Simon Courtauld

Good hare day

In my early days as editor of the Field, I read an article submitted by one of the magazine’s venerable hunting correspondents

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In my early days as editor of the Field, I read an article submitted by one of the magazine’s venerable hunting correspondents

In my early days as editor of the Field, I read an article submitted by one of the magazine’s venerable hunting correspondents — the subject was harehunting and a day out with, I think, the Cambridgeshire Harriers — which mentioned that, in the course of the chase, ‘puss clapped’. This slightly disconcerting expression apparently means, in the recondite language of the harehunter, that the quarry stopped and ‘froze’, trying to make itself invisible. I decided that the clap of a puss, so described, was unlikely to assist in expanding the readership of the Field, and that, for aspiring country sportsmen, a hare was and should continue to be called a hare. The hunting correspondent disagreed and retired to his horse box.

Now that the hunting of hares has been declared illegal, there are presumably fewer pusses to be seen clapping in the countryside, and we would do better to concentrate on those that are shot for the pot. A fully grown hare may weigh around eight pounds, but a young animal, of no more than half this size, should be used for most dishes. The saddle provides the best meat (one does two people), and may be simply roasted, covered with butter and strips of bacon, in a hot oven for 40 minutes. A sauce made with the meat juices, redcurrant jelly and sour cream goes particularly well with hare, together with a purée of celeriac and potato.

‘Jugged’ is the word that everyone seems to think of in connection with the cooking of hare. It means no more than stewing in a casserole dish, with the addition of the animal’s blood. In some recipes the blood is added to the gravy after the hare has been cooked, with the rather worrying caution not to allow it to boil ‘or the blood will curdle’. I prefer to follow the advice of the incomparable Jennifer Paterson, whose jugged hare I have hugely enjoyed when she used to cook lunch at The Spectator.

She would marinate the jointed hare overnight, with its liver, heart and blood, in red wine, brandy, olive oil, crushed garlic, sliced onion and lemon rind. The pieces are then dried, sprinkled with flour, fried and put into a casserole with the marinade, plus some crushed clove heads, tomato purée and a bar of bitter chocolate. Once the mixture has boiled, the casserole should be covered with foil and its lid and cooked very slowly for three hours, adding sautéed mushrooms and button onions and forcemeat balls half an hour before the end. Brussel sprouts and chestnuts could be served with this, also redcurrant or some other fruit jelly. (In the past week, thanks to this year’s bumper autumn crop, we have made quince jelly, japonica jelly and crab-apple jelly with red chillis. Medlar jelly is still to come.)

As a simpler alternative, with or without blood and innards, the hare pieces should be sautéed in olive oil, then placed in a casserole with shallots, coriander seeds, juniper berries, thyme and bay leaves and covered with beer. After two hours’ cooking in a medium oven, remove the meat, add breadcrumbs and saffron to the strained liquid, reduce it and pour over the hare. Susurrations of enjoyment were heard round the table from first-time hare-eaters last weekend.

A butcher will probably need a bit of notice, as I have just learnt, to produce a freshly killed hare. The best place to go for hare, at this time of year, is France, where it is more widely appreciated. Pierre Gagnaire, of the eponymous Paris restaurant, recalls that he was introduced to an unforgettable hare terrine by the renowned chef, Alain Chapel. There are several Michelin-starred restaurants in Paris offering râble de lièvre, lièvre à la mode d’Aquitaine and, most famously, lièvre à la royale, which was a favourite of that great gourmand, King Edward VII. It contains large quantities of garlic and shallots, also foie gras and truffles, and can take two days to prepare and cook. A dish for a professional chef, it is clearly beyond the scope of this column.

If the saddle is eaten separately, the legs may be made into a thick, nourishing soup, very appropriate for these long evenings as winter approaches. The meat and bones, together with some lean ham, onions, mace, thyme, marjoram and a strong stock, are stewed gently for a couple of hours. The hare and ham should then be cut into small pieces and, with some breadcrumbs and a good glass or two of port, the whole thing simmered for another 20 minutes. The soup may be pressed through a sieve, or eaten as it is. This 19th-century recipe, from Eliza Acton, makes me think of the reported comment of Pamela Mitford to her sister, Diana Mosley: ‘Isn’t hare soup the richest, loveliest soup you ever laid hands on?’

A second collection of Simon Courtauld’s columns, Food for Thought: Fish and Feather, is published next week (Think Books, £9.99). Call 01256 302699, quoting ref. J61 (£8.99 incl. p&p).