Our main course for Christmas dinner was this hare stew. The recipe I followed was very similar to that for lepre alla cacciatora, but adapted for sous-vide. An important aspect of any stew is concentrating the flavors by allowing water to evaporate, which is not possible during sous-vide as everything is in a sealed plastic bag. This means that the evaporation should occur before and/or after the sous-vide step. It is worth taking the extra trouble of cooking the meat sous-vide, because this will ensure that the meat will be tender and juicy.
For the American readers: hare is red meat and it is related to rabbit (and the animal looks very similar with big ears and fluffy fur), but the meat tastes very different from rabbit, which is white meat.
For 8 servings
6 hare legs, about 1.8 kilo (4 lbs)
500 ml (2 cups) red wine
1 carrot, chopped, divided
1 large onion, chopped, divided
2 celery sticks, chopped, divided
1 clove garlic, chopped
8 fresh sage leaves
1 sprig rosemary
some sprigs fresh parsley
some sprigs fresh thyme
1 tsp juniper berries
1 bay leaf
1 Tbsp double-concentrated tomato paste
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 Tbsp cornstarch
1 Tbsp cocoa powder (optional)
4 Tbsp olive oil
Start by deboning the hare legs. You don’t have to be very precise, as you actually want some of the meat to be left behind on the bones for the stock.
Pat the hare meat dry with paper towels…
…and season it with salt and freshly ground black pepper on all sides.
Heat 4 tablespoons of olive oil in a frying pan, and brown the meat in batches over high heat.
Take the meat out of the pan with a strainer. Do not crowd the pan, so the meat can brown properly. The goal here is to develop flavor, not to cook the meat through. It should stay raw inside.
Set the meat aside to cool.
Add half of the onion, carrot, and celery to the drippings left behind in the pan.
Stir over medium heat until the vegetables are golden, about 10 minutes, then add a tablespoon of tomato paste, and stir for another minute.
Deglaze the pan with 500 ml of red wine.
As usual it is important to use a good wine. If you use a bad wine, the sauce will end up bad. The wine doesn’t have to be expensive, but it should be nice enough to drink and especially not too acidic.
Use a wooden spatula to scrape along the bottom of the pan to get all of the flavor into the sauce.
Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer.
Add the juices that will have leaked from the browned meat.
When the sauce has been reduced by half, turn off the heat…
…puree it in a blender (or using an immersion blender)…
…and return the sauce to the pan, and reserve.
To make the stock, roast the bones for 30 minutes in the oven at 190C/375F.
Meanwhile, prepare the aromatics for the stock. This is the remaining half of the carrot, onion, and celery, as well as garlic, sage, rosemary, parsley, thyme, juniper berries, and cloves.
Put the bones in a pressure cooker or stockpot. Deglaze the roasting tray with water, scraping with a wooden spatula to get all the flavor.
Add this water to the pot with the roasted bones.
Add the prepared aromatics and cover with water.
Bring to a boil and simmer for 4 hours, or bring to pressure and pressure cook for 2 hours.
First strain the stock through a colander to remove the large solids…
…and then through a fine sieve.
Add the hare stock to the reserved sauce.
Bring this to a boil…
…and simmer until reduced to about 500 ml (2 cups). Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Add the browned meat to the sauce.
If using a ziploc bag, you can now use the water displacement method to bag up the meat and sauce.
To use a chamber vacuum sealer, first allow sauce and meat to cool in the refrigerator before vacuum sealing.
If using a FoodSaver-type vacuum sealer, freeze the sauce first and then vacuum seal the frozen sauce with the meat (do not freeze the meat).
Cook the meat and sauce sous-vide for 2 hours at 60C/140F.
After cooking sous-vide, strain the sauce into a pan and reserve the meat.
Make a slurry of equal amounts of corn starch and cold water, and use it to bind the sauce. (Contract to what you see in the photo, add the cornstarch and stir before bringing to a boil, to prevent coagulation of the proteins in the juices from the bag.)
Bring the sauce to a boil and allow to reduce somewhat (as the sauce will have thinned from juices that leaked out of the meat).
If you like, you can flavor the sauce with cocoa powder. I started with a single teaspoon, but ended up using 3 teaspoons (which is the same as 1 tablespoon). The sauce will not taste like chocolate, but it does deepen the flavor.
Return the meat to the sauce. Turn off the heat as soon as the sauce comes back to boiling. Allow the meat to reheat in the sauce for a couple minutes.
I served the hare stew with sautéed wild mushrooms and cavolo nero (Tuscan kale).
The rich flavor of the hare and sauce calls for a rich wine, such as an Amarone della Valpolicella. The Amarone from Masi we had actually had hints of chocolate, and so it was perfect with the cocoa in the sauce.
Venison ragù is a great variation on the classic Bolognese.