Saturday, 5 February 2011

H is for... Hare in Hobsons Old Henry ale with herby dumplings and haricot beans

There was a sense of disappointment from some of the guests and a sigh of relief from others that I wasn't dishing up horse for H. Or, even better still, according to one of the diners who shall remain nameless (Lisa), would have been a horse's head, served whole on a silver platter in the centre of the table.  There really is no accounting for taste. 

I have no objection to the idea of eating horse, or serving it. In fact, Richard and I were very disappointed when we couldn't find any pferdewurst to try while holidaying in Austria a few years ago. Horse meat is used in many delicacies in Europe, from Bavaria to Germany and Italy to France, so why on earth wouldn't I want to sample some for myself.  I certainly have no moral objection to horse meat, although I may feel differently if I'd had a pet horse. I can't deny that the idea of eating cat or dog feels like a step too far, having grown up in a household where I lived alongside both. But, having never donned a pair of jodhpurs in my life, I don't have the same problem with eating horse meat, it's just that it seems nigh on impossible to find in the UK. In fact, it's easier to source zebra, crocodile or kangaroo than it is to source horse. It is not a part of British food culture and, because of that, people are often abhorred at the idea of eating it, sentimentalising their childhood memories of watching Black Beauty on the box on Saturday afternoons. If you are amongst them, you may find further abhorrence in the fact that traces of horse meat have been found in imported sausages and salamis in the not too distant past and I wouldn't be at all surprised if most of us haven't eaten horse meat, albeit unknowingly, at some point already.

The lack of horse meant a gain of hare - which is certainly not a staple of most people's diets and, for a large number of the H guests, this meal marked their first encounter. Indeed, although this wasn't the first time I'd tasted hare, this was the first time I'd cooked it. I ordered two hares from Chadwicks, fearing that one might not be enough - perhaps not a sensible concern, considering it was only one of six rather hearty courses. The nice woman at Chadwicks asked me if I wanted it "cut into bits" - yes, please! I took my bits of hare home and, on preparing the meat, found it to be unexpectedly bloody with an unpleasant ripe sort of a smell to it. I have enjoyed preparing other things less, but not many.

Hare has a strong flavour that wasn't appreciated by all my guests. Richard, Sarah and I all thought it was quite nice, although none of us would rush to have it again anytime soon, but Steve thought it was so delicious that he took all the leftovers home for the next evening's supper. Poor Lisa did not enjoy the experience of eating hare at all. In fact she found the taste far too strong and "liver-y"and left all but the first mouthful. Luckily there was no risk of her going home hungry and she seemed happy enough with the herby dumplings and haricot beans.

Hare in Hobsons Old Henry

2 (but 1 would probably be ample) hares, jointed
2 large onions, chopped
3 celery sticks, chopped
3 carrots, peeled and chopped
6 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 pint of fresh chicken stock
2 bottles of Hobsons Old Henry Ale
A couple of bay leaves
A few sprigs of thyme and rosemary tied together
Salt and pepper 

In a large saucepan or cast iron casserole, melt about an ounce (25 g) of butter with a generous splash of olive oil (hare is incredibly lean, so don't panic). Brown the pieces of hare in stages, leaving them on a warm plate until you're ready to chuck them back in the pot. Add the onion, garlic, celery and carrot to the pot and gently fry until soft. Chuck the hare back in with the herbs and pour over the stock and one bottle of ale. Season and leave to simmer with the lid on, stirring every now and then, for a couple of hours. Add the second bottle of ale and leave to simmer until thick and delicious for another hour or so and check the seasoning again. Place your herby dumplings on top and pop the lid on 20 minutes before you're ready to serve. Fish out the bay leaves and herb sprigs before plating up.

Herby dumplings

4oz/ 100g suet (vegetable suet is absolutely fine if you prefer)
8oz. 200g self raising flour
A pinch of salt 
Finely chopped fresh herbs - you can use whatever you like, but I chose rosemary, thyme and sage

Place the ingredients (except the water) in a bowl and add mix in a little bit of water at a time until you've made a dough - you don't want it to be too wet or sticky. Roll the dough into golf sized balls with your hands and rolls the dumplings in flour. They can sit on a plate for a while quite happily before you pop them on top of your stew.

Haricot beans

1 tin of haricot beans, drained and rinsed or 300 g of dried beans that have been soaked in water overnight before use.
A little unsalted butter
1 onion, finely chopped
1 clove of garlic, crushed
1 pint of fresh chicken (or vegetable) stock
1 tbsp chopped rosemary
Salt and pepper

Fry the onion and garlic in a little butter until soft, then add the stock and stir. Tip in your drained beans along with the rosemary and salt and pepper. Leave to simmer for at least 40 minutes until soft. Check for seasoning and your beans are ready to serve.  

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