YOU DON’T SEE MANY RABBITS IN SPAIN — THEY’VE ALL BEEN EATEN! AS SOON AS ONE POPS HIS LITTLE HEAD ABOVE HIS WARREN, THERE’S A DOZEN HUNTERS WAITING TO TURN HIM INTO DINNER. AND THIS DISH MAKES SUCH A WONDERFUL DINNER. IT HAS THE EARTHY FLAVOURS OF BROWNED RABBIT FLESH, THE AROMA OF ROSEMARY, THE SWEETNESS OF ONION, SULTANAS AND CARROT, THE FLAVOUR OF CITRUS, THE SHARPNESS OF WINE AND A FINISHING ADDITION OF SUGAR, VINEGAR AND BITTERSWEET SPANISH PAPRIKA. IT JUST SINGS OF THE INFLUENCE OF MUSLIM COOKS. EVERYWHERE THEY WENT — SPAIN, SOUTHERN ITALY AND INDIA — YOU’LL FIND THIS LEGACY OF SWEET AND SOUR FOOD.
Time to practise your knife skills — or smile sweetly and ask your butcher to do the following for you! Using a heavy knife or cleaver, cut off the hind and fore legs of each rabbit and trim off the knuckles. Cut the back legs into three pieces (the lower leg, the thigh with bone, and the thigh without the bone). Trim away the stomach flaps from the saddle and the lower part of the rib cage. The part of the body nearest the head makes very bony eating, so trim off the last few centimetres (about an inch), including the neck, and discard or reserve for making stock or sauces. Cut the saddle into five equal portions across the spine.
Heat the olive oil in a very large heavy-based saucepan over high heat. Brown the rabbit in batches for 3–5 minutes on each side, seasoning to taste as you go. Remove from the pan and set aside, then reduce the heat to medium-high. Add the onions and shallots and cook, shaking the pan frequently, for 10 minutes, or until deep golden.
Stir in the wine using a wooden spoon, scraping up any cooked-on bits from the bottom of the pan. Simmer for 2 minutes, then add the herbs, carrot, lemon rind strips and enough water to nearly cover the rabbit. Cover with a cartouche (a piece of baking paper cut into a round the same circumference as the pan), then reduce the heat to low and simmer very gently for 1 hour.
Remove the cartouche, then sprinkle the pine nuts, sultanas, vinegar, sugar and paprika over the rabbit and shake them into the juices. Put the cartouche back on and simmer for another 15 minutes. Serve the rabbit in shallow bowls, with plenty of crusty bread to soak up the juices.
© 2009 All rights reserved. Published by Murdoch Books.