Hare (llebre in Catalan, liebre in Castilian) is a rather old-fashioned meat and you don’t see it much on the menu these days. But done right, full-flavoured hare is a welcome treat for the onset of autumn.
Because of their penchant for life under thick cover, it’s almost impossible to farm hare, giving it dense, herbal overtones. It also runs fast: up to 70 kilometres an hour, which can translate on the plate as a fairly tough piece of meat. But it also means it’s healthy—lean, with a high iron and vitamin B content.
While jugged hare includes the creature’s blood and offal, and can prove too challenging for some, there are plenty of good options for first timers. Richard Zambrano Puertas runs the Aviram i Caça Francesc i Gemma stall (Number 936-937, Passadís 3, 93 317 7842) in the Boqueria. He’ll do the prepping for you, as well as provide advice on game and recipes. Call him a day in advance for special orders.
For four people, cut a saddle, cuarto, or, silla into chunks and marinade in brandy with a sprig of thyme and a couple of bay leaves overnight. Fry a handful of halved shallots, garlic and red peppers in olive oil, along with a pinch of chilli flakes. Add the hare, and the herbs and sauté to golden. Pour over enough good red wine to cover. Season, bring to a simmer and cook gently over a low heat for about 2 hours until the gravy is thickened. Serve with mashed potatoes.
Bought at any other time of year, you can easily spend three or four euros on just one pomegranate (granada in Castilian, magrana in Catalan), so it’s worth hanging on until they are in season. With their tough leathery outer skin, jaunty little crown, and gorgeous, garnet-like seeds, pomegranates are a regal fruit, and accordingly became the symbol of the imperial courts of both Granada and Marrakech.
Spanish pomegranates arrived here with the Arabs in the seventh century and are typically sweeter and juicier than the Middle Eastern kind. They are high in antioxidants and these days are considered a ‘super’ food, cooling and cleansing the digestive system as well as being a much-loved Persian elixir for pregnant women. In Arab mythology, it was considered the fruit of earthly paradise (like the apple in Eden) and the prophet Mohammed commanded: “Eat the pomegranate, for it purges the system of envy and hatred.”
The Persian dish fesenjan uses pomegranate molasses, which reduces the juice to a thick syrupy liquid and is exquisite as a baste for game birds and duck. And the seeds add a sweet-sour richness to Middle Eastern dishes such as couscous and tagines, fattees (a basmati rice dish topped with roasted meat and vegetables, yoghurt and tart sauces), stews and salads. Closer to home, an acidic variety of the fruit was popular in medieval Catalan cookery, such as for llengues de porc amb salsa de magrana (pigs’ tongues with pomegranate sauce), in which the tongue is slowly stewed in pomegranate juice and vi ranci.
Wild boar hunting season is upon us, and it’s as full of promise to hunters as it is to cooks. But for those who feel squeamish about hunting their own food, there’s always the Boqueria. Jabalí in Castilian and senglar in Catalan is a dark, succulent yet lean meat, which benefits from long, slow cooking and takes on strong flavours nicely. A herby wine or dark ale-based stew for example, or for the more adventurous, cooked the traditional Catalan way, with bitter chocolate.
The following makes good use of the season’s wild mushrooms (bolets) too. It serves six.
Cut 1.5 kg of wild boar into chunks and mix with 2 bay leaves, a sprig of thyme, a sprig of rosemary, 1 stick of celery chopped, 2 sliced carrots, 10 cloves of garlic crushed, 12 juniper berries, 12 cloves, 12 black peppercorns, 2 onions roughly chopped, 2 large glasses of a strong red wine. Leave to marinade overnight.
The next day, remove the meat from the marinade, season with salt and pepper and brown in olive oil in small batches and transfer to a casserole dish. Strain the marinade ingredients (reserving the wine)
and add them to the casserole. Fry gently until the ingredients are softened and brown. Whisk 2 teaspoons flour into a glass of red vermut so lumps disappear, add that and the reserved wine to the casserole and cook on low heat for 1.5 hours. Add more wine if needed. Just before the end of cooking, fry 250g of fresh wild mushrooms in a large knob of butter until golden. Stir into the casserole and serve with a bowl of mashed potatoes.
First published October 2009.