Hearty's Stuffed Rabbit Saddle
My flatmate Hearty and I went through the wars together when we worked at The Kitchin, an invaluable experience that both toughened us and taught us how to really cook properly. I have fond memories of those days. Although I left the chef game a few years ago, Hearty is still working in restaurants and due to this pandemic he has, unsurprisingly, had a lot of spare time on his hands recently. If that means he has more time to cook delicious meals we can share together, then that’s got to be a silver lining!
There had been a couple of rabbit saddles in our freezer for several months, which Hearty had brought home from work. He took them out last week and decided to put them to good use. This dish is more restaurant-style than what you would typically find on this blog; it’s elegant and beautiful and would not be out of place on the menu of a Michelin star restaurant. The cross-section of the stuffed saddle makes it a really eye-catching dish.
Hearty and I are both very much at home deboning and stuffing rabbit saddles, as we both worked on the meat section at The Kitchin and rabbit was a regular feature of the menu there. Back then we used to cut the saddle in half and stuff a single loin, wrapped in its belly flap and tied with string, whereas this time Hearty kept the whole saddle in one piece, carefully removing the bone with the skin still intact all around both loins. It’s a delicate operation that requires finesse. If you ask your butcher, they may be able to do this for you. You’ll need some butcher’s string, too, for tying it up. Tying the saddle with a proper butcher’s knot is a skill in itself. I’m not going to attempt to provide instructions for this, but you can easily find videos on Youtube to help you. Also, you should ideally have an ovenproof heavy-based frying pan or skillet for cooking the rabbit saddle.
- 1 rabbit saddle, de-boned
- 1/4 preserved lemon, pith removed
- 6 slices parma ham
- 250 g button mushrooms
- 100 g chorizo
- 500 g spinach
- 1 banana shallot, finely diced
- 2 cloves garlic, finely diced
- 2 medium carrots
- 200 g new potatoes
- 1 small handful wild herbs, for garnish (optional)
- sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper
- rapeseed oil, for cooking
- reserved rabbit bones, chopped
- 1 carrot, chopped
- 1 stick celery, chopped
- 1 shallot, finely sliced
- 1 clove garlic, chopped
- 1 sprig thyme
- 1 bay leaf
- 100 ml brandy, or cognac
- 100 ml double cream
- 2 teaspoons wholegrain mustard
Firstly prepare the sauce. This will take a couple of hours so you will want to get it started as soon as possible. Place a large heavy-based pan over a high heat and add about 2 tablespoons of rapeseed oil. When the oil is hot (after about 30 seconds), add the chopped rabbit bones and fry, stirring occasionally, until they are a golden colour. Remove the bones from the pan and set aside. Now add the carrots, celery, onion, garlic thyme and bay. Add a pinch of salt, then cook for about 5 minutes until the vegetables have softened and any caramelised residue on the bottom of the pan has become unstuck. Add the brandy, and boil until reduced to a syrupy consistency. Add enough water to cover the bones, and bring to the boil. Simmer gently for 2 hours, topping up with water when necessary to ensure the bones are covered. Strain the sauce through a fine sieve into another pan, add the cream, then boil until reduced to a thick sauce consistency. Finally, stir in the mustard.
While the sauce is simmering, you can get on with preparing the rabbit: place a large saute pan over a medium-high heat and add about 2 tablespoons of rapeseed oil. When the oil is hot, add the spinach with a small pinch of salt and cook until wilted. A lot of water will be released from the spinach. Transfer to a colander and set aside to cool down. Cut the mushrooms into approximately 5mm dice, and cut the chorizo into dice the same size. Finely chop the lemon confit. Heat a large pan over a high heat and add about 2 tablespoons of rapeseed oil. When the oil is hot, add the diced mushrooms. Cook for a few minutes, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms are half-cooked. Now add the shallots and garlic with a pinch of salt and continue to cook. After 3 minutes reduce heat to medium, then add the diced chorizo. Cook for a further 3 minutes, then transfer to a large mixing bowl and set aside to cool down.
Once the spinach is cool enough to handle, use your hands to squeeze out all the excess liquid. Once this is done, roughly chop it and add to the bowl with the mushroom mix. Add diced lemon confit and salt and pepper to taste. This is the stuffing for the rabbit saddle.
Now to stuff the rabbit saddles: place two pieces of parma ham side by side lenthways on a chopping board. It should be approximately the same surface area as your rabbit saddle. If needed use an extra piece of parma ham to make sure you have enough to wrap your saddle completely. Lay your saddle skin side down on the ham and lightly season with salt and pepper. Stuff the cavity with your mushroom and spinach mix. You want a cylinder of mix to run through the centre of the loin roughly the width of a fifty pence coin. Once this is done, pull over the parma ham to allow you to wrap your stuffed saddle into a cylinder shape. Then tie it with your twine using a butchers knot.
To prepare the vegetables: you can cook the potatoes and carrots any way you like, but I would suggest boiling the potatoes and then cutting the carrots into medium chunks before roasting in the oven.
Ensure your oven is pre-heated to 180C, on the fan setting. Heat a heavy-based frying pan or skillet over a high heat and add 2 tablespoons of rapeseed oil. When the oil is hot, add the rabbit saddle and fry until lightly caramelised on all sides. Place in the oven for 6 minutes. Check that it is cooked in the centre using either a thin skewer or temperature probe (it should be 60C). If it needs longer, turn it over and return to the oven. When it is cooked, remove from the pan and rest on a rack for 6 minutes before untying the string and carving each into three pieces. Serve alongside the carrots and potatoes, with a drizzle of sauce on top. Finally garnish with some wild herbs, if you have any.
Tomato and Sorrel Salad
The bounty of summer is here. On my daily walks around the network of cycle paths near my house, there is a glut of various edible delights. Nettles and elderflowers are particularly abundant at the moment, and there are heaps of bramble bushes that are flowering. I can’t wait until they start bearing fruit in a couple of months time. Last week I went a little further afield to a favourite local wood where I reliably find girolle mushrooms every year. I was a bit too optimistic, as there were not yet any girolles to be found, but I did find sorrel, both the woodland and common variety. Sorrel has a delicate citrus flavour, and is typically served with fish. In the restaurant I used to work in, we only ever used wood sorrel, its tiny and pretty clover-shaped leaves being perfect as a finishing touch for many different dishes. Common sorrel is, although not as pretty to look at, just as nice and citrusy and the leaves can grow to be much larger than its woodland relative. This makes it a better candidate for being a main player in a dish rather than just a passive decoration. The lemony-ness of sorrel goes quite well with tomatoes, to make an excellent summer salad.
This is the easiest recipe ever. I randomly cut the tomatoes, seasoned with sea salt, then made a really simple herb dressing with the sorrel and some oil (using neutral-flavoured sunflower oil instead of olive oil so as not to overpower the delicate flavour of the sorrel), and drizzled it over the tomatoes, finishing with some whole sorrel (both varieties) as decoration.
- 2 large handfuls ripe tomatoes, mixed varieties
- 2 handfuls common sorrel, washed
- 1 small handful wood sorrel, washed
- 1 tablespoon sunflower oil, or vegetable oil
- sea salt
- extra virgin olive oil
Randomly cut the tomatoes and season them with sea salt. Place on the plates while you work on the dressing.
Set a few small spears of common sorrel aside for garnish, then roughly chop the rest and place in a food processor (or pestle and mortar) with a pinch of sea salt and the sunflower oil. Blend (or smash) until you have a smooth paste. Loosen slighty with a splash of water, then drizzle over the tomatoes. Garnish with the leaves of the wood sorrel and the reserved leaves of common sorrel. Finish with a few drops of olive oil.
Cured Salmon and Jersey Royals
Everyone knows that fish is best enjoyed as fresh as possible, so if you’ve bought some fresh fish on your weekly shopping trip, you ought to eat it within the first two days, ideally. There’s another solution though, which may not seem obvious. You can easily salt the fish to cure it, which extends its shelf life considerably. As a bonus, it also improves the texture and flavour. In my opinion, salting fish is a no-brainer. An old chef friend of mine, Hearty, is also a firm advocate of salting fish before cooking it. Often, he’s not salting it for as much as a day or more to properly “cure” it, but completely covering it in salt for just 20 or 30 minutes, which has the effect of firming up the fish and makes the skin extra crisp when fried in a hot pan. Curing it for longer, though, will preserve the fish for longer and allow you to continue enjoying it for several days.
Here I have made a herb-cured salmon, sort of a simple version of Swedish gravlax. The recipe combines the salmon with a wonderful combination of Jersey Royal potatoes (for me, one of the seasonal highlights of the year), basil and lemon. It’s a lovely light summer meal. The curing takes between 48 and 72 hours, and will then store in the fridge happily for up to a week. This process works better with large pieces of fish rather than small fillets, so you will end up with more than you need for the dish. You can keep the extra in the fridge for another meal, or freeze it.
- 700 g salmon, in one large piece
- 50 g sea salt
- 1 tablespoon cracked black pepper
- 10 juniper berries, crushed
- 1 large handful dill
- 1 large handful coriander
- 1 large handful parsley
- 250 g Jersey Royal potatoes
- 1 large handful baby spinach
- 2 handful fresh basil leaves
- 0.5 lemon
- 2 spoonfuls creme fraiche
- sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper
- good quality extra virgin olive oil
Cut the salmon in half across the fillet to create two square-ish pieces. Place the salt, cracked black pepper, juniper berries, dill, coriander and parsley into a blender and blend to a paste. Spread the over the flesh of both pieces of salmon, making sure it is all covered. Spread a little onto the skin side, too. Place the pieces of salmon together with the flesh sides touching, then tightly wrap in cling film. Place in a tray, and put a heavy weight on top. Refrigerate for between 48 and 72 hours, depending on how cured you want it. The longer you leave it, the saltier (and more flavoursome) it will be. Turn the salmon over every 24 hours.
When the salmon is ready, remove the cling film and rinse off the cure mix briefly with cold water. Don’t rinse it too much as you will lose some flavour. Dry with kitchen paper, then cut off enough for the dish, about 80g per person. Cut into approx. 1cm chunks, then set aside.
Place the potatoes in a pan and cover with cold water. Add a generous pinch of salt, then bring to the boil. Simmer gently for about 20 minutes, until the potatoes are tender.
Saute the spinach, season lightly with salt. Squeeze out any excess liquid from the spinach, then place in a mixing bowl. Cut some 5mm slices (1 slice per serving) from the lemon, cut into dice and add to the bowl. Add the basil, the diced salmon and a generous glug of olive oil, then mix together whilst still warm. Season to taste with salt, pepper and lemon juice. Serve in wide bowls with a dollop of creme fraiche alongside. Finally, garnish with some basil leaves and small segments of lemon.
A series of recipes for this lockdown would not be complete without including sourdough. It seems like the entire country is making bread at the moment, but it’s not due to lack of it on the supermarket shelves, I think it is due to boredom more than anything else. We are spending more time confined indoors than ever before, and baking is an excellent way to occupy one’s self. It’s pretty satisfying, too, to be able to create something as beautiful and delicious as a loaf of sourdough bread.
My sourdough journey started after a visit to my aunt, who makes award-winning bread. Using a sample of her starter as a basis, after a few attempts I achieved reasonable successes. The bread was not quite like the glorious loaves you can buy in artisan bakeries, but it was OK. After three years of making mediocre bread, through numerous experiments and variations on the original recipe, I had a bastardised version of my aunt’s recipe that I was becoming more and more dissatisfied with. I was determined to improve the quality of my loaf, so I decided to broaden my horizons and do some research. I bought the book Super Sourdough, by James Morton; a former Great British Bake Off winner. It was highly acclaimed.
This book has literally revolutionised my breadmaking. I began again from scratch, starting with throwing my existing sourdough starter in the bin (one of the points James makes in the book is that he doesn’t understand the strange obsession people have with their sourdough starters, being proud to have used the same one for years on end. There is no reason for this, they are very easy to create from scratch, and he has had dozens of them, experimenting with different flours and different fruit juices). That was 6 months ago, and now my bread is almost indistinguishable from the professional artisan variety that you can buy in your local neighbourhood bakery. I couldn’t be happier.
I’ve deliberately omitted any recipe from this blog post. I could, arguably, put James Morton’s recipe here, with the minor modifications I’ve made for it (I make the dough a bit wetter, and add linseed), but it wouldn’t be feasible for me to write down instructions for creating this bread in the format of a blog post. I would need to copy out most of the book (the recipe I’ve been using, for the standard rye-wheat sourdough loaf, is 33 pages long). Even with a 33-page immensely detailed recipe, it took me 6 months to get even close to a point of mastery. The reality is, there are so many contributing factors to sourdough bread that it’s almost impossible to prescribe a method that is guaranteed to work every time. The book teaches you the fundamental principles and then guides you through the processes of autolysing, folding-and-stretching, proving, pre-shaping, shaping, scoring and, finally baking in a hot oven. It will likely take many attempts before you reach anywhere near perfection; in fact you will probably never get there, but I guarantee it’ll be a thoroughly enjoyable journey! I’m not being paid by James Morton for this blog post, but genuinely, if you want to make good quality sourdough bread at home, buy the book.