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Thursday, 24 January 2008

Lemon rabbit in a crockpot (Κουνέλι λεμονάτο στο φούρνο)

Recently our neighbour Andreas, who keeps rabbits and hens, gave my husband a skinned rabbit. I say skinned because if it still had its fur, I wouldn't have wanted it. I can handle cooking meat in my small conventional modern kitchen, but dead animals require a different setup. Some people may not like to see a rabbit - or a chicken or a lamb or any other conventional edible animal - in its whole skinned form, but I don't have any qualms about it. Either you know what you're eating, or you don't want to know it - take it or leave it. I quite like rabbit meat - it tastes a little like chicken meat, only with a more game-like taste. We also used to eat rabbit on a fairly regular basis in New Zealand, because they were considered a pest, and farmers were more than happy for gun-happy hunters to come onto their properties and kill off as many as possible. They were never sold in the butcher's in those years. Pests are like rodents; we don't eat mice, rats and opposums, so who would expect us to eat rabbits? On my last visit to the land of the long white cloud, I was tol dmy aunt that rabbit meat is now available in some luxury food suppliers like Moore Wilson, who used to deal in wholesale imported food products, before opening up to the personal shopper trade. My mother would always turn the rabbits my hunting fanatci cousin brought her into a stew, cooked in a similar way as for hare. I asked Papa Bear when he would like me to cook up a stifado - rabbit stew with baby onions. He was not very enthusiastic; 'maybe next week', he said, again and again. So the rabbit went into the freezer, and this has been been going on for about two months now.

Andreas popped in to see us the other day. He brought us three firm red ripe tomatos from his garden and one sole egg. He explained to us that since there are only two people in his household - he lives with his wife and his children are grown up and have moved away - food doesn't get eaten up very quickly in his house. But farming is his hobby, he can't do away with the chickens and the rabbits and the vegetable garden and the fruit trees. Since he retired, he has also taken up cooking as a hobby, among his other interests like fishing. Take it from me, he's really quite an amazing cook. The first thing I ever tried that he had made was eggplant pickle. He had made a large slit in the eggplant, and boiled it till it was tender. Then he stuffed it with grated carrot, parsley, onion and garlic. He tied up each and every aubergine he had stuffed in this way with some sewing thread, then he put the lot in a pickling liquid consisting of vinegar, oil and salt. It was a brilliant accompaniment to a bean dish. Another day he bought us a shrimp rosotto; he had fished the shrimps himself, and the rice he chose to cook with was the jasmine-scented type from the supermarket. OK, Andreas is not your average Cretan, but aren't we lucky to have someone interesting in Hokeypokeyville? Sometimes, living on an island town in the Mediterranean can drive you bonkers...

Anyway, Andreas, came round last night with - you guessed it - another rabbit. So I guess we're gonna have that rabbit stew after all. But not quite. He said he'd come and cook it up for us the way he likes it. His wife often suffers from depression, and now with the cold weather, I can understand why he needs to get out of the house more often. He obviously wants the company, and we didn't mind either. My daily whadamigonnacooktoday problem has just been solved. But I didn't know how I would react having an older man cooking in my kitchen. I decided I would just snap a few photos.

Andreas brought with him a ceramic oven pot with a lid - we call it a 'gastra'. I don't own one myself, but after today, I'm definitely going to be buying one in the sales. We set the oven to warm up. All Andreas did was cut the rabbit into pieces, place it in the crockpot, pour the juice of two lemons over it, and season it with salt, pepper and oregano. As there was some space left in the pot, he asked us to peel a few potatoes and add them to the pot, which he dotted with butter. No added lipids, and absolutely no water. This went into the oven, which was now set at 180C. and didn't come out for two hours. The times and temperature of course must be taken only as a gauge; rabbit meat comes in different degrees of tenderness, while different ovens cook in different ways.

When the cooking time was over, we opened the oven, which didn't seem to be cooking much, because the crockpot was sealed well enough to keep its content well concealed. We took the crockpot carefully out of the oven; these things get very hot, and they're also extremely fragile - nothing like a metal tin you can bang around wherever! The lid came off, and our noses filled with the aroma of the stewed meat. The rabbit was browned, while the potatoes were tender and puffy. There was plenty of liquid in the pot - more than we needed really. We left the lid off and returned the crockpot into the oven, to allow the potatoes to develop a crunchy skin. Not that they weren't cooked, but it's a matter of taste. What I especially liked about this dish was that it contained no oil, and no added lipids (apart from the potatoes that were just dotted with butter). We had rabbit and roast potatoes with a cabbage salad and some feta cheese. Bread was unnecessary - there were no oily tomato sauces to mop up!

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MORE RABBIT RECIPES:
Fried rabbit
Hare/rabbit stew