One of the great pleasures of sitting in a high seat at home is observing the hares. They box all year round, and I?ve watched battles of epic proportions. Late last summer, while waiting for a roebuck that never came, I saw a most peculiar occurrence. There was a hare sitting 50 yards or so ahead of me. It was munching away on the rich grass, when another hare came bounding up and sat face- to-face with it. Hare number one stopped its munching and a staring match followed. For three or four minutes, nothing happened. Then, suddenly, hare number two leapt straight up into the air, swung around and galloped away, coming to a sudden halt after 30 yards. There it stood up on its back legs, and started boxing the air, grunting all the while. The first hare went back to eating. Once it had expended all its energy, the second sedately returned to the first hare, its rage seemingly spent.
In the Netherlands, we have hares in vast numbers, and they frequently tip the scales at 6kg (more than 13lb). This year, while on our first afternoon?s sport we only shot four, but the second day produced 19, with 60 or so counted over an afternoon.
As shown in Joe Dimbleby?s article (Going Dutch, January 18), shooting hares isn?t easy. You stand right up against the wood, and remain as still as possible, for if they see movement they will try to break back through the beating line. Usually you can see them approach, and often you can tell where they will come out of the woods. Like all shooting, the wait before there is an opportunity doesn?t help one?s aim. Once they?ve made a break for it, you remain still ? I?ve had hares pass feet away from me ? until they are safely beyond the line of Guns.
After giving all the Guns a hare, we were still left with a freezer-full. We jointed all of them, and put them in varying portions in the freezer. Ten backs were frozen separately, as these make excellent meals for two or three people. The shoulders and back quarters are best cooked long and slow, or used for pies and pâtés. The Dutch version of jugged hare, hazenpeper (literally translated, peppered hare), is simple to make. Cut the meat from the bones, toss it in seasoned flour, brown it and put to one side. Soften plenty of onion, add the meat back in with a tablespoon of crushed juniper berries, redcurrant jelly, stock and red wine and simmer for three hours.
This recipe, however, is using the fillet. It is, if not overcooked, juicy and extremely tender. I?ve done it in the German style ? one also finds this type of recipe across eastern Europe and Scandinavia, where the addition of soured cream to sauces is common. For a long time I was not keen on white pepper, having mostly experienced it in its stale, powdered form. After visiting Sweden, however, where it is widely used, but always freshly ground, I?ve taken to it. It is subtle and delicate, but has a good kick to it. If you don?t have one, invest in a pestle and mortar ? grinding the spices just before you use them will release the oils and scents in them, which really make a difference in the flavour. If you don?t have a pestle and mortar and can?t get hold of white peppercorns, simply use freshly ground black pepper instead. Substitute double cream with a squeeze of lemon juice if you can?t find soured cream.
* A saddle of hare 1oz butter
* 2 tsp olive oil
* 1 tsp fresh, chopped thyme
* four juniper berries
* six white peppercorns
* a pinch of salt
* 1⁄2 glass of port
* 1 tbsp redcurrant jelly
* 2 tbsp soured cream
1. Preheat the oven to 180°C. Prepare the hare by running a knife along the spine (as close to it as possible), then working the knife down, so that the fillet comes away in one clean piece. Remove the silvery skin (on the top of the fillet) as you would skin a fish ? lay the meat skin-side down on a board, and using a very sharp, thin knife, cut just above the skin. Flatten the knife, so that it is parallel to the board, and, putting your fingertips on the skin, pull the knife away from you, keeping it flat and pressing down slightly.
2. Crush the juniper and white peppercorns with a pestle and mortar until they are fine, and then add the chopped thyme.
3. Melt half the butter and add the olive oil in a frying pan ? preferably one with a metal handle that can go into the oven. Once the fat is extremely hot, lay the fillets in the pan. Allow them to sizzle, and turn them occasionally until they are well browned on all sides, or for five minutes. Sprinkle the spice and herb mixture and a pinch of salt over both pieces of meat.
4. Put the remaining butter on the fillets, and place the pan in the oven (transfer the meat to a roasting dish if you can?t put your pan in the oven, but keep the pan for deglazing). Cook for a further 10 minutes, then remove from the oven, using an oven glove. Put the fillets in a pre-warmed dish and cover with foil to rest.
5. Put the frying pan back on a fierce heat. Allow it to get really hot (remember the handle will still be hot) and pour in all the port at once. Use a wooden spatula to loosen all the meat juices. When it is bubbling, turn the heat right down and add the redcurrant jelly. Keep stirring, and when it has all melted and the sauce has thickened slightly, add the soured cream. Whisk well, so that it amalgamates.
6. Cut the fillets into thirds, and serve with the sauce.
I served this dish with hasselback potatoes (a Swedish recipe) and buttered leeks. Peel the potatoes and cut a fl at edge on the long side, so that they will stand up. Next, cut into the top of the potatoes until most of the way down (see picture opposite). Rub in olive oil, and bake in the oven at 200°C for 30 minutes or until browned on the outside and cooked through. Cut the leeks into three sections, discarding the outer layers at the top end, and slice into six, so that you have long strands. Melt some butter in a pan and cook fast for two or three minutes, stirring all the while. Turn the heat down, season well, and cook for another 10 minutes or so.