Hare and Chocolate Sauce

Preparation info

  • Difficulty

    Medium

  • Serves

    4

    as stew

Appears in

Hare and chocolate are inextricably linked for me, as some of the most beautiful Easter moulds depict hares. Long before the Christian feast of Easter existed, the Roman dawn goddess Oestre was a symbol of new life and spring. She was said to disguise herself as a hare, and go around hiding eggs behind bushes – hence Easter-egg hunts.

Quite apart from that, the meat of the hare goes exceptionally well with chocolate. It is very dark, extremely lean and needs long cooking. I have tried several ways of cooking hare, and the best, in my opinion, is to make a ragu with it, to be served with tagliatelle. It is far superior to beef. My son, aged five, pronounced it delicious and said he’d like to eat it for supper every night. This recipe is an Italian classic and different versions can be found in many books; this one is probably closest to that served at the River Café. Making a change from spring lamb at Easter time, the chocolate gives body and colour to the sauce. In Italy, particularly in Sicily, chocolate is often added to agrodolce dishes – combining sweet and sour flavours.

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Ingredients

  • 1 hare, weighing around 2 kg, jointed (ask butcher to remove any small bones and ribs, and try to get the blood and liver)
  • flour
  • salt and pepper
  • 4 tbsp olive oil
  • handful of pickled walnuts or capers (optional)
  • 100 g pancetta, cubed
  • 12 shallots, finely chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 small fennel bulb, cored and chopped
  • 3 large carrots, chopped
  • 50 g real dark chocolate or 25 g unsweetened cocoa
  • 2 large 400 g tins of chopped tomatoes (if making into pasta sauce)
  • big handful of roughly chopped parsley

For the Marinade

  • 1 bottle of good red wine
  • 6 bay leaves
  • 5 whole star anise
  • ½ tsp fennel seeds (optional)

To Serve as a Pasta Sauce

  • 500 g tagliatelle, cooked
  • pesto sauce, to dress
  • freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Method

You can eat this as a casserole first, then use the leftovers for a pasta sauce. Either way, start by marinating the hare overnight (time permitting) in the wine, with the bay leaves, star anise and fennel seeds, if using.

Dry off the hare, dust it with the seasoned flour and brown each piece in a little of the oil in a heavy-bottomed pan. Then add the marinade (with a little water, if necessary, to cover) and the pickled walnuts, bring to the boil and simmer for as long as it takes the hare to become really tender – this can actually be anything from 1 to 8 hours, depending on the age and condition of the hare.

While the hare is cooking, dry-fry the pancetta until golden, then add the shallots, garlic, fennel, carrots and the remaining olive oil, and sauté slowly until the carrots are tender. Add all of these to the hare together with the chocolate or cocoa and simmer for a further 15 minutes.

If serving as ‘jugged hare’, the blood and liver should be liquidized and added with the chocolate. Adjust the seasoning to taste. Mashed potatoes, and roast root vegetables, like beetroot and parsnips, would suit this dish.

If you are planning to serve the hare as a ragu, after cooking it in the marinade until tender, take the pieces of hare out the sauce and remove any bones, the star anise and the bay leaves. Cook until reduced somewhat. Meanwhile, in a food processor, chop the leg meat finely, then shred the saddle (not in the processor), leaving some reasonably big pieces. Return the chopped meat to the sauce and add the cooked onion mixture, the tomatoes, parsley and chocolate. Cook until the sauce has reduced and is thick and rich-looking. Adjust the seasoning to taste. Serve with tagliatelle dressed with some pesto and sprinkled with freshly grated Parmesan.

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