A clever Harris hawk can often overcome even the largest of hares and José Souto’s cunning ragu recipe is a tribute to his bird’s brainpower. Serves four
I would recommend using the legs of the hare for this hare ragu recipe and keeping the loins for a later date.
- Olive oil
- ½ onion, finely diced
- 50g celery, finely diced
- 50g carrots, finely diced
- 800g minced hare (legs are best)
- 80g pancetta, minced
- 40g tomato puree
- 2 garlic cloves, finely diced
- 1 good sprig thyme
- 150ml red wine
- 600ml dark chicken stock
- 500g tagliatelle
- Grated parmesan
- Heat the oil in a large pan and add the onion, celery and carrot. Cook until soft and starting to colour.
- Add the minced hare and pancetta, using a wooden spoon to break up the meat as it cooks. Cook until the meat has browned.
- Add the tomato puree, garlic and thyme, cooking for another three to four minutes. Add the wine and bring it to the boil, allowing most of the alcohol to burn off. Reduce the heat and stir in the stock.
- Season and cover with a tight-fitting lid. Leave it to cook gently for an hour, or until the meat is tender and the sauce has thickened.
- Remove the lid and continue cooking for 15 minutes.
- Cook the pasta, then drain and mix in the sauce. Finish with grated parmesan.
A note on hares
Brown hares are a match for any bird of prey and for many years it was my goal to catch one with my first Harris hawk, Elly. For the first three years, try as she might, they always seemed to get the better of her. I spent countless days watching her chase, grab, fight and lose this most slippery of quarries.
“To fly and catch hares, you need a big bird with brute force that can take a bit of rough and tumble,” I was told by one of the older members of a falconry club. “Smaller birds like yours can get to them more quickly, but lack the heart and strength to hold and control them.”
My bird’s problem was not the catching, but the holding on. My hawk weighed 975g (a little over 2lb) and brown hares can go up to 5kg (11lb), but I disagreed with the assessment given by my falconry friend as Harris hawks make up for their lack of strength in brain and cunning. Every flight a Harris makes is a learning curve. They quickly discover what works and their ability to read prey is remarkable.
Over many years, whenever Elly had the chance, she flew hares with vigour and a determination of a bird double her size. One day, in early October, a hare emerged quite unexpectedly as we walked across a field. It sprung up about 20m in front of us, running across a slight incline so that it could turn and run uphill —a preferred tactic of hares.
The hawk took off from the fist and, instead of chasing the hare straight away, veered off to my right. At first, I wondered why she went the wrong way but, as the hare turned to run uphill, she cut it off, hitting it side on.
She had read it perfectly. I ran to help her, but by the time I got there, she had it folded over and controlled. After years of trying, she had bagged a 3.5kg hare. I sat with her as she tucked into her well-earned prize, enjoying the moment. Elly doesn’t miss hares any more. Her largest, a 4kg monster, proves that brute force is no match for cleverness and cunning.