I can’t seem to stop cooking stews, it must be the weather. There’s something about this one that reminds me of my Great Auntie Gertie, a woman almost as far round as she was tall, who my mother claimed held the unofficial rabbit speed-skinning record for north Lincolnshire.
I suspect Auntie Gertie never set eyes on a dried porcini in all her life and she usually cooked her rabbits under a pie crust, but I feel she would nevertheless have approved of this casserole as continuing a fine family tradition.
Wild rabbit is good here but farmed is fine and if you’d prefer to use chicken, go right ahead.
Try to get a couple of different types of fresh mushroom if you can, they are usually readily available in supermarkets.
But don’t skip the dried mushrooms: Great Aunt Gertie notwithstanding, they give the stew a woodsy depth that’s very appealing.
Rabbit With Mushrooms and Cider
1 rabbit, jointed
2-3 rashers of bacon, sliced into lardons
1 large onion, peeled and roughly chopped
2 sticks of celery, roughly chopped
2-3 fat cloves of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
6 oz mushrooms, sliced thickly
Handful (about 10g) dried porcini mushrooms, soaked in enough hot water to cover them
2 bay leaves
1 tbsp plain flour (+some cornflour, if necessary)
300 ml dry cider
300 ml chicken stock
Large handful of fresh parsley
Salt, pepper, oil
Heat the oven to 325F/160C/Gas Mark 3.
Soak the dried mushrooms in hot water to cover.
Heat a glug of oil in a large deep lidded frying pan or casserole. Brown the rabbit on all sides until golden. Remove and set aside.
Fry the bacon until the fat runs and it’s beginning to turn golden but not crispy. Remove and set aside with the rabbit.
Gently fry the chopped onion and celery until soft and golden. Add the garlic and fry for a minute or two more.
Add half of the fresh mushrooms and fry for a couple of minutes.
Drain the dried mushrooms, keeping the soaking water, and chop them finely. Add them to the pan and stir.
Stir in a heaped tablespoon of plain flour. Cook gently for a minute or two. Gradually add the cider, chicken stock and the mushroom soaking water, strained to get rid of any grit.
Pour any remaining cider into a glass and drink it. It’s the cook’s treat.
Put the meat back into the pan, add the bay leaves and seasoning and bring it all to a fast simmer.
Put on a lid and cook in the oven for 1 1/2 hours or until the rabbit is tender. An older rabbit will take longer, younger and/or farmed rabbits will cook faster.
You may need to turn the rabbit from time to time during the cooking process as it won’t be wholly submerged by the sauce.
While the stew’s in the oven, fry the remaining mushrooms in a little butter or oil for a few minutes to cook off any moisture.
When the meat is done, thicken the sauce if necessary with a little beurre manié or cornflour mixed with water. I took the meat off the bone because it’s easier to eat but that’s just a personal preference.
Add the extra mushrooms, stir in a few tablespoons of cream and heat gently.
Check the seasoning, add the chopped parsley and serve. Like most stews, this benefits from being made the day before, in which case prepare it to the point just before you add the cream.