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Mar 31, 2009
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Wine With . . . 'Jugged' Rabbit

by Paul Lukacs and Marguerite Thomas       

 

We Americans are generally way too chicken to prepare rabbit or hare, especially the classic Jugged Hare -- a wild rabbit simmered in wine, the sauce thickened with blood.  Our great-grandparents might have enjoyed such rustic fare, but most of us today have become so squeamish about our food that even reading the instructions in our old Joy of Cooking can give us pause.  In Joy's introductory paragraph to 'Rabbits and Hares' we are told: Test for the youth of the animal . . . by turning the claws sideways to see if they crack.  The ears should be soft and bend easily . . .'

 

Okay, fine, but we want our rabbit presented to us without claws or ears.  The British are far more intrepid about these things.  Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, in his delightful The River Cottage Meat Book, writes: 'When you order your hare, mention that you intend to jug it, and ask the butcher to save the blood for you.   The hare should be hung for four or five days -- more if you like a very gamey flavor.' 

 

Admirable though all this is, we are happy to settle for a farmed rabbit, already cut in serving pieces, and not wildly gamey, when we made our version of Jugged Rabbit.  The recipe is much the same as the classic one, except for the absence of blood.  And full disclosure:  we've discovered that skinless chicken thighs prepared this way taste remarkably like rabbit.

 

Serves 4

 

1 rabbit cut in serving pieces, or 8-12 skinless chicken thighs (bone in)

4 tablespoons olive oil

Salt and pepper

1 onion, chopped, or 5-6 shallots, peeled and quartered

1 large carrot, diced

2 teaspoons herbes de Provence or mixed thyme and oregano

1 cup sliced mushrooms

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 bottle full flavored red wine such as Merlot or Cabernet

2 cups chicken stock

½ cup brandy

1 tablespoon tomato paste, or 2 squares (2 ounces) bitter chocolate, grated 

1 heaping tablespoon flour

1 cup water

 

Preheat oven to 400.  In a shallow baking dish, toss the rabbit or chicken with 2 tablespoons of the oil.  Season with salt and pepper and roast them in the oven for about 10 minutes.  Turn the pieces over and roast another 5-10 minutes, or until lightly browned.  Place the onion or shallots, carrots, and mushrooms on a baking sheet with low sides; toss the vegetables with the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil and the herbs.  Add salt and pepper, and roast for about 8 minutes, or until the shallots have softened.  Stir in the garlic and continue roasting about another 5 minutes.

 

Meanwhile, pour the wine and rabbit or chicken into a deep pot and bring to a boil.  Simmer, uncovered, over medium-high heat, until mixture is reduced to almost half.  Stir in the tomato paste or chocolate.  Whisk the flour into the cup of water; then whisk the mixture into the simmering wine.  Lower heat and continue stirring until mixture has begun to thicken slightly.  Add the rabbit or chicken pieces to the pot, along with the vegetables.  Check the seasoning.  Cover the pot and simmer over very low heat for 2 to 3 hours, or until the meat is very tender and begins to come away from the bone (alternatively, transfer the pot to the oven and continue cooking it there at about 300 degrees).

 

 

Selection

Approx. Price

Comments

 

Dry Creek Vineyard, Sonoma County (California) Zinfandel 'Old Vine' 2006

 

  $28

 

We opened only reds with this dish, as the sauce was itself infused with hearty red wine flavor.  Yet because the dish is so deeply-flavored, we wondered whether wines with a more earthy character would perform better than those marked more prominently by international-tasting forward fruit.  So we tried a selection of both styles.  The result?  Well, rich, ripe fruit certainly was necessary for the wine to hold its own, but wines without secondary flavors (save for oak) seemed simplistic and somewhat dull.  By contrast, wines with pronounced spice, pepper, or earthy notes seemed to shine.  Our conclusion, then, is that while this is a somewhat rustic dish, it clearly benefits from a sophisticated and classy, complex red wine.

 

This 'Old Vine' Zinfandel offers plenty of briary spice, something that enhanced and enlivened the earthy flavors in the dish.  Though slightly sweet, its sugar did not distract from our enjoyment of the match.

 

  

 

Glen Carlou, Paarl (South Africa) 'Grand Classique' 2005

(Imported by The Hess Collection)

 

 

 

  $20

 

A Bordeaux-styled blend with roughly equal parts Cabernet and Merlot (and smaller percentages of Cabernet Franc, Malbec, and Petit Verdot), this wine displays a somewhat old-fashioned weedy or herbal note beneath its dark fruit.  That hint of green proved especially attractive when the wine was sipped with this hearty dish.  It also enabled the wine to outperform a much more internationally-styled St.-Émilion that we tried, proving that what we think of as Bordeaux flavors are not confined to Bordeaux itself. 

 

 

 

Luigi Bosca, Maipu, Mendoza (Argentina) Cabernet Sauvignon 'Reserva' 2006

(Imported by William-Harrison Imports)

 

 

 $21

 

An opulent wine, with a floral character in the bouquet and a distinct note of black licorice on the palate, this wine's compelling complexity enabled it to mesh seamlessly with the many flavors in the dish.

 

Peter Lehmann, Barossa (Australia) Shiraz 2006

(Imported by The Hess Collection)

 

  $16

 

Lighter in body than the other wines we are recommending, this Shiraz does not skimp on flavor.  It's full and rich, with sweet secondary notes (notably chocolate and vanilla) that perked up the pairing.  It also had the advantage of being the least expensive among the twelve wines we tried.

 

 


 

 

Perrin & Fils, Vinsobres, Côtes du Rhône Villages (France) 'Les Hauts de Julien' 2005

(Imported by Vineyard Brands)

 

 $49

 

 

Our favorite wine with the dish, this mature Vinsobres shows plenty of cherry and red berry fruit, but enhances it with satisfying non-fruit flavors that echo black pepper, sage, and dried Provencal herbs.  An extremely classy (as befits the price tag) southern Rhône red, it made our multifaceted Rabbit dish taste even more exciting because it's even more layered and complete.