Thursday, June 05, 2014

Rabbit Stew in London

Having grown up in the countryside and then lived in France I hadn't realised the rabbit is currently part of Britain's food history. It's apparently a very unusual meat for most Londoners nowadays.

But my local butcher stocks it and a restaurant client inspired me with one of their current chef's specials: Rabbit cooked with white wine and rosemary.

I was pleased to find that rabbits come with giblets. I butchered my bunny hind half and browned the pieces in a frying pan. Then I deglazed the pan with white wine. I put the rabbit and wine in an oven dish with onion, lots of garlic, rosemary, lemon zest, a little lemon juice, some left over flageolet beans, lots of extra virgin olive oil, some potatoes, salt and pepper. It all went in a hot oven for a couple of hours. It was delicious.

Back end of bunny

Ready split, with giblets
Squeamish moment? Fur still clinging. But it is a rabbit, so
what do you expect?
Straight from the oven
A simple country dinner, in London town


My local butcher markets itself as free-range and organic, but they're not very good at being open about their stock's provenance. I suspect they're not very good at being honest either. They enjoy queues down the street on a Saturday, as their well to-do Dulwich customers shun the supermarket in support of their local posh shops - and so they should. The range and quality of the meat is outstanding - far, far better than Sainsbury's. But they should respect their many trusting customers enough to be truthful.

When asked, it turns out that not all the chickens are free-range. The 'dry cured' bacon does not look or behave as if it is dry cured. I wanted to email them with this particular feedback, but they don't have an email address. I feel I can't actually talk to them about it, either, because their shop is always full of customers. I now get Sainsbury's 'outdoor bred' (Bred = not good enough. I want totally outdoor raised and bred free-range pleeeeaaaaase!) dry cured bacon, and all other meat from the butcher. The butcher's ham is exceptionally good and reasonably priced. I really, really hope that's free-range, but it's next on the list to check...

The other day, I asked their largest and most sarcastic staff member (not by choice - he was serving me at the time) whether their rabbits are wild or farmed. He said farmed. I asked how they are farmed - in cages? He said, "no in a field with a fence round it". That's not feasible. And he sounded as if he was making it up as he went along. I've previously had a problem with the same guy when trying to find out more about the very expensive turkey I was buying, and he seemed to regard me as an idiotic cow and failed to answer my questions.

I called the shop this morning and asked more questions about the rabbit farm or supplier, and was told that at this time of year they are farmed, and yes in cages, thus confirming that the big guy was talking huevos de toro. The most I could get on the supplier was that they are in Yorkshire. I rang one supplier there who told me that all their rabbits are wild whatever time of year it is, so it must have been the wrong supplier or else the butchers are under-selling their rabbit. I gave up after that sliver of investigative journalism, but my conclusion is that you can still get wild rabbit easily, but that I don't trust William Rose butchers in East Dulwich to supply it.

History & Stuff

Until the '50s, rabbit had been a staple of the British diet since forever. Then myxomatosis was deliberately introduced to control the wild rabbit population, and it disappeared from the menu. A delicious, nutritious, free, plentiful, wild food wiped out. I can't understand why more hasn't been done to eradicate the cruel disease.

In the middle ages, enormous managed warrens filled with hundreds of rabbits were run in Norfolk, to meet the demand for rabbit meat - wild ones weren't enough, and I guess...something to do with poaching laws.

Once a year, my parents in Sussex are visited by Mr Warren (YES) and his ferrets. The ferrets hunt and kill any rabbits in the garden (sounds horrific but it all happens in an instant, so very quick horror), then my dad pays Mr Warren for the cull and keeps a rabbit or two to eat.

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