Civet de lievre
Adapted from Hank Shaw’s recipe, together with one from classic French cooking
We had this dish on our wedding night, after a hare hunt, in which the Chateau chef was very disappointed that the hare had escaped into the neighboring lands which we were not allowed to trespass, so he pulled some hare from the larder and set about his task. There is something different about a civet, or a jugged dish, which is not only for hare, but for venison, ducks, geese, featured with sauce is thickened with the blood and liver of the animal, pureed with heavy cream.
So, you will want to save some blood from the hare in a small container, mixed with a little red wine vinegar to preserve it, along with the liver.
Do not keep the livers with white specks in them, feel free to substitute duck or chicken livers if necessary and be sure to clean any rabbits or hares with gloves in the US, as they can carry disease, which is rare, but worth safeguarding against.
This recipe has over 500-year pedigree that turns the lowly jack rabbit into kingly fare. The word civet originates from the old French cive, which means a dish cooked with onions. This was a a dish for poachers–or braconniers, as they are called in France. Hunting, fishing and shooting are still an integral element of rural life in France. The political party, “La Chasse et la Peche” whose sole purpose is to protect the rights of hunters and fishers is still favored by many in the countryside. Sanglier are hunted with pacts of hounds as are stag, roebuck, hare, and rabbits.
- 1 hare or 3 cottontail rabbits, or 2 domestic rabbits
- The livers of the hare, rabbits, or substituting chicken or duck livers
- Blood, mixed with a little red wine vinegar (optional)
- 2 carrots, peeled and chopped
- 2 celery sticks, minced
- 1 large onion, grated
- 3 bay leaves
- 1 tablespoon dried thyme
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
- 1/4 cup Armagnac or Cognac
- 1 bottle of full-bodied red wine
- Rye or whole wheat flour for dusting
- 1/4 poundpancetta
- 5 tablespoons duck fat, goose fat or unhydrogenated lard
- 1/2 ounce dried chanterelle mushrooms
- 1 teaspoon quatre epices
- 1 pint game stock
- 1/4 pound fresh mushrooms, preferably chanterelles
- 1 medium onion, sliced into half-moons
- 1/2 teaspoon chile paste
- 1 tablespoon heavy cream
- 2 tablespoons minced parsley
- Fleur de sel, French sea salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 4 squares good dark chocolate
MARINATE 1-2 DAYS
- Pour the brandy and the wine into a pot and bring to a boil. Let it boil for a few minutes to burn off most of the alcohol. Turn off the heat.
- Cut the hare into large pieces: back legs, front legs, saddle into several sections — feel between vertebrae for places to chop with a cleaver or heavy knife. Salt it lightly.
- While the wine-brandy mixture is still warm, pour it into a container large enough to hold the hares or rabbits. Add the grated onion, carrot and the minced celery, plus the rosemary, bay leaves and thyme. Mix well.
- When the wine mixture is room temperature, add the hare pieces. Cover and let it marinate in the fridge for a day, or even two.
MAKE THE STEW
- Take the hare from the marinade and pat it dry.
- Strain the marinade through a fine-meshed sieve into a bowl. Set aside the veggies.
- Pour the marinade into a pot and bring to a boil. A raft of scum will form on top. Skim it off carefully. Bring the heat to a simmer, and skim the liquid several times until it is clear, then turn off the heat.
- Heat half the goose fat or lard in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat.
- Dust the pieces of hare in the rye flour — using something other than white flour adds a subtle earthy note to the civet — and brown them in the pot. Take your time with this; you may need to do it in batches. Once the hare is nicely browned, set it aside.
- Meanwhile (you need to multi-task here), heat another tablespoon or two of the goose fat or lard in a large frying pan over medium-high heat. When it is good and hot, turn the heat down to medium-low and add the pancetta. If you are using bacon, only use enough goose fat to lubricate the bottom of the pan, as the bacon should be fatty enough.
- Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.
- Slowly cook the pancetta or bacon until crispy. Remove and set aside.
- Add the veggies to the frying pan you cooked the pancetta in, and turn the heat all the way up. It will sputter. Toss and cook the veggies, adding more goose fat or lard as needed. Once they are coated and much of the liquid has steamed off, turn the heat down to medium and cook until they caramelize, about 10-12 minutes. Stir occasionally.
- Return the hare to the Dutch oven and add the pancetta or bacon. Pour over the wine-brandy mixture, then add the veggies. Add the dried chanterelles, the quatre epices and the sugar. Make sure everything is evenly distributed.
- If you think you need more liquid, add the game, veggie or beef stock. Bring this to a simmer and taste for salt — add some if needed.
- Cover and put in the oven and leave it undisturbed for 2 1/2 to 3 hours for a hare, 90 minutes for rabbits.
MAKING A STEW A CIVET
- Once the hare is tender, almost falling off the bone, carefully remove it from the pot and set aside to cool.
- While the meat is cooling, run everything left in the pot through a food mill with a medium plate. If you don’t have a food mill, run it through a food processor or use an immersion blender. If you are doing this you really should push the blended mix through a sieve or chinois to catch any lumpy bits.
- Clean the Dutch oven, or get another large, lidded pot.
- Pick the meat from the bones of the hare. Try to keep the meat in large pieces and be careful to find any little ribs and such. Discard the bones.
- Return the strained, blended stew to the pot, and add the chile paste, the onion that you have sliced into half-moons as well as the fresh chanterelles. Bring this to a simmer, cover and cook for 20 minutes, or until the onions are nice and soft.
- Return the pieces of hare to the pot and retest for salt. Add generous amounts of freshly ground black pepper.
- Blend the liver, the blood and the heavy cream together in a food processor or blender. Revel in its pink gory glory.
- When the hare is warm again, turn off the heat. Wait until you see no movement of the stew from simmering or boiling, then add a ladleful of the stew to the blood-liver-heavy cream mix. Stir well. Do this again. Now pour the mixture into the stewpot and gently stir it in to combine, together with the chocolate pieces. DO NOT LET THIS BOIL. .
- Serve at once, topped with parsley and accompanied by crusty bread, a green salad, and a hearty red wine. Serve piping hot.