Thursday, 10 September 2009

Rabbit and Wine

French monks in the Champagne region of France are credited with the domestication of the wild European rabbit in the 5th century. The original European wild rabbits evolved about 4,000 years ago in the red shaded area of the world known as Iberia. In fact the visiting Phoenician merchants referred to part of Iberia as I-shephan-im which means land of the rabbits. This was translated as Hispania or as we know it . . . Spain.

It was thought that the Normans introduced the rabbit to Britain but many national newspapers reported in 2005 that the bones of a Roman rabbit had been found in Norfolk, and that this might be the earliest rabbit ever found in Britain. The Romans kept them in fenced off warrens and harvested their meat and fur. The earliest known records of rabbits in Britain occurred during the 12th Century – they were called conies.

However there is proof that rabbits lived in Britain long before the Romans set foot on British soil. Remains of rabbits dating back half a million years were found at Boxgrove in West Sussex and Swanscombe in Kent. It's thought that they probably died out in the last Ice Age, only to be reintroduced later by the Romans.

Rabbit meat is a source of high quality protein and it can be used in most ways chicken meat is used. Rabbit meat is leaner than beef, pork, and chicken meat.

Rabbit with Prunes and Mustard

675g (1.5lb) rabbit pieces
1 tbsp plain flour
1 tbsp each olive oil & butter, softened
1 onion, finely chopped
175g (6 oz) prunes
100g (4 oz) fromage frais
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
Seasoning to taste

Place rabbit pieces in a paper or polythene bag with the flour and shake to coat evenly. Heat the oil and butter in a large pan and fry rabbit until golden brown all over. Add the onions and prunes to pan and pour over just enough water to cover. Season generously and simmer for 45 minutes until rabbit is tender.

Remove the rabbit with a slotted spoon and keep warm. Stir fromage frais and mustard into the pan and simmer until reduced slightly. Spoon the sauce over the rabbit and serve.

If you are wondering what wine to pair with your rabbit I would choose Château Grand Puy Lacoste - the château was once owned by Raymond Dupin, one of Bordeaux's greatest gourmets! Grand Puy Lacoste has a reputation for consistently making big, durable, full bodied Pauillacs which should be in a higher classification. These wines have a wonderful perfume of cinnamon, ripe redcurrants, blackberries,wood and tobacco. They are creamily smooth, age well and represent a top class Pauillac.

Chateau Haut Batailley would be another great choice – it's owned by the same family that own Grand Puy Lacoste – Domaines François-Xavier Borie. The wines of Haut Batailley are concentrated but charming with aromas of blackberries, wood, liquorice and vanilla. They are medium to full bodied, fruity wines and have well balanced tannins and acidity.

If a Saint Julien is more your style then Chateau Saint Pierre would also pair well with rabbit. The château is one of the most ancient in Médoc and was bought in 1982 by Henri Martin who came from a family of coopers who had been barrel making for the châteaux of Bordeaux for more than 3 centuries. The wines are fuller bodied than others from the appellation, fruity and smooth. They have smoky flavours of blackberries, ground coffee, toast, toffee, violets and oak.

Finally, at the other end of the scale, I would choose Le Roc du Chateau Pellebouc – it's a fantastic wine at an unbelievably low price for the quality that it shows (£8.57). Pellebouc is owned by Pascale and Baudouin Thienpont – members of the famous wine making family who own Le Pin and manage several other top flight châteaux. The wine is a Gold Medal winner and it's a superb wine. It has a deep, intense purple colour, with a scent of red fruits and spicier notes. In the mouth, it is quite powerful in terms of both roundness and balance. It will delight the palates of wine-lovers looking for a heavy, balanced, fruity wine.

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