Sunday, June 16, 2013

Mountain Hare Stew

I did a previous post on baked mountain hare, one of my culinary disasters. Mountain hare, or blue hare, is the European version of the American jackrabbit. It is hard to imagine an animal that could be more gamy and stringy. Well, my first attempt at baking one covered with bacon was so bad that I took a few bites and tossed the rest, it was horrible. However, sometimes you learn best from your failures. I found a recipe called "Juniper Marinated Hare" by Karen Eagle that called for marinating the hare for two to three days in a juniper apple-cider brine. I decided to get some more hare and see if this new recipe could work some miracles. 

I got the wild mountain hare from Exotic Meat Market. They get it from Scotland. It is a purplish blue color. I cut it up into five pieces: two back legs, two front legs and ribs, and the backbone. When I make it again (it is that good), I will cut it into smaller pieces which will make cooking it in a pot easier. 
mountain hare

mountain hare cut into five pieces
I halved the marinade recipe and made a few modifications. I put the following into a large tupperware container: (a) 8 cups of water (2 quarts); (b) 1 cup of apple juice; (c) 1/2 cup of kosher salt; (d) 1/4 cup of sugar; (e) 3 teaspoons of minced garlic (the equivalent of 6 garlic cloves); (f) 6 crushed juniper berries; (g) 6 crushed peppercorns; (h) 1/2 tablespoon of red pepper flakes; and (i) 1/2 tablespoon of cayenne pepper (I could not find any ancho chile powder). I tasted the brine and it was salty with a bit of heat. The hare pieces went into the brine and into the refrigerator (it barely fit into the tupperware container). 
juniper berries
brine with hare marinating in it
I put the hare into the brine on Thursday around noon. Two days later, on Saturday at noon, I decided to grill one piece just to see what kind of an impact the brining had on the meat. It was obvious from handling the meat that the brining had broken it down significantly. I pulled out a front leg and rib piece and grilled it as-is, without any other preparation. The grilled meat came off the bone quite readily and it was much more tender than on my previous adventure. The saltiness and heat from the brine had infused into the meat and it was actually quite good. 
brined, but un-cooked hare front leg and ribs
grilled hare front leg
meat of the grilled hare front leg
Saturday evening around 6:00 p.m., after two and a half days of marinating, I pulled the rest of the hare out of the brine. I put some All-Purpose BBQ Rub into some flour, coated the hare pieces and fried them in 1/2 cup of canola oil until they were brown. The recipe called for a frying pan, but as I looked at the volume of what I was cooking, I had concerns about fitting it all into a pan, so I opted for a pot which has a smaller cooking space for frying, but greater volume. 
brined hare after 2 1/2 days - brine has darkened
hare pieces that have been patted dry
hare has been coated with flour and is being fried until brown
browned hare
I modified the recipe somewhat again. I chopped up two locally grown Maui onions, about six or eight smallish locally grown carrots and about 8 very large Brussels sprouts. I sauteed them in the remaining canola oil left over from frying the hare. Knowing what I know now, I would be less concerned about getting the vegetables softened up and would spend less time sauteeing and preserving the moisture. I then added four tablespoons of the remaining spiced flour and mixed it up with the vegetable to make a roux. 
vegetables sauteed in remaining canola oil
vegetables with added flour to make a roux
I slowly added two cups of chicken broth. Here again, I spent more time than I needed, as I was scrambling for some ingredients I'd not prepared a head of time. I think I lost some moisture here. Then I added a cup of sparkling grape juice (in place of white wine), six juniper berries, two tablespoons of reconstituted sun-dried tomatoes and the browned hare pieces. Then I let it all simmer for three hours.
vegetables with added chicken broth
hare and grape juice added to the mix
After 2 1/2 hours, much of the moisture has evaporated and the meat is pulling back from the bone
By then it was 11:00 p.m. Saturday night, but I had to try it. The vegetable mixture pretty much melded together into a vegetable sludge with only the carrots having any kind of recognizable form. Thus, no real need earlier in the process to make sure that they are properly sauteed. After three hours of simmering, they are going to be soft. I pulled out a leg piece. The meat pulled right off the bones. The three hours of simmering had softened up the meat even more from what I'd tried earlier in the day. The cooking had also taken away the salty hot flavor that the hare had had earlier in the day. The hare was fully cooked, pretty tender and tasted absolutely fantastic. I loved the vegetable sludge (stew) that came with it. If I were to make it again, I would consider putting in more vegetables and a little more liquid. 
Hare hind leg with vegetables
Meat removed from the bone and mixed with vegetables
Sunday morning I had to try some more. I pulled out the backbone, pulled the meat off - again it came off quite easily, and put it in the microwave. Incredible. Very, very good. The heat is gone and I even added some salt. Great stuff. I can highly recommend the recipe with the hare, or as Karen Eagle mentions, it would be good with other wild game. 

Backbone piece (top) and vegetable sludge - just out of refrigerator

Meat pulled off the backbone

1 comment:

  1. Hmmm. Tasty though it might be, I am glad you did this one while I was gone for the week.