So, last weekend, wandering through the market and wondering what to make for dinner – venison sausage stew, in the end, which was just as good as you might expect and carried me through to Wednesday – I noticed some recently deceased hares hanging outside one of the butchers; wandering a bit further on, I found some skinned and on sale. I was sorely tempted, but refrained on the ground that a) I had no idea what to do with them, and b) they were certainly too large to cook for myself, unlike a rabbit, which you can just about manage on your own.
Thinking about it afterwards, though, the temptation grew. Some research found recipies; some further questioning found some volunteers to eat it, and so on Thursday I bought a hare, stashed it in the freezer, and began to plot.
First discovery: it takes longer to thaw out a hare than you might think. Second discovery: ditto dismantling. I think I finally had it butchered about 1am on Saturday morning, with the kitchen looking like something of a charnel house. (Who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him?) Net product, two thighs (large), two forelegs (skinny), and a pile of chopped bits of meat. This is, I think, the first time I’ve dealt with the carcass of something wild rather than farmed – the prominent gunshot wound through the ribcage was a bit of a giveaway. An interesting, if messy, experience.
The reason I was butchering it the night before was in order to marinade it; a bottle or so of red wine, some wine vinegar, garlic, a chopped onion, some chopped carrots, and a handful of peppercorns, cloves, and a bouquet garni, something I always worry I will mistake for a teabag at the wrong moment. Stick it in the fridge (needing to rearrange the fridge in the process) and leave overnight.
Saturday, into town in the morning for some groceries, and then to work. Empty out the bowl, meat to one side, straining out the onion and carrot from the liquid; keep the marinade or discard it and start again with fresh wine, as you see fit. (I did the latter, partly because of an oversupply of cooking wine…). Fry the meat to brown it; the problem is, of course, that it has marinaded overnight in red wine, and so is somewhere between purple and black, so identifying “browned” is a bit tricky. Give it a shot.
I was aiming to feed five, so three duck legs to go with it – partly because duck would add some fat to the stew, and partly because I wasn’t sure quite how far the hare would go, and having one large leg per person seemed wise. Put all the meat into a large pot, cover with the strained marinade (or fresh wine) and some stock, begin simmering.
I ate the first of the hare at this point, one of the smaller pieces – it was cooked through – and it was… unexpectedly strong. I mean, I’d been expecting strong, but stronger than that; much more removed from rabbit than I’d expected.
The other elements were fairly simple, as well; some butter beans and a handful of carrots, which always stew up beautifully, plus the onions and carrot from the marinade, fried with a little bacon and then thrown in. Cover the pot and keep on a low heat for two hours, or longer. I served it with boiled potatoes, which were lovely, and some green beans, which were perhaps superfluous and could easily have been set aside in favour of more carrots (which were meltingly lovely).
So, the verdict? Interesting. Very strong; not unpleasant, but sharp and gamey, a bit more so than I’m normally comfortable with. I’m not sure the marinade really offset it much; I think I might try a different composition next time, and see if that helps. The other possibility is roasting it rather than stewing it – with a lot of additional fat – which does seem quite interesting but means I’d have to put a lot more effort in, and I’m not sure how the flavours would come out that way. My grandmother tells me that in the thirties she used to get hare soup after her father’s friends went shooting, which seems like it would work – the flavour would carry very well.
An interesting meal and worth it as an experiment, but I think I might stick with rabbit until I’ve had a chance to eat hare prepared by someone else and see what they do with it!