I’ve got another new butcher on the block – Paul Cramer, in Camden, north London. I stumbled across him as I was wandering around waiting for my son to finish his guitar club – and I am very glad I did.
He has some delights in his window display, including the magnificent slow-grown gi-mongous Phil Truin chickens, various kinds of game birds, beautiful, meaty pork bellies and, well lots of other stuff. But it was his ‘Suffolk Hares, £14.99 each’ that caught my eye last weekend.
Now these aren’t for the faint-hearted. They’ve been shot, for one thing (and the buckshot is there in the meat as proof) but I salve my conscience with the knowledge they have led a free-range, totally organic life before meeting their maker.
And – skinned – they are not the most aesthetically pleasing (though my wife saying, ‘That looks like you with a suntan,’ was just hurtful).
And butcher Paul’s question – ‘Would you like me to take the lungs out’ – might also have left the less robust reaching for the bucket.
But I’m from the North. We’re made of stern stuff. Although I do confess, I asked him to remove the hare’s skinned buck-toothed head – because it DID actually remind me of myself with a suntan!
Actually, my wife should thank me for the latter – because I don’t think our relationship would have ever been the same again. Not that the unwrapping of the two-foot-long bright purple hare was in any way aphrodisiacal.
‘I can’t eat that!” my wife exclaimed, after I unwrapped the body like a bodysnatcher. Burke and Hare, anyone? (That just came to me and I’m quite proud of it!)
But I had a plan – this classic hare ragu. And it was a triumph: a rich, deep, meaty, verging on livery, very gamey, touch of venisony, triumph.
One hare made enough for 8 people – so in mine and my wife’s case, four meals.
Hare’s to that!
2-3 tbsp olive oil
1 whole hare
Plain flour, seasoned with salt and freshly ground black pepper, for dusting
1 carrot diced
2 sticks celery diced
1 onion diced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
250 ml red wine
1 x 400 g canned chopped tomatoes
2 tbsp tomato purée
2 bay leaves
Splash chicken stock
300g pappardelle pasta
Freshly grated parmesan, to serve
1. First, cut the hare into several pieces – back legs, front legs, saddle etc. Dust with flour.
2. Heat a large frying pan over a high heat and add the olive oil and fry the hare pieces for a few minutes on all sides to brown all over. Remove from the pan and reserve.
3. Add the carrot, celery, onion and garlic to the pan and fry for 2-3 minutes, or until softened. The add the chopped rosemary.
4. Add the red wine to deglaze, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan using a wooden spoon. Cook for a further 2-3 minutes, then add the chopped tomatoes, followed by the tomato puree and bay leaves. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
5. Transfer to a slow cooker and add the browned hare pieces. Cook for 4 hours on LOW until the meat is falling-off-the-bone tender.
6. Once the hare is ready, carefully remove the pieces from the slow cooker and pull the meat off the bones before shredding with a couple of forks. Take care with the backbone area that you remove all the tiny bones.
7. Transfer the sauce to a large saucepan and return the shredded meat to the sauce. Stir through and heat up.
8. To cook the pappardelle, bring a large pan of salted water to the boil and cook the pasta according to packet instructions, or until al dente. Drain, reserving a few tablespoons of the pasta cooking water.
9. Tip the cooked pasta into the pan with the hare ragu and gently mix together until all of the pasta is coated in the sauce (add the reserved cooking water if the ragu is too dry).
10. Serve scattered with freshly grated Parmesan cheese.