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 carved cross-section of the stuffed rabbit saddle makes it a particularly 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
- ¼ 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 chopped
- 2 medium carrots
- 200 g new potatoes
- 1 small handful wild herbs, (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 tsp 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.