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Lucky dip - La chasse, hare, and tradition versus the environment

"access to good wine is no longer an issue: Access to a hare is."

Hank Shaw - Hunter Angler Gardener Cook

My lucky dip book was Elizabeth David's Mediterranean Food, and I was pleased. Then I picked the page from this slim book and my heart sank. I had picked a page of recipes for hare - the end of Lièvre à la Royale, and recipes for Civet de Lièvre (hare stew) and Lepre in Agrodolce (sweet and sour hare). I was a bit appalled and almost put it back on the shelf, but no I had to persevere and so I set it aside for another day. Since then I have been thinking about it and actually there are several things I could talk about, some of them maybe a bit of a stretch, but still ... There won't be any actual recipes though because as Hank Shaw says where would you find a hare, unless you are a hunter, and I don't think that anyone who reads this blog is? Hare is apparently not like rabbit, which is considered a white meat. Hare is much more gamey and considered a red meat.

"The hare has always been game, not an adjunct of feudal economy, and highly regarded as a richly flavoured food. That's really the difference - the hare rich and gamey in flavour, the rabbit (good wild rabbit) fresh and succulent. The hare makes one think of port, burgundy, redcurrant jelly, spices and cream; the rabbit needs onions, mustard, white wine, dry cider and thyme." Jane Grigson - Good things

Actually the hare is a bona-fide pest animal in Victoria according to Agriculture Victoria, which begs the question - why isn't it available to eat? Some time ago I started a series on Australian pest species, but I never continued it, and I don't think I actually included the hare in the list of animals that I thought of. So why can't we buy it, or at the very least eat it in restaurants? Agriculture Victoria after all does suggest trapping and shooting as recommended ways of getting rid of them. They do seem to be prone to diseases and parasites, so maybe that's why we don't eat them. Although if they are pests you would think that there would not be much disease. They are definitely a pest though - they gnaw at the bark on trees and do considerable damage to vegetation whether deliberately planted or growing wild. Maybe we don't eat them because they are potentially tough - hence most of the recipes out there are for some kind of stew. They were, of course, imported by the British settlers for the specific purpose of hunting fodder. Alas the first lot all died, but eventually they were successful in establishing a foothold. Too successful it seems.

The hunt in Europe - La chasse - is a big thing. Everywhere you go in the French countryside you will come across signs like the one on the left, which indicate where there might be hunters. Apparently they move them around a bit, in a gesture to maintaining habitat. You will also sometimes catch a glimpse of a couple of men and their dogs carrying rifles and tramping across the countryside in search of something to shoot at. Doubtless there are rules, but I did ask one of our house hostesses once, what they hunted for, and she said, "Anything that moves really". She said sometimes they took home tiny thrushes and other such birds for their wives to deal with for dinner. And it is true that there seem to be fewer birds around in France than here. Wild boar are the big prize of course, but I suspect that the majority of those hunters you see in the distance are after something less ferocious like a hare - or a thrush.

However it's a tradition that's not going to die anytime soon I suspect. Ditto for Italy and probably most of Europe. In England it seems to be more of an aristocratic thing - all that fox hunting in red coats on horses. But the 'common' man also goes hunting - mostly for rabbits I think - with ferrets. Deer and swans used to be forbidden to everyone but the king or queen. I don't know if that still holds.

Hunting is as old as man's origins and over time has been responsible for the wiping out of various species. The mammoth, bears in Europe, megafauna in Australia, and who knows how many other species. In other parts of the world, gorillas, tigers, and other less spectacular species have been hunted almost to extinction, and in some cases to actual extinction. Some are eaten and some have caused some of our modern pandemics - AIDS, etc. because of that. It is said that the current pandemic comes from a crossover with one of these hunted animals - bats I think, although not confirmed as yet I believe. And there are usually all sorts of customs and traditions associated with the act of hunting. But it's man's business. There are not many female huntresses - even though the Greeks and Romans had their huntress goddess Artemis/Diana.

The larger prey were also the privilege of the royals of Europe to hunt. It has to be said that without their most prized pastime being hunting, there would not be all those magnificent country castles and hunting lodges, and large chunks of forest were preserved for their escapades. The aristocrats in England still include hunting as one of their pastimes. One of my earlier loves was from Yorkshire and, to earn money would beat the grouse out of the undergrowth on the moors for the local gentry to shoot at.

Hunting these days is constricted by rules and regulations and specific seasons, not to mention the ever increasing number of protestors who attempt to mess up the whole proceedings. It's sort of barbaric isn't it? Or at least primitive? But then it's probably barbaric to slaughter animals for food anyway. And having half-watched a very gloomy program on overpopulation yesterday it does seem obvious that the way forward in feeding the world is to go vegetarian. I'm cooking fried pizza for dinner tonight. Maybe I'll make mine vegetarian. But then I do like salami and anchovies on pizza. We'll see.

Nevertheless it is undeniably picturesque to see those hunters tramping the fields and forests in France and surely it's a good idea to use hunting to contain pest species. Careful you don't wander into any of those areas with a Reserve de chasse sign (or similar) on it. You might get shot.

But back to my lucky dip recipes.

First shoot your hare might be the opening phrase. And it sort of was for "the most mythical dish in French cuisine" Lièvre à la Royale. Elizabeth David has reproduced the original recipe in her little book. It takes up four pages! It was devised by one Senator Couteaux in 1898 who had dreamt it up - or got a friendly chef to dream it up, after hunting for the perfect hare for three days. It's very complex recipe, takes all day to make and involves things like foie gras.

"A certain school of culinary thought seems to suggest that complex method, prolonged preparation time, and expensive or rare ingredients are obligatory. It helps too, no doubt, if the dish is clearly too superior for the peasants, by virtue of it requiring a week’s hunting to provide for one meal." The Old Foodie

You can get it, at huge cost, in a few upper crust restaurants around the world. One site said it cost US$60 which is about $82 here in Oz. For one portion that is. Not a dish for you and me to prepare in our kitchens. I guess Elizabeth David included it as a curiosity.

Then there is Civet de lièvre, which is basically a hare stew and similar to the English jugged hare. When we lived in Hampstead - our first home after marriage - there was a tiny restaurant just around the corner that specialised in game foods and I remember that they had jugged hare on the menu. The civet is a stew cooked in wine with mushrooms- specifically cèpes - but the somewhat revolting thing is the addition of the hare's blood and liver to thicken the sauce. Jugged hare does this too. The jugged bit means that the hare is cooked in an earthenware pot which is then placed in boiling water and cooked in the oven. Not sure I'm going to try this one either, though that hunting man I found the other day raves about it:

"Look at this lovely dish: Perfectly braised hare, tender, deeply flavored and meaty. It is accompanied by fresh chanterelle mushrooms, which are one of princes of the mycological realm. But the real hero of this dish is the sauce. Silky, rich, with a depth of flavor that makes you shut up and think about what you just put in your mouth — Oh yes, folks, civet of hare is definitely worth it." Hank Shaw - Hunter Angler Gardener Cook

I have eaten Civet de sanglier in France - wild boar. Maybe that had blood in the sauce too. I liked the stew, so it just goes to show that what you don't know won't bother you.

And finally there is an Italian hare stew Lepre in agrodolce which is a sweet and sour stew, that includes chocolate.

But as I say, I don't think any of us are going to be cooking hare anytime soon. You can't even get rabbit that easily these days.


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