RABBIT AND TRADITION
After a week of turning into an Englishwoman, eating oats in every possible way and combination imaginable, last Sunday I felt like I needed something truly Spanish. I am not one to have already mastered the traditional Spanish cooking repertoire, so this was something new for me. We grew up eating all the classics because someone else cooked them for us and cooked them well, so when I started cooking, I wasn't particularly drawn to the "lentejas", the "tortilla de patatas" or the "paella", however easy or hard each of them is to cook perfectly.
I explored the world of whole grain baking, I roasted chicken according to Nigella Lawson's instructions instead of my grandmother's and fought hard until, in a small store in Lavapies, I found the spices Yotam Ottolenghi required for a dish. Still, I kept eating traditional Spanish dishes and came up with mediterranean flavour combinations in whatever I made, but the classics, they still eluded me. I even found myself wanting to do a tomato salad I saw in Jamie Oliver´s trip to Andalucía - probably because it was Jamie making it, rather than because it had chorizo in it. Ridiculous, isn't it?
Maybe growing up is making me appreciate things I had taken for granted before, or maybe I want a plan or a method to get to cook things I am not familiar with. I don't want to just cook a few vegetables, pasta dishes, steak or the few fish I know well. I want to cook pigeons, rabbits, octopus or whatever it is that is new for me in the kitchen, although not in the plate.
This can seem daunting, but as with your first oven roasted fish, the first experience really boosts up your confidence. I have actually found that things like cooking an animal for the first time might seem complicated, but are much easier than replicating your mother's tortilla de patata, so before I attempt the simple omelette (again), I will stick to little animals for now, this time in the form of half a rabbit for two in one of it's simplest preparations: "conejo al ajillo".
This dish represents the best of Spanish food: it is simple, there’s some wine and some garlic in there, it takes less than 30 minutes to cook and if you serve it with some simple rice or just a crust of bread, you will add it to the list of things you cook on a weeknight or when friends come over. The beauty of this kind of food is it's simplicity: just a couple of good quality ingredients, clean, mediterranean flavours and a little browning of the meat in the pan to make the most of the rabbit.
There are many versions of this simple dish - this is the one I tried, but I am sure some herbs such as thyme would be nice, I have seen some recipes which use vinegar or even onions as well as the garlic.
• half a rabbit, cut into pieces
• 5-6 cloves of garlic
• a small glass of wine (or half a big one)
• extra virgin olive oil
• salt and pepper
1. Take your rabbit out of the fridge about an hour before you plan to cook it, so that it is at room temperature. Just before cooking, season the pieces on all sides with salt and pepper.
2. Meanwhile peel the garlic cloves and leave them whole. What I did do is I smashed them a bit with the flat side of the knife, so that their flavour could be released better.
3. Heat a good glug of extra virgin olive oil in a pan over medium-high heat and start frying your rabbit pieces. This is the part where you seal the meat and get that lovely brown outer surface with caramelized bits, so don't rush this. It is also important to get a pan big enough to allow you to fit all the pieces so that they are in contact with the bottom of the pan. Turn them around when they are brown on one side.
3. Add the crushed garlic cloves (you could add some herbs at this point too) and move them around in the pan, just before all the chicken pieces are golden, so that the garlic cloves also have time to mingle with the meat.
4. Once the chicken pieces are golden on the outside, add the wine and reduce the heat to medium-low. Cook for around 15 minutes, until the wine has reduced, the rabbit pieces are done and you have a lovely, thick sauce. Serve with some simple white rice (with some young garlic), some bread and, if you like, some small green peppers as we did.