'YOU REQUIRE A MALE HARE, KILLED IF POSSIBLE IN MOUNTAINOUS COUNTRY...'
My only regret of a wonderfully, whistle-stoppish weekend in Paris (my first ever, DV's first in a very long while) is that we couldn't get a table at La Pomponette, a classic bistro in Montmartre, where they serve Rabbit in Aspic as a starter. We managed to find a very jolly place down the road, less busy and quite a bit less expensive, and I managed to try frogs' legs for the first time (to my tongue, they taste like bony supermarket chicken, only blander ... to complete this cliched little picture, DV had snails for a starter and then we both wolfed down steaks, digested with the aid of good red plonk). But alas, neither rabbit nor hare passed my lips all weekend.
Next time we go back, I intend to find a restaurant that serves Lievre a la Royale, a truly absurd recipe devised by a Senator called Aristide Couteaux, and written up in his column in Le Temps in 1898 (the same year that Zola published "J'Accuse!" in defence of Alfred Dreyfus). It takes fully six and half hours to prepare cook, and is included in Elizabeth David's Book of Mediterranean Food.
In truth, it is less a recipe than a full-blown narrative, a travelogue around the hills of Poitou, a derive into the innards of a hare, and an expression of the excess and corruption of the Third Republic. It describes, in other words, a thoroughly immoral dish, which should be executed with merciless precision. If you have the stomach for it, there are pictures to accompany the excursion here:
'You require a male hare, with red fur, killed if possible in mountainous country; of French descent (characterised by the light nervous elegance of head and limbs), weighing from 5 to 6 pounds, that is to say older than a leveret but still adolescent. The important thing is that the hare should have been cleanly killed and so not have lost a drop of blood.
'The fat to cook it: 2 or 3 tablespoons of goose fat, 1/4 pound of fat bacon rashers; 1/4 pound of bacon in one piece.
'Liquid: 6 oz of good red wine vinegar. Two bottles of Macon or Medoc, whichever you please, but in any case not less than 2 years old.
'Utensils: A daubiere, or oblong stewing pan, of well-tinned copper, 8 inches high, 15 inches long, 8 inches wide and possessed of a hermetically closing cover; a small bowl in which to preserve the blood of the hare, and later to stir it when it comes to incorporating it in the sauce; a double-handled vegetable chopper; a large shallow serving dish; a sieve; a small wooden pestle.
'The wine to serve: Preferably a St Julien or Moulin a Vent.
'Skin and clean the hare. Keep aside the heart, the liver, and the lungs. Keep aside also and with great care the blood.
'In the usual way prepare a medium-sized carrot, cut into four; 4 medium onions each stuck with a clove; 20 cloves of garlic; 40 shallots; a bouquet garni, composed of a bay leaf, a sprig of thyme, and some pieces of parsley.
'Get ready some charcoal, in large pieces, which you will presently be needing, burning fast.
'First Operation (from half-past twelve until four o'clock):
'At 12.30 coat the bottom and sides of the stewpan with the goose fat; then at the bottom of the pan arrange a bed of rashers of bacon.
'Cut off the head and neck of the hare: leaving only the back and the legs. Then place the hare at full length on the bed of bacon, on its back. Cover it with another layer of bacon. Now all your bacon rashers are used up.
'Now add the carrot; the onions; the 20 cloves of garlic; the 40 shallots; the bouquet garni.
'Pour over the hare (i) the 6 oz of red wine vinegar, and (ii) a bottle and a half of 2-year-old Macon or Medoc.
'Season with pepper and salt in reasonable quantity.
'At one o'clock. The daubiere being thus arranged, put on the lid and set the fire going (either a gas stove or an ordinary range). On the top of the lid place 3 or 4 large pieces of charcoal in an incandescent state, well alight and glowing.
'Regulate your heat so that the hare may cook for 3 hours, over a gentle and regular fire, continuously.
'Second Operation (to be carried out during the first cooking of the hare):
'First chop exceedingly finely the four following ingredients, chopping each one separately: (i) 1/4 lb of bacon, (ii) the heart, liver and lungs of the hare, (iii) 10 cloves of garlic, (iv) 20 shallots.
'The chopping of the garlic and the shallots must be so fine that each of them attain as nearly as possible a molecular state.
'This is one of the first conditions of success of this marvellous dish, in which the multiple and diverse perfumes and aromas melt into a whole so harmonious that neither one dominates, nor discloses its particular origin, and so arouse some preconceived prejudice, however regrettable.
'The bacon, the insides of the hare, the garlic, and shallots being chopped very fine, and separately, blend them all together thoroughly, so as to obtain an absolutely perfect mixture. keep this mixture aside.
'Third Operation (from four o'clock until a quarter to seven):
'At four o'clock. Remove the stewpan from the fire. Take the hare out very delicately; put it on a dish. Then remove all the debris of the bacon, carrot, onions, garlic, shallot, which may be clinging to it; return these debris to the pan.
'The Sauce. Now take a large deep dish and a sieve. Empty the contents of the pan into the sieve, which you have placed over the dish; with a small wooden pestle pound the contents of the sieve, extracting all the juice, which forms a coulis in the dish.
'Mixing the coulis and the hachis (the chopped mixture). Now comes the moment to make use of the mixture which was the subject of the second operation. Incorporate this into the coulis.
'Heat the half bottle of wine left over from the first operation. Pour this hot wine into the mixture of coulis and hachis and stir the whole together.
'At half past four. Return to the stewpan (i) the mixture of coulis and hachis, (ii) the hare, together with any of the bones which may be become detached during the cooking.
'Return the pan to the stove, with the same gentle and regular fire underneath and on the top, for another 1 1/2 hours' cooking.
'At six o'clock. As the excess of fat, issuing from the necessary quantity of bacon, will prevent you from judging the state of the sauce, you must now proceed to operate a first removal of the fat. Your work will not actually be completed until the sauce has become sufficiently amalgamated to attain a consistence approximating to that of a puree of potatoes; not quite, however, for if you tried to make it too thick, you would end by so reducing it that there would not be sufficient to moisten the flesh (by nature dry) of the hare.
'Your hare having therefore had the fat removed, can continue to cook, still on a very slow fire, until the moment comes for you to add the blood which you have reserved with the utmost care as has already been instructed.
'Fourth Operation (quarter of an hour before serving):
'At quarter to seven. The amalgamation of the sauce proceeding successfully, a fourth and last operation will finally and rapidly bring it to completion.
'Addition of blood to the hare. With the addition of the blood, not only will you hasten the amalgamation of the sauce but also give it a fine brown colour; the darker it is the more appetising. This addition of the blood should not be made more than 30 minutes before serving; it must also be preceded by a second removal of the fat.
'Therefore, effectively remove the fat; after which, without losing a minute, turn to the operation of adding the blood.
'(i) Whip the blood with a fork, until, if any of it has become curdled, it is smooth again.
'(ii) Pour the blood into the sauce, taking care to stir the contents of the pan from top to bottom and from right to left, so that the blood will penetrate into every corner of the pan.
'Now taste; add pepper and salt if necessary. A little later (45 minutes at a maximum) get ready to serve.
'Arrangements for serving:
'At seven o'clock. Remove from the pan your hare, whose volume by this time has naturally somewhat shrunk.
'At any rate, in the centre of the serving dish, place all that still has the consistency of meat, the bones, entirely denuded, and now useless, being thrown away, and now finally around this hare en compote pour the admirable sauce which has been so carefully created.'
Elizabeth David, following the senator's advice, notes that "to use a knife to serve the hare would be a sacrilege. A spoon alone is amply sufficient."