When a friend rings you up with the news that he's shot a hare and it's got your name on it you don't mess around. Plans were cancelled, holidays were put on hold and Cowie's kitchen was annexed for a marathon hare cook off.
Rad had shot the hare in Angelsey with his new air rifle and prepared the beast with the help of Nick who knows everything there is to know about country pursuits. It was huge. I hadn't braced myself for how large it was going to be. We spread it out and inspected it meticulously, marvelling at the tightness and definition of the muscles. The flesh was firm, almost hard to the touch.
We decided to experiment with a range of options that would be best suited to the different cuts of meat. We decided to make a ragout out of the back legs, roast the saddle and make a pate out of the front legs and leftovers.
We took inspiration from Cook it Simply for the pate. Simply throw the front legs and any leftover carcass into a stock pot and simmer with stock vegetables, bay, peppercorns and juniper berries until the meat comes away from the bones. This took around 3 or 4 hours. Then remove the legs and let them cool before stripping the meat from the bones.
Then saute some mushrooms in plenty of butter until they've coloured before throwing in a combustible glug of cognac. Stand back and enjoy the flames. Toss in some garlic and allow it to soften as well. Then soak some bread in milk and add it to the mushrooms along with the hare meat with some herbs such as thyme and parsley. Blitz this all together and add some butter and some of the leftover stock to loosen.
Season aggressively and then spoon into ramekins and chill. Serve with buttered toast and a glass of something cold, light and preferably with a hint of sugar. We were amazed that we managed to fill 6 ramekins worth of pate. It was deep, gamey, smooth and incredibly satisfying. We felt like we'd made something beautiful out of nothing.
First, we browned the hare legs in a pan having dusted them in seasoned flour and then tossed them into the slow cooker.
Then we sauted carrots, onions, garlic and celery until softened before adding tomato puree and 2 tins of chopped tomatoes.
We let this simmer and then lobbed it into the pot. Then we poured in some red wine, gave a pepper grinder a work out and added a couple of attractive bay leaves. As the final touch we placed a couple of squares of fine, dark chocolate on the surface and watched it melt as the liquid heated up. 7 hours later the meat began to yield. It started to tease away from the bone. Given that it was about 3 am at this point I separated the meat from the sauce and popped them in the fridge. The flavours developed overnight, as the always do, to leave us with a complex, deep sauce and meat that was shaping up to be pretty special.
We shredded the meat and poured the sauce into a pan with a large spoonful of redcurrant jelly, a splash more red wine and some more tomatoes. It resuscitated brilliantly and came alive with the additional sugar. We served it with tagliatelle and some roasted baby tomatoes. It was a huge amount of effort. But worth every ounce of effort. It's one of the best pasta dishes I've ever eaten. The meat reminded me of oxtail and the sauce had a sheen that Mr. Muscle would be proud of.
The final edition in our hare trilogy was the simplest but arguably, the least effective. We marinated the saddle in olive oil, juniper berries, lemon zest, parsley and garlic for several hours...
... and then wrapped it in foil and roasted it on the BBQ.
It promised a huge amount and smelled amazing. Whilst it was good, it wasn't quite as amazing as we had hoped. But to be honest we had eaten a lot of hare at this point. I had naively expected it to be like eating a rare piece of pigeon breast, but it was quite a lot tougher.
So next time you get your hands on a hare, make sure you have as much fun with it as we did. Next time we're going to ensure we keep the blood so we can do some jugging... I've come away from this adventure with enormous respect for the mighty hare.
We still love to go on trips around the UK, staying in BnBs or camping in search of a good meal or two - hence, Around Britain with a Paunch. Quite often the trips have been prompted by Diana Henry's Gastro Pub Cookbook. Here's where we've been to: