23 February 2015

Rabbit & parsnip pie

Rabbit and parsnip pie.  Insert very big grin here.

Many moons ago, we bought a wild rabbit from a local butcher and it turned out to be the mankiest, smelliest, half cleaned and extremely tough bit of ancient rabbit you could ask for.  Perhaps not surprisingly, that put me off dealing with whole rabbits for quite some time.  However, when Farmer's Choice (Free Range) Ltd offered me a chance to have another go with some quality wild rabbit, how could I say no?  After all, I'd had a rabbit pie quietly baking in my imagination for quite some time.

Now I wanted this rabbit pie to be one that anyone could make, made with ingredients that are readily accessible or that could be in anyone's kitchen.  No wild and wacky ingredients, just good honest rabbit compatible flavours that would make this pie acceptable to most people, might even go as far as demystifying rabbit a little - and who knows, perhaps even rabbitophobes might consider giving it a go.

Beautiful rabbit, dredged in seasoned flour and in the pan
The Farmer's Choice rabbit was beautiful.  Clean as a whistle and smelling as fresh as a daisy, it was no more cringe inducing to handle than a fresh chicken - and even easier to joint up into pieces.

Oh and I must add, my three mobile dustbins were VERY interested in it and were there begging for offcuts within seconds of removing the rabbit from its packaging.  However, they were all out of luck as rabbit has negligible amounts of fat on it and they arrive unzipped, undressed and ready to go.  (The rabbit, that is, not the dogs).

The smell that wafted from the cooker as the rabbit slow cooked in the casserole dish was utterly mouthwatering - and we had to suffer that for two hours.
Seared, in the casserole and into the oven for the next 2 hours

Naturally, as a cook it is entirely your responsibility to taste your ingredients as the cooking proceeds ~koff~ and I can confirm that the flavour of the rabbit was sublime.  Everyone says that rabbit is a sweet flavoured meat and I can see that, yes - but it isn't sweetly sweet in a sugary way, it is mild, slightly woodland with a touch of earthy and reminds me very much of the texture of a chicken thigh, but no - it doesn't taste chickeny at all.  It is really lovely and something I would be very happy to entertain regularly on the menu plan.

No spare space for anything other than a bit of gravy
I will admit that this recipe involves a lot of steps.  It took me best part of a day - although I wasn't in the kitchen for the entirety of the day.  First making the pastry, then preparing the meat for the casserole, then a bit of a pause while the casserole did its thing, then it was all go through to the end.  So it isn't a recipe for when you're in a hurry! It would be perfectly possible to split the preparation between two days - make the filling on the first day, then refrigerate it until the following day when you can make the pastry, fill the pie and bake it.  Just remember to get the filling out of the fridge to come to room temperature in good time, or the baking time will be incorrect.

Golden and crisp, a thing of absolute beauty
I'm fairly sure that the ingredients are as economical as possible, with most wild rabbits costing between £5-£7 each (February 2015 prices) and currently £6.71 for a 1kg rabbit from Farmer's Choice (Free Range) Ltd.  Of course, you would need to factor in the delivery charge there, too - but rabbit is still one of those few fairly economical meats.

The pie would serve 5-6 hungry people and go further if children were involved.  So far as I can see, the only expense in the cooking is your time and the power required to fire up your oven.

Now, I have a few Cook's Tips for you.

I have stated to use "strong" stock and by that I mean stock that has rather more stock powder (once again, I thoroughly recommend Essential Cuisine's chicken or vegetable stock) than one would ordinarily use.  In order to gain the intensity of flavour, I made up my chicken stock with 1.5 tsp of stock powder for 500ml of water instead of the customary 1 tsp.  For this reason - and the reduction of the stock for gravy - it is essential to use a low salt stock cube (and Essential Cuisine's stocks are all naturally low salt).  It would be an easy thing to spoil the pie by making the stock too salty. 

My second cook's note is not to work the dough more than is absolutely necessary and certainly do not knead it at all.  The less you work the flour and the smaller the amount of water you use to hold it all together, the lighter the end result will be.  Incidentally, you won't need the egg until much later in the pie making process so keep it standing by!

This was son & heir's first taste of rabbit and he was very happy with it.  Everyone cleaned their plate and gave the dish a big thumbs up.  The leftovers of the pie even stood up well to being microwaved for lunch the following day.  The pastry stayed crisp and the filling was just as yummy.

Rabbits aren't as easy to get hold of as they once were, but if you see some rabbit in the shops - or even better, would like to order one from Farmer's Choice - do consider giving this pie a try.  If I can turn out a fabulous pie like this, anyone can. 

RABBIT & PARSNIP PIE   (serves 5-6)

Ingredients :

1 leek, quartered and chopped
3 tbsp olive oil (each tbsp used individually)
1 wild rabbit, jointed into 6 pieces, or 500g diced rabbit
2-3 tbsp plain flour
half a tsp sea salt
half a tsp black pepper
3 rashers back bacon, diced finely
1 small carrot, peeled & finely diced
1 stick celery, de-strung and finely diced
1 onion, finely diced
3 mushrooms, halved and sliced
2-3 bay leaves
half a tsp dried thyme
1 parsnip, cut into bite sized pieces
500ml strong chicken or vegetable low salt stock
3 semi dried prunes, sliced finely
1 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped finely.

For the pastry :

300g plain flour
100g Atora shredded suet (I use vegetable suet)
100g butter
120ml sparkling mineral water (although tap water will do)
sea salt
an egg, beaten, to glaze.

Method :

1.  Begin by making the pastry.  Place the flour into a large bowl and add the suet, butter and sea salt.  Rub the fat into the pastry by rubbing it between your fingertips, until you have what appears to be a cross between cornflake shapes and breadcrumbs.

2.  Add the water gradually - you may not need the whole amount, or you may need a little more - mixing with a knife and patting and pushing the dough together to form a ball.

3.  Once the pastry has formed a ball, wrap it in cling film and put it in the fridge to rest.

4.  Take a large, deep frying pan and add enough olive oil - up to 1 tbsp - to cook the leek in.  Heat over a moderate heat and add the leek.  The object of the exercise is to cook the leek without any browning or caramelisation.  You want soft leeks with bright green colour still.  Once cooked (around 10 mins) remove from the pan and reserve.

5.  If the rabbit isn't already jointed, cut it into six joints - the two back legs, saddle, ribcage and two front legs.

6.  Place the flour, sea salt & black pepper into a large plastic bag and shake to combine.  Add the rabbit pieces and give a good old shake about, to dredge the rabbit with the flour.

7.  Add another tbsp of olive oil to the pan and heat over a high heat.  Once really hot, add the first three rabbit joints and sear them until golden.  Remove into a casserole dish and retain.  Repeat the process for the next three rabbit joints.

8.  Reduce the heat under the pan and add the bacon.  Cook until the fat has rendered and the bacon is just beginning to colour.

9.  Add onion, carrot, celery, mushrooms and bay leaves and a little (100ml) water to mobilise whatever oil is in the pan and deglaze the pan base, which will steam the vegetables until the water has evaporated, then fry the vegetables.  Aim for a slight colouring and softened vegetables.  Add the thyme and parsnip and decant the vegetables into the casserole dish.

10.  Pour the stock into the frying pan and heat it through until just boiling.  Decant into the casserole dish, cover the casserole and place into a pre-heated oven at 170degC/325degF/Gas 3 for the next 2 hours.

11.  When the two hours are up, remove the rabbit onto a plate and using a slotted spoon, sieve out the vegetables into a bowl.  Decant the remaining stock into a small saucepan and reserve.

12.  Place the stock onto a moderate heat and bring to a boil.  Reduce the quantity until the flavour of the stock is sufficiently intense - you will probably have reduced it by half and it will have thickened somewhat.  You can then spoon any excess oil from the top of the stock.

13.  Remove the meat from the rabbit bones and discard the bones.  Place the chunks of meat into another bowl and add the leek, prunes and parsley along with sufficient of the casserole vegetables to make up the quantities for your pie dish.

14.  Add two or three tbsp of reduced stock to the pie filling and stir gently to combine.  Set aside to cool completely while you roll out the pastry.

15.  Cut the pastry ball into one third/two thirds and re-wrap the two thirds.  Roll out the one third to the correct size to line your pie dish.  Lay it into the pie dish and make sure no air bubbles are between the pastry and the dish.  Trim to size.

16.  Add the cooled pie filling, heaping it towards the centre of the dish.  Press down lightly as you go, you want to have as deeply filled a pie as is possible.

17.  Using the beaten egg, brush a little egg wash around the pastry edge.

18.  Roll out the two thirds piece of pastry to a size larger than the pie dish, that will cover the filling and comfortably meet the edges of the pastry.   Lay the rolled out pastry over the pie and smooth it down to the edges.  Press the pastry lightly over the egg washed edges, then using a decorative knife point, or fork, or any other method of your choosing, press an attractive pattern into the edge which will not only look nice but will secure the two pastry pieces together.  Trim the pastry neatly and remove the excess.

19.  Neatly cut a hole into the top of the pie and give the pastry a good coating with egg wash.  If you're feeling creative, you can now cut some leaves, or a likkle rabbit, out of the excess pastry to decorate your pie with.  Lay the decoration onto the egg washed pastry and give them their own coating of egg wash.

20.  The pie is now ready for baking!  Place into a pre-heated oven at 180degC/350degF/Gas 4 for 45 - 50 minutes or so.  Keep an eye on the pastry in the last 10 minutes, you are aiming for a golden top with discernibly golden pastry sides (presuming your pie dish is transparent, that is!).

Once baked and when you remove your pie from the oven, remember to take a moment to appreciate your creation.  You've taken enough time to bring it to life, a bit of appreciation before you cut it and destroy its natural beauty, is only right and proper.

Serve the pie with seasonal vegetables of your choice and the remaining stock as gravy.

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