I kept rabbits as a child and I was so distraught when a fox ate them, I didn’t eat rabbit until my thirties! I’ve found it makes a great pie filling when combined with a little pancetta, to balance its leanness. Make this warming, hearty dish during autumn and winter when you’ll really appreciate it and rabbit is at its best.
Equipment and preparation: you will need four individual pie dishes.
25g/1oz unsalted butter
1 tbsp sunflower oil
2 rabbits (1.5-2kg/3lb 5oz-4lb 8oz total), jointed
175g/6oz diced pancetta
1 onion, sliced
1 garlic clove, sliced
1 bulb fennel, trimmed and sliced
175ml/6fl oz white wine
600ml/20fl oz chicken stock
1 bay leaf
300ml/10fl oz double cream
2 tbsp chopped parsley
salt and black pepper
Combine the flour and salt in a large bowl. Put the butter and lard in a separate bowl, mixing them together loosely.
Take one quarter of the mixed fats and rub them into the flour lightly with your fingertips.
Combine the lemon juice and 130ml/4fl oz of water and mix lightly into the flour to form a soft dough.
Roll out the dough on a well-floured surface to a rectangle, about 10x30cm/4x12in.
Take another quarter of the diced fats and dot evenly over the top two-thirds of the pastry rectangle.
Now fold the empty bottom third up and the top third down over it, as if folding a letter.
Turn the dough 90° and seal the edges by pressing down with your fingers.
Roll out the dough and repeat the dotting and folding three times to use all of the fat.
Wrap the dough in cling film and leave to chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.
For the filling, heat a large flameproof casserole over a high heat and add the butter and oil. Working in batches, brown the rabbit well all over (include the liver and kidneys, if you have them, for extra flavour).
Remove from the pan and set aside. Add the pancetta to the pan, reduce the heat a little and cook for four minutes, or until golden-brown and beginning to crisp around the edges. Add to the rabbit.
Turn the heat to low. Add the onion, garlic and fennel to the pan and cook gently for 2-3 minutes. Add the wine, increase the heat and let it bubble for a couple of minutes, scraping the base of the pan with a spatula to release any caramelised bits. Return the rabbit and pancetta to the pan. Add the stock and bay leaf, bring to a simmer, cover and simmer gently for 1½ hours, until the rabbit is tender.
Remove the rabbit from the pan and leave until cool enough to handle, then strip the meat from the bones and put into a large bowl.
Bring the contents of the pan to the boil and boil to reduce the volume of liquid by half. Stir in the cream and bring back to the boil. Add the parsley, taste the sauce and season with salt and pepper as required. Return the rabbit meat to the pan and turn to coat in the sauce. Divide the filling between four individual pie dishes. Leave to cool.
Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas 6.
On a floured surface, roll out the pastry to about 5mm thick. Brush the edges of the pie dishes with beaten egg and cut pieces of pastry to place over each. Press round the edges to seal and trim off the excess pastry neatly. Brush the top of the pies with more egg.
Bake for 20–30 minutes, or until the pastry is golden-brown and the filling bubbling. Leave to settle for 10 minutes or so, then serve, with plain boiled potatoes, carrots and a green vegetable.
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