So this week I made hare pie. I know, I know, get it out of your system early. Yes, the hare pie was delicious. Yes, I love to eat hare pie and I enjoyed watching my wife eat hare pie. The hare pie was moist and buttery etc, etc… If you’re so inclined please feel free to add your own double entendres to the comments. Oh, out of a sense of duty I feel that I should mention that this hare pie would have gone exceptionally well with the ass we ate last month in Puglia.
Ok. There. It’s all out in the open. Doesn't everyone feel better? Now let’s move on to the serious business of pie cookin’.
When Mme. Pants first told me that pie was the featured player in the newest Waiter There’s Something In My… I was really excited. I mean who doesn’t love pie? (Now would probably be a good time to thank Jeanne over at Cook Sister! for hosting this little shin-dig.)
The first thing that popped in my head was baking a nice eel pie as I have been itching to make something with those slimy buggers for quite a while now. However, since we are currently in Florence, hundreds of kilometers from the coast, eels are not particularly easy to come by.
Why fight location? No sense in struggling to make a British dish (with half-assed ingredients) when I live two blocks from a bona fide Tuscan market. So what’s something local and fun? Well lots of stuff actually, but I started thinking about nifty ingredients that are hard to come by back in the U.S.
In the States, you either have to be a hunter or know one pretty well to get your hands on some good wild game. We have laws governing its sale that read like a Rube Goldberg diagram. Luckily, here in central Italy (where Tuscans are absolutely crazy for the stuff) it’s a lot easier to find.
Recently, I have been cooking a fair amount of rabbit. All of the rabbit here is farm raised and consequently it has very white meat with little complexity and not particularly noteworthy flavor. However, in the macellerie next to the rabbit, you often see its deep-dark red cousin the lepre or hare. “Why not?” I thought. And so began our hare pie odyssey.
The first thing I did with my newly acquired half-hare was to break it down into more easily manageable pieces and give it a good rinse. (Actually, the first thing I did was take it outside for some pictures where the sight of a mussy-haired American earnestly photographing a freshly skinned animal not too unlike a cat in size and shape probably helped to reassure all of my Italian neighbors that “Hey, he may be a psycho, but at least he’s a conscientious chronologer.”
So with neighbors properly on edge and hunks of hare at the ready I started to sauté a little guanciale (pancetta or bacon would work just as well) for the base of the soffrito. When a nice amount of fat had rendered out I added a splash of olive oil and then all of my chopped vegetables: carrots, onions, celery, and celeriac.
While these guys were quietly softening away, I turned my attention to fixin’ up a suitable condiment for my rich meaty pastry; a nice tangy red currant jam. I love the combination of sweet, tart berry flavors with the pungency and twang of game.
The jam is super simple. Basically you heat a cup or so of currants in a pan, add in a few tablespoons of sugar and dash of lemon juice and cook over low heat until the berries are falling apart. Then strain the mixture and add back in a few of the seeds if you’re so inclined (as I definitely was. Yay seeds!) Also a pinch of pectin may come in handy if the jam isn’t quite thick enough. That’s it. Just let it cool and it’s ready for any number of mouthwatering applications.
Condiment finished and vegetables softening, I dusted the hare in a little flour and then seared it on all sides in a mixture of butter and a little olive oil. When it was brown all over, I added the soffrito, six halved prunes, a handful of precooked chickpeas, and then poured in a couple cups of chicken stock and then a half cup of tawny port for good measure. Finally, I tossed in some salt and tied herbs (a bouquet garni for all y’all fancy folk.)
With the lid on, I let it braise away on low heat while I put on my pastry pants (figuratively of course, I own no such awesome pants) and moved into pie crust mode. Pie crusts aren’t my favorite thing to make as they can be a bit finicky. The only real way to master them is to make a shit-ton of them (that’s professional kitchen terminology for the uninitiated out there).
I won’t go into all of the details but I’ll give you a few basic tips:
- Mix butter and lard (butter for flaky, lard for tender)
- Keep everything cold
- Don’t use too much water
- Work fast
- Make twice as much as most recipes call for
And that’s about it.
When the crust was in its proper pan place, I gave it a good docking and then poured in a few dried beans (Tuscan of course) in preparation for a bit of a blind bake. I slid the crust, beans and all, into my preheated oven and left it to brown for about 15 minutes.
At this point it is customary to stop working on the pie and prepare a delicious snack for your wife because “What the hell is taking so long! I thought you were baking a pie not breaking the world record for calculating its value!” To be fair I was a little peckish myself.
Enter these lovely suppli for a delightful and cheese filled intermission. If you have leftover risotto what could be better than stuffing it with mozzarella and deep frying it?
Snack eaten and hunger assuaged, I checked the hare to find that it was pretty much falling off the bone. Perfect. I took it out to cool and in the meantime I drained all of the vegetables and reserved the yummy sauce that it was cooking in.
When it was cool enough to handle I deboned the hare and mixed the chopped meat back in with the veggies. The juices I let reduce a bit more until they were a nice thick gravy consistency. When the proper texture had been achieved I poured enough gravy onto the hare mixture until it looked like a slightly too dry stew.
This whole mess gets poured into the blind baked pie shell (Mme. Pants is urging me to remind you to please, please remove the dried beans first) and then covered with a layer of blanched bietole or Swiss chard leaves. Next slap on your lid of fresh pie dough and give it a slather with a nice egg wash. Then cut a few slits for steam.
Ok, one last time back in the oven, but really hot this time- say about 220°C or 425°F. Let it bake until it’s a nice golden brown which will probably take around half an hour.
When it’s done, let it rest for a bit so it can get all settled. When you just can’t stand it any longer, slice it and serve it up with some of that divine red currant jam, some fresh cracked black pepper and maybe a drizzle or two of some really good olive oil.
Now that, my friends, is some tasty hare pie. And the good news about this little dish is that it’s better the next day and maybe even better than that the day after. Good Lawd!
So stop all your snickering and get to making some hare pie, it’s finger lickin’ good.