind your fingers! Instant, fuss-free, chopped tomato.
Add the tomato to the onions and continue to cook slowly until you have a thick mush, your sofregit. Add the rabbit pieces (and heart, but not the liver or kidneys) and a dash of cognac: flame it if you’re feeling flash. Then pour in enough good, hot chicken stock to just cover. Make sure to scrape the bottom of your pan with a wooden spoon to deglaze it. You can add a sprig of rosemary here if you have it (I didn’t) or some thyme and a stick of cinnamon.
Cover and leave to cook on a low heat while you
start drinking get on with the rest of the process.
Much of the flavour of this dish comes from a picada — a sort-of roux used to thicken sauces and stews at the end of cooking. It’s mainly about the successful application of elbow grease via the means of a pestle and mortar but plenty of people cheat and use food processors these days. Not me, though; I haven’t got room for one…
Start off with a handful of almonds and a pinch of saffron. You can use hazelnuts either, it’s up to you. Grind them into a powder then add a peeled clove of garlic and keep working. Once it’s completely smooth, you should add some cubes of fried bread. I used a couple of wholegrain Nuria biscuits instead. Like I said at the start, this is home cooking not a restaurant recipe. Anyway, you then add the rabbit’s liver. Keep pounding until you have a completely even paste.
Once your rabbit’s just about cooked (how long? I dunno, it depends on how hot your hob is and which pan you use. Just keep an eye on it and check every 15 minutes. If you’re in danger of overdoing it just lift the pieces out and add them back to warm through before serving) you can add the picada and some halved, stoneless prunes. I add the kidneys at this stage too. They should be just pink inside when cooked.
While it’s all coming together, toast some pine nuts and chop some parsley — if, unlike me, you remembered to buy some.
I served the rabbit and sauce with some buttery mashed potatoes but that’s a bit of an English touch, I think; some good crusty bread would go just as well. Garnish with the (in my case invisible) parsley and pine nuts and enjoy with a glass of something robust. The chef gets the kidneys as a reward for his hard work.