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.
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).