Match of the week | Rabbit (or chicken) with spring vegetables and Viognier

Match of the week

Rabbit (or chicken) with spring vegetables and Viognier

On Saturday I was in London’s Borough Market which was full of the most wonderful spring vegetables - artichokes, broad beans, peas and asparagus. It reminded me of a dish I normally make this time of year when we’re at our house in the Languedoc in southern France which is rabbit braised with spring vegetables and Viognier.

It was one of those serendipitous dishes that just came together from the ingredients to hand: Rabbit, as those of you who have been to a French butcher will know, is hugely popular in France (no sentimentality about the Easter Bunny among the frogs . . . ) but you could just as well use chicken.

What you can buy at this time of year is baby artichokes which require less extensive preparation than the full-size ones, just removing the outer leaves and cutting them in half to remove the hairy choke. I always start off the dish frying off a few cubes of bacon (lardons) then sweat off a couple of sliced cloves of wet (new season’s) garlic and some sliced sweet white onions (the local ones in France come from Lzignan which is famous for the quality of its onions).

I pour in a glass of Viognier and let it bubble up then add the artichokes and a strip of lemon peel. I lightly brown the rabbit pieces and add them to the pot together with a pinch of herbes de Provence, chuck in another glass of wine and a little water, cover the pan and let the whole thing burble away very slowly for 45 minutes to an hour until the rabbit is almost cooked. I blanch a few fresh broad beans and peas and some chopped, peeled asparagus stalks (leaving the spears for another recipe) then add them to the pot and continue to cook until the vegetables are tender. (I add the veg at the end so they stay a nice bright green rather than turning to khaki sludge). Finally I stir in a handful of fresh soft herbs - parsley and a bit of chervil and tarragon if I’ve got it.

Well, this wasn’t intended to be a recipe but a wine match but once I’d started I thought I’d better finish in case you fancied trying it out yourself. The point about the story is the Viognier which is what I had to hand. (Domaine du Météore, if I remember rightly, which comes from just up the road.) And it worked really perfectly, adding a richness and lusciousness to the dish you wouldn’t have got from chardonnay. We drank the same wine with the dish too.

Another possibility, as a food writer friend I met in the market reminded me, would be Arneis the gently aromatic white wine, originally from Piedmont but now being increasingly produced in Australia and California. It might also work with a Pinot Gris if it didn't have too much residual sugar (i.e. didn't taste too sweet)

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