As the weather cools and days become shorter our priorities begin to change too. We bid adieu to those light dinners on a terrace, those chilled boquerones en vinagre, those carefree beers with olives and cigarettes. We embrace instead the comforts of home: blankets, socks and sweaters, the joy of being inside where it’s warm and soft and light, when outside offers only darkness and cold. And with this newfound appreciation of the proverbial hearth comes more home-cooking, as our patience grows and we become willing to wait longer for foods to roast, bake, stew, caremelize, to become the medicine to fix whatever pesky illness ails us that week. With the newfound desire to cook at home comes also the urge to visit the market more, to see the product we will be working on for hours in its full glory, and to make sure it’s really something worth waiting for.
So it happened one cool October day, when my boyfriend showed up at my apartment with his bright green canvas shopping bag and declared that he’d be making civet de lapin for dinner. We marched off to Mercat de l’Abaceria, our local market in Gràcia, where we’ve already chosen favorite fruit- and veggie vendors, where we’ve already more or less mapped out the best potatoes, the best fishmonger, the best ecological and non-ecological chicken. I say “more or less” because in the summertime it’s just easier to neglect your kitchen, especially since there’s no terrace, no cigarettes, no people-watching involved with cooking at home. But something tells me that our relationship with these vendors is about to become rock-solid as we together face the harsh Mediterranean winter that lies ahead. Better get in good with the kohlrabi guy now…
We arrived to the market with rabbit on the brain and went straight for the ecological chicken place which, true to custom, had a few skinned, whole, ecological bunnies stretching their long limbs across the case. We asked the price and agreed on €10. We told her to chop it for a civet and she did, slicing the lean body into chunks and placing the halved head and organs (or organ systems, rather) separately into a small plastic bag designed just for these innard bits. She threw in a complementary sprig of parsley, as they do, and handed over the baggie of bunny bits with a smile. Next stop, potatoes. Then, some nice red wine and we had everything we needed for supper.
Back at home that night we unwrapped the hack-job. While I took morbid, graphic photos and studied the anatomy of the rabbit’s skull and digestive system, my beaux threw some lard, onions and garlic into the Dutch oven and left them to sizzle. When those caramelized he added the pieces of rabbit delicately, and as they browned he sprinkled them with flour. The heads, livers and heart were added after the pieces of flesh had browned a bit. The rubbery trachea, lungs and membranes were deftly snatched out by my boyfriend after he realized that I had carelessly thrown them in too. Then, a healthy bath of red wine and the pot was covered. As the meat cooked, he would life the lid every 15 minutes or so to add more wine (if it looked like it could use more), throw in some bay leaf or move the meat around gently (and prevent it from sticking to the bottom, which it did, but oh well). Each time he did this the aroma of slow-cooked meat, onions and reduced red wine would flood the room, causing our stomachs to growl and making the wait a bit less easy. I set to work boiling some potatoes and mashing them, cheerfully reciting Elmer Fudd references (“wascally wabbit”) ad nauseam until the civet was finally finished. Then, two plates, a hill of mashed on each, and a big pile of rabbit stew, half a head for each of us.
Our meal turned out better than either of us had expected. The tender and tiny bundles of flesh slid gracefully off the delicate bones. They were moist and juicy, saturated with the flavors of woodsy bay leaf, the rabbit’s own cooking juices and the wine they had soaked up in the steamy sauna they had been basting in for over an hour. The flavors were simple and wonderful; the dish tasted of mild, clean meat, wine and time. The pieces had a nice browned crust from the initial toasting on onion and the bit of flour thickened the wine into a glaze that coated the chunks beautifully. Each morsel is different, with its unique maze of tiny bones to tear larger chunks of flesh off of and suck smaller bits of meat out from. I attacked with my hands, while my more civilized beau stuck to the etiquette of fork and knife. Why he does this with a food so obviously more enjoyable when eaten like a caveman in the comfort of our own cave, with no one looking, I will never fully understand. But I guess I appreciate it. Unless he tries it with pizza or a burger, in which case I’ll have to break the silence and comment.
Trying to envision in June the joy of cracking open a piping hot chestnut straight out of the oven is like coming across a Calippo Lime popsicle stick in your freezer in late October and throwing what was so crucial just 2 short months ago swiftly in the garbage without second thought. As the seasons change our cravings do too and this very basic rabbit civet was a great way to indulge our new autumnal hunger.