Portuguese Hunter's Rabbit Stew ❦ Coelho à Caçador
This simple and dish may seem rustic, but to me, it is elegant and refined. My mother would make this dish so well, and admittingly, I didn't care much for it as a child. Later, wanting to preserve my mother's dishes, I was reintroduced to it with different eyes. My eldest son, who couldn't get enough of this dish, would call it Vovo's special chicken. We would all giggle.
The marinade is very important and a can't miss, in my opinion. Even if only 2-3 hours. I serve this with boiled potatoes and fried country bread, but you can serve it with rice, french fries, or even just steamed greens. The sauce is delicious.
Traditionally, the rabbit was slaughtered at home and the blood reserved, mixed with vinegar to keep it from coagulating. It later was added near the end of the cooking time. Today we all do not have farms and the blood available, and although my elders would probably GASP...my mother never used it and her rabbit was the best I have ever eaten. Rabbit is lean meat and will not benefit from overcooking. I cook mine low and slow for 45 minutes. Any longer will produce tough, dry meat.
My mother would soak her rabbit in a water and vinegar brine for a few hours. This practice, I believe came from the use of wild rabbits, back in the day. The rabbits found at the butcher's counters today, will not be as gamey, so this step can easily be skipped. I however still do it. The meat tenderizes even more and the tang from the vinegar permeates throughout, something I like.
Portuguese Hunter's Rabbit ❦ Coelho à Caçador
Prep time minimum, 3 hours and up to overnight
45 minutes to cook
1,300-1,500 whole rabbit cleaned, skinned, and jointed
900 g. Potatoes, peeled and cubed
2 Carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
A handful of fresh thyme and rosemary sprigs, plus extra thyme sprigs to garnish and serve
50 g. of smoked bacon or chouriço (chorizo)
150 ml. White or red wine vinegar
60 ml. Port wine, brandy, or whiskey (I used Port)
500 ml. Bold full-bodied red wine, I used Malbec (because it's what I drink and had)
100 ml. water
8-10 Cloves of garlic, divided
4 Bay leaves
1 Bird's eye chili pepper, whole, optional
4 tbsp. Tomato passata
1 tbsp. Tomato paste concentrate
1 tbsp. Sweet paprika
1 tsp. Ground ginger powder
1 tbsp. Lard/ butter
60 ml. Extra virgin olive oil
Coarse sea salt and pepper to taste
Place quartered and prepared rabbit pieces in a bowl, cover with cold water and vinegar. Leave to brine for 2-3-6 hours.
Drain and add red wine, 1 tbsp. coarse salt, half the garlic roughly chopped, 2 bay leaves, a few sprigs of thyme and rosemary, stalks removed. Paprika and ground ginger.
Leave to marinate a minimum of 3 hours or up to 8.
When ready to cook. In a heavy-bottomed stockpot on high heat, add lard/ butter and extra virgin olive oil. Lift rabbit from marinade and pat dry on paper towels. Reserve marinade.
Add rabbit hot pan and brown on all sides.
Remove to a plate and reserve.
Lower heat to medium. Add the bacon and/ or chouriço, carrots, bay leaves, garlic. Saute a few minutes, until onion is translucent and garlic is fragrant. Add tomato passata and puree. Stir and cook for 30 seconds stirring.
Add the rabbit back to the pot. Add reserved marinade. Add water.
Cover with a tight-fitting lid and simmer on medium heat for 45 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a separate pot. Add potatoes and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil and cook for 30 minutes, or until tender. Turn off the heat and keep the lid on.
Toast bread. (traditionally it is fried in a pan with olive oil and garlic, but this is easier)
Rub bread all over with a whole clove of garlic. Place on a plate and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil. Set aside until ready to plate/ serve.
After 45 minutes, the rabbit should be perfectly cooked. Adjust seasoning to taste, adding black pepper and /or more salt if needed. Turn off heat and keep warm and covered.
Once ready to serve, drain potatoes. Spoon onto the centre of the plate. Place 2 slices of bread on either side. Ladle the rabbit atop potatoes with loads of delicious sauce. Add more thyme sprigs to garnish. Discard andy bay leaves.