Rabbit Richard Olney
Maybe its because I've just been to Provence but one of the nicest books to arrive through my letter box this summer is Alex Jackson's Sardine which is full of recipes he cooks at his London restaurant of the same name. I've been there a couple of times and really loved it.
I picked out this one for two reasons - one, I love rabbit and think it's much underrated and also regard Richard Olney as a bit of an icon. (Why is it some of the greatest writers about French food are American?) I haven't cooked it but I mean to and thought you might enjoy it in the meantime.
Alex writes: "This wonderful recipe is a Richard Olney classic: rabbit slow-cooked in rosé, saffron, cucumbers, tomatoes and basil. Cooked cucumber is somewhat unconventional, but delicious. Breaking down far enough to avoid being watery, the texture is a bit like a soft-braised courgette (zucchini), which would make a nice substitution if cooked cucumber feels like a step too far. Remember that in this case a little saffron goes a long way; the other flavours are delicate and too much spice might overpower. This is a light, summery braise, full of the flavours of Provence."
A leafy salad, nothing with too much crunch, and some bread will be enough, as well as enough additional rosé to keep the whole table happy.
4 rabbit legs or 1 whole rabbit, jointed
1 medium sweet white onion, halved and finely sliced into half moons
1 head garlic, cloves separated but not peeled
4 bay leaves
A small pinch of saffron
1⁄2 bottle (375ml/13fl oz) dry rose
2 small cucumbers (Lebanese if possible)
4 juicy tomatoes
1 bunch of basil, leaves picked
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 160°C fan/180°C/350°F/gas mark 4.
Season the rabbit well with salt and pepper. Place a wide heavy-based ceramic pan, something with a tight-fitting lid, over a medium heat and add 1 tbsp olive oil. Brown the rabbit pieces until a light golden brown all over.
Add the sliced onions, garlic cloves, bay leaves and saffron, followed by the rose. The rose should cover the rabbit pieces; if not, top up with water to barely cover the meat. Cover the pan with the lid and bring to the boil. Just as the liquid in the pan has started to boil, place the pan in the hot oven for around 1 hour 30 minutes, or until the meat is soft and starting to fall off the bone.
After an hour of the cooking time, check whether there is enough juice left in the pan. If too much has evaporated, add a splash of water.
Top, tail and peel the cucumbers, then slice them in half. Scoop out most of the watery seeds, then slice on a slight angle into 1.5-cm/1⁄2-inch thick pieces.
Cut the tomatoes into small, angular bite-size pieces. Season both the cucumbers and tomatoes with salt and, once the rabbit is soft, add them to the stew. Drizzle the whole thing lightly with olive oil. Return the pan to the oven, this time uncovered, for a further 20 minutes, or until the rabbit has caught a little more colour and the vegetables have softened.
Remove the pan from the oven and assess the stew: it should not be too watery, but there must be enough strongly flavoured juices to mop up with bread and salad. If the stew seems a touch thin, cook it for a few more minutes, uncovered, over a low heat. If it seems a bit thick, add a glug more water. Taste the juices, as well as a small piece of rabbit, for seasoning, and if you think it needs it, add salt, a small knob of cold butter or an additional glug of extra virgin olive oil. Roughly tear the basil leaves into the stew, and it’s ready.
What to drink: Alex suggests a Provencal rosé and I'm totally happy with that. Maybe a Bandol rosé
From Sardine: Simple seasonal Provenҫal cooking by Alex Jackson, published by Pavilion Books. Image © Matt Russell.
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