Rabbit, fennel, bacon and polenta February 20, 2010Posted by inspiredbywolfe in Game.
Feeling inspired by Fergus Henderson after the quail, and having a rabbit in my freezer, I decided to cook a version of his rabbit wrapped in fennel and bacon. (Incidentally, you might laugh at me for just randomly having a rabbit in my freezer. I have determined over the years that this is a genetic condition and there’s nothing I can do about having random bits of meat in my freezer. I’m pretty sure they just appear, and really what I need is a bigger freezer – or multiple freezers! – but we won’t go there.) If you want the proper version of this recipe, head over to Nose to Tail at Home and you can see his thoughts on the subject.
An immediate difference to this recipe was that Henderson calls for a whole rabbit to be used, and my rabbit had already been chopped into pieces by an obliging butcher some time ago. I decided that after cooking the rabbit, I’d remove it from the bones and use a base of baked polenta to soak up the juices and provide a contrast to the meat.
I started with the polenta. I had some of the instant-cook polenta in my pantry, so I used that. I added more polenta than the usual ratio requires, as I was after quite a thick, stiff polenta. I used this recipe for polenta chips as a guide for the correct ratio of polenta and water. While I’m sure that using instant-cook polenta may seem like sacrilege to some, it did mean that I only had to stir for 5-10 minutes instead of 30-40.
I added salt and pepper, and some rosemary to the polenta as it was cooking (I didn’t add any cheese). After it was quite stiff, I took it off the heat and spread it on a baking tray. I then refrigerated it for about an hour.
While that was in the fridge, I began work on preparing the rabbit recipe. Henderson calls for dried fennel twigs – as I didn’t have any, I cut the twigs off the fennel I had and put them in the oven (on a low temperature) to dry out. I didn’t take any photos of the drying fennel but it was obvious when they were dried as the colour change was dramatic. Once the fennel twigs were dried, I prepared the rabbit by seasoning it with salt and pepper, and rubbing some olive oil into it. Next, I spread the fennel over the rabbit. In his recipe, Henderson states that it should look like a scene from The Wicker Man (of course my immediate thought was: “does he mean the original or the remake?!” but then I remembered that Nose to Tail was published before the 2006 remake came out. Incidentally, if you haven’t seen this hilarious video of clips from the remake of The Wicker Man, you should go watch it, and then be thankful for the original film).
This was the result of my Wicker Man attempt to add fennel to my rabbit:
Next, Henderson calls for bacon to be wrapped around the entire rabbit, and then to add garlic, chicken stock and white wine. As I was dealing with rabbit pieces, I wrapped up each piece with some bacon. I decided to add pieces of chopped up fennel as well as the garlic, chicken stock and white wine. Here’s how it looked before it went into the oven.
The recipe instructs cooking the rabbit for 1 1/2 hours. While it was cooking, I got to work preparing the polenta for baking. Once it had been refrigerated for a while, it was quite firm. Of course, I couldn’t resist having a little fun with the polenta and use my (then newly acquired) cookie cutters! I cut out the shapes, put some butter and salt and pepper on them, and put them in the oven for 15 minutes or so to bake. (Also I promise this will be the last time for a while you’ll see my cookie cutters! While I’m not tired of them yet, I appreciate that others might be…)
By this time, the rabbit was done. The bacon had gone all crispy and the fennel pieces were soft and well cooked.
I’d like to apologise for the quality of this photo – I couldn’t get any good photos with the flash and by this time it was dark outside so there wasn’t a lot of light!
I began by removing the bacon, fennel and garlic. The fennel twigs were the hardest to remove as they stuck to the rabbit and then fell apart when I tried to pull them off! After I cleaned the rabbit of the fennel as best as I could, I pulled all the rabbit meat off the bones – it fell off easily, being well cooked but still moist. I assembled the dish by putting the baked polenta pieces down and adding some feta cheese on top.
I then added the shredded rabbit meat, a piece of the crispy bacon, the garlic, and some of the cooked fennel pieces.As you can see I didn’t quite succeed getting all of the fennel twigs off!
The rabbit and fennel was a great combination – the slight gaminess of the rabbit was complimented by the aniseed taste of the fennel. While the bacon didn’t come through as an individual flavour on the rabbit, it had served to keep the rabbit moist during the cooking process and was crispy and salty, providing a textural contrast to the rabbit. The polenta added a nice base and served as a sponge for the liquid from the rabbit, while the feta cheese gave a nice salty, tangy kick. While I know this version deviates significantly from Henderson’s recipe, the basic elements of the fennel, bacon and rabbit ensured the dish turned out well.
I do think that Nero Wolfe and Fergus Henderson are a good mix. While Nero Wolfe never got to try this dish, he was fond of rabbit and I believe would admire Henderson for his approach to cooking. Additionally, Henderson’s nose to tail approach would be handy for Wolfe next time he has a relapse, and tries to cook an animal 20 different ways. Henderson might be able to give him some tips about what to do with the entire beast!