Sunday, March 10, 2013

Baked Mountain Hare

The mountain hare, also known as the blue hare, and tundra hare, is found in mountainous and isolated populations in Scotland, Ireland, the Alps and other areas of Europe. 
Mountain hare - picture from Wikipedia
It has also been introduced to the Isle of Man, the Faroe Islands and the Peak District of England. Like the ptarmigan, it has a summer coat of brown, and in the winter it's coat turns white, although the tail stays white year-round. I believe that this particular hare I cooked came from Scotland. 

Hare is one of the 1001 Foods You Must Taste Before You Die, Frances Case (Universe Publishing - 2008). 1001 notes that hare "was the most common game animal in Greek and Roman times." That hares, "unlike rabbits, have never been domesticated. Generally, hares (a category into which Europeans would place the Californian jackrabbit) are larger than rabbits with long ears, the eponymous hare lip, and strong hindquarters." The "meat is lean and dry, the flavor strong - half chicken, half venison. Young hares are best roasted or jugged. Older specimens reward lengthy cooking." 

Unmentionable Cuisine by Calvin W. Schwabe (University Press of Virginia - 1979) has a whole section on hares and rabbits. Schwabe notes that hare meat "contains little fat and is, therefore, fairly dry.  Younger animals are the most tender, while larding or barding adult carcasses improves their taste and tenderness considerably." He goes on to give 12 pages of recipes for rabbit and hare, with recipes from Spain, France, Germany, England, Hungary, Austria, Poland, Norway, India, Turkey, Wales and a gypsy recipe. 

I made a mistake in cooking this hare and I hope to learn from this mistake. I have cooked rabbit on many occasions (see, for example, baked rabbit, barbequed rabbit and grilled whole rabbit) and I've eaten it in restaurants and really enjoy it. I presumed that the hare would be similar without adequately researching it. 

I did assume it would be less fatty, so I tried to compensate by covering it in bacon and onions and baked it in the oven. 
I also over-cooked it, another wild game no-no. The result was meat that was very hard and unappetizing. It was like eating beef jerky. 
Note the difference in color between the domesticated rabbit and the mountain hare. 
Pink flesh of a domestic rabbit
Dark purple flesh of a wild mountain hare
The mountain hare meat is much darker. I'm going to cook hare again, and this time I'm going to prepare it over several days to compensate for the leanness. There are two recipes that look particularly good to me for this purpose. 

The first comes from Unmentionable Cuisine and is a Hungarian recipe. First make a marinade of lightly salted water with a bit of tarragon vinegar, boiled for two hours with sliced onions, carrots, parsnips or turnips, bay leaves and a few peppercorns. [I think I would add Brussels sprouts as well]. Put the hare in the marinade, in the refrigerator, for two days, turning the hare occasionally. Dry the rabbit and lard it with bacon strips. Then saute the drained and marinated vegetables in lard [bacon grease], add the rabbit, and roast it at 350 degrees in the oven until about half done. Remove the rabbit, sprinkle the vegetables with flour and brown them with continual stirring over moderate heat. Add a wineglass of dry white wine and about twice as much sour cream and some of the marinade. Simmer, add a tablespoon of prepared hot mustard, a teaspoon of sugar and a little more tarragon vinegar. Blend these ingredients in a blender. Add a little grated rind of lemon, return the rabbit to the sauce and simmer until tender. 

The most intriguing recipe comes, and the one I will probably use, comes from here. It is juniper marinated hare by Karen Eagle. I have eaten juniper  flavored cheese called Juni and it has a very distinctive, strong taste. It seems to me a perfect complement to deal with the leanness and strong taste of the hare. First, develop a juniper apple-cider brine. Get 2 quarts of water, 2 cups of apple cider, a 1/2 cup of kosher salt, a 1/4 cup of sugar, 6 crushed peppercorns, 6 crushed juniper berries, 6 whole cloves, a 1/2 tablespoon of red pepper flakes and a 1/2 tablespoon of ancho chile powder. Combine the ingredients in a large container. Then cut up the hare and place it in the brine for two to three days in the refrigerator. Then remove the hare from the marinade (discarding the marinade), pat it dry, and dredge the hare in a cup of seasoned all purpose four. Heat a 1/2 cup of vegetable oil in a large skillet and fry the hare to a golden brown. Remove the hair and set it aside. Then saute 2 slivered onions, 4 chopped carrots, 4 stalks of sliced celery, and 2 minced cloves of garlic [I would add Brussels sprouts]. Sprinkle 4 tablespoons of seasoned flour over the vegetables and stir to make a roux. Slowly stir in two cups of chicken broth and bring it to a boil. Add a cup of white wine, 6 juniper berries, 2 tablespoons of sun-dried tomato paste and the hare. Lower the heat to a simmer and cook it slowly for 3 or more hours until the meat is fork tender. Ladle it into a bowl to serve. 

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