Culinary use of hunting genes – rabbit and cony

Even though today’s supermarkets stacked with easy and available food have left us estranged from ingredients stemming from forests and the wilderness, the common denominator of all forest specialties is that we can be sure of their nutritive, as well as culinary value. As far as meat is concerned, rabbit or cony meat is definitely one of the healthiest meat ingredients with their recipes being as old as culinary art itself.

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Rabbits and conies differ in their size, fur and meat colour. While rabbit meat exclusively comes from the wilderness, conies can be both wild and reared. 'Coney meat is light and has a white colour, whereas rabbit meat has a dim, dark colour, a more pungent flavour and a different texture. It’s dry and tough so it needs to be prepared in vegetables and wine in order for it to become tender.' - Ana Morgan, owner and head chef at restaurant Morgan, explained. Our search for traditional wild cony and rabbit recipes took us from Slavonia and Istria all the way to Zagorje.

Hotel Osijek is definitely one of the symbols of Osijek and the city’s culinary tradition. Situated right along the river Drava, at restaurant Zimska luka Osijek you can experience authentic Slavonian cuisine. You can try wild cony perkelt as one of those specialties and sous chef Robert Batrac shared with us how they prepare it.Image author: Thinkstock

- This dish can be prepared using wild or reared conies. The difference lies in the meat and time needed for preparation. Reared cony meat is white like chicken, whilst a wild cony meat has a dim red colour. Given that the wild cony is tougher and contains the least amount of fat, i.e. it’s pure protein, the meat has to be marinated a day prior to preparation. First we slice the meat into larger chunks. In order to prepare the marinade, we use red Blaufränkisch or Merlot wine, we slice the root vegetables into larger chunks, pepper, red onion, garlic and laurel leaf. The marinated meat should be left to stand overnight. It should be kept at a room temperature because the muscles contract again if the meat is placed in a refrigerator. The ingredients are taken out of the marinade before preparation, we season the meat with salt and pepper and fry it in pork lard. Once the meat gets an even colour on all sides, we take it out. We then put the chopped onion, sliced carrots and celery cut in larger dices in the fat. When the vegetables become soft, we return the meat in the sauce. While everything is cooking, we pour in some vegetable stock and add some ground red pepper and a spoon of tomato paste. We leave it all to simmer over low heat until the sauce reduces.Image author: Thinkstock

The Morgan family tavern is situated on one of Istria’s picturesque hills near Brtonigla. Though the tavern itself was opened just about ten years ago, their culinary heritage has been passed on for generations. Their family cookbook specialises exclusively in game animal dishes and traditional Istrian cuisine. The Morgan family’s knack for hunting and meat processing is widely known outside Croatia, too. Even Ana Morgan, grandmother of the current owner and head chef, used to prepare their specialties for Italian hunters who often visited Istria. The prepare wild rabbit ragout and terrine and they shared with us how they prepare their well-known rabbit roast in a stone pot.

- When it comes to rabbit roast, it’s a good thing to keep some rabbit blood immediately after the hunt. We need to chop some onion, celery, carrot and other root vegetables for our rabbit roast. We need to cut the rabbit into pieces. On average one rabbit will suffice for five servings at most. Once we’re done placing the meat on the vegetables, then we have to mix in a decilitre of rabbit blood with red wine. A stronger red wine is the best option and we use Teran. We have about half a litre of red wine laced with blood that we slowly add during the cooking so eventually we’ll slowly get a sauce. We also add herbs such as rosemary, laurel, sage, salt and pepper. The roasting time depends on how old the rabbit is and it takes about two hours.Image author: Thinkstock

Our journey took us from the hills of Istria to the ones in Zagorje. Near Varaždinske Toplice the Božić family opened restaurant Đurina Hiža as part of their family farm. Their exceptional dedication to gastronomy has quickly been recognised so the restaurant became one of the finest restaurants in Zagorje. In addition to numerous classic delicacies of northern Croatia, guests can try their rabbit perkelt. Restaurant owner Nikola Božić and head chef Niko Milan told us how they go about preparing it.

- We prepare rabbit perklet upon prior announcement as this is an extremely rare and specific meat type which is quite difficult for us to include in the menu on a permanent basis. When preparing perkelt, the quantity of meat and onion is even. We chop the onion, while the meat is dismembered into pieces, cleaned and diced. First we’ll start sautéing the onion. When the onion starts turning golden, we add some salt. The salt will prevent onion from dehydrating. When preparing this dish, it’s vital that we season every ingredient before cooking it so as to preserve their flavours. Salt will loosen the meat and intensify its original flavour. Once the onion turns yellowish, we add the meat to sauté it. We also add red wine, mostly Blaufränkisch. We add chopped celery root, carrots, parsley and fresh peppers to the perkelt, but only when the meat starts cooking. We only add parsley in the end. Everything’s cooked together for about an hour. During cooking we also add ground red chilli peppers from Baranja, while the red wine is added slowly during the entire cooking process right up to half hour before the very end as it’s important that the alcohol evaporate from the dish. Eventually, the perkelt will start thickening.Image author: Thinkstock

You can serve unique rabbit or wild cony specialties with polenta like the Morgan family or like they do it at Đurina hiža with Semmel knedle, bread knedle with parsley and bacon. You can aslo add homemade torn noodles to the perklet and serve it Slavonian-style. Whatever your choice may be, we’re more than sure that traditional game animal specialties will awaken your inner foodie.