MeatClub#03 – Where the Wild Things Are: Rabbit and Hare
"And El-ahrairah’s tail grew shining white and flashed like a star. And his back legs grew long and powerful. And he tore across the hill, faster than any creature in the world. And Frith called after him, ‘All the world will be your enemy, prince with a thousand enemies. And whenever they catch you, they will kill you. But first, they must catch you, digger, listener, runner, Prince with a swift warning. Be cunning, and full of tricks, and your people will never be destroyed."
Watership Down Richard Adams
It turns out that whilst some carnivores are happy to grab a shrink wrapped chicken off the shelf, tuck into a juicy steak or roast the leg of a fluffy little lamb, they are still a bit squeamish when it comes to rabbit.
Why’s that then? An association with pets perhaps? An affinity with Watership Down? Or could it be that rabbits, more than any other animal reminds us that animals were once… well…alive?
As we keep saying, the main idea behind Manchester Meat Club is to connect people back to what they are eating, get them to ask more questions about where it came from, source meat more carefully and respect the animal. More than any previous Meatclub, this hands-on approach took no prisoners.
Imagine having to feed a family during this freezing cold, late winter weather without transport or shops? We joked about being able to feed yourselves during the apocalypse – but could you? Just how removed have we become from obtaining basic sources of protein?
This recent cold weather had an effect on supply. The snow has caused havoc for many livestock farmers, especially those rearing spring lambs, and rabbits were scarce, probably burrowing deep down in their warrens to keep away from the cold. We had to put out an APB, so thanks specially to Debbie and Charlie from Prestbury Farm Shop and Simon Chapman from Yard on The Edge (Meatclub#01 butcher) who managed to pull fresh rabbits from the hat for us at the eleventh hour.
Leading the butchery and cooking for MeatClub#03 were James and Nina from The Moocher. James had also bagged a couple of rabbits for us and five brown hares - fine examples of these magical, myth shrouded creatures.
Meatclubbers were welcomed by appetisers of rabbit loin on a toasted croute with The Moocher’s own wild garlic pesto. James explained the physical differences between the animals and gave us a quick insight into the history of these two very different creatures. James explained that whilst rabbit is a relative newcomer to these shores, the Brown Hare is indigenous. The original ‘Easter bunny’, the moon-gazing March Hare, is an ancient British Easter time fertility symbol. Hare is faster and leaner than rabbit, and the meat is gamier and darker.
With plenty of rabbits and hares to go round, everyone paired up and watched as Nina expertly demonstrated how to skin a rabbit and how much tougher it was to do the same to a hare. It’s hard to explain the atmosphere but there was an almost primeval fascination and a real natural sense of satisfaction and achievement. The connection between a human taking responsibility and paying respect to the food they were about to eat - certainly the learning experience we were after.
Once denuded of their fur, Nina explained that 40% of rabbit meat is in the legs and she showed us how to break it down into different parts for cooking. She explained that you can use the liver and the tiny kidneys but showed what to look and smell for to check that they’re fresh. She suggested that the thin belly flesh could be used as a casing to wrap around a filling instead of bacon.
Everyone crowded round the North Star Deli open kitchen whilst James and Nina explained the simple mechanics of setting up a smoker in your own kitchen. Nina had soaked some of the hare loins in brine the day before and then popped them on a rack in a casserole dish lined with aromatic and gently smouldering wood-chips.
Unfazed by flying flesh and fur, Charlie the Wine recommended wines to match. He turned to Italy with an easy drinking, velvety 2010 Moltepulciano Classici Don Zonin at only £7.50 per bottle, showing that you can indeed eat and drink like a 17th century Italian count on a 21st century students budget.
Nina and James then brought out a succession of inspired dishes. First was the lightly smoked hare loin served with sautéed beetroot and creamy mashed potato.
Next, a poached ballotin of rabbit and spinach with the liver and kidneys, wrapped in bacon and served on a slice of buttery fried polenta.
The following dish was a pleasant surprise as Nina successfully combined hare with coffee. James Guard from The Coffee Circle has created a special blend of espresso for them which Nina used to make savoury pancakes stuffed with a chicken farce and the richly dark hair loin. This was served with an earthy celeriac mash and a savoury sauce made with more of the coffee and a touch of whiskey.
The final dish of the night was a taste sensation, one that will hopefully be in The Moocher’s repertoire when they start producing hot food at festivals and farmers markets. Rabbit in an oriental marinade, dipped in cornflour and deep fried.
Many thanks again to James and Nina from The Moocher. Have a look at their website or make a point of visiting them at their regular farmer’s markets. They produce a range of sauces and potted seasonal game using foraged and fresh ingredients. They’re also getting a great reputation for their freshly baked pies, sausage rolls and giant slabs of crispy pork crackling. The Moocher are available for private catering and foraging/cooking lessons for small groups.
Click here to see a full gallery of pictures of #MEATCLUB03.
The St George’s Day MeatClub#04 will be at The Parlour, Beech Rd, Chorlton on April 23rd, when Lee Frost will be showing us how to break down a whole spring lamb. Chef Paul and his team will be producing a variety of small dishes using pretty much everything from front to fluffy tail.
Keep an eye on @McrMeatClub for booking details.