“First, Catch Your Hare.” So sayeth Hannah Glasse in her Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy back in 1747. So I did, in Monterey County. On a hillside. With a shotgun.
Once caught, I wanted to do my third-ever wild hare justice. What I came up with was surpassingly good — so good that Holly and I couldn’t do much more than look at each other over the dinner table and make yummy noises. I present to you Barbecued Hare in Mustard Sauce. And it ends once and for all the insane notion that jackrabbits are not fit to eat. Holly noted that there is no closed season on jacks and commented, “We should do this more often.” Yes. Yes, we should.
Start with a hare or domestic rabbit — two different critters, but you can substitute one for the other — and rub it all over with olive oil and salt. Grill until nice and brown.
A cottontail or a domestic rabbit can be grilled, but a wild hare, unless it is very young, cannot. He will be too tough. How do you tell if you have a young one? Check the ears: Can you tear them with your hands? Then it is a young hare. Are they tough? Then so is the jackrabbit. The meat of a jack is darker than a cottontail, too.
So once you have a nice sear on the hare, plunk the pieces into an oven-proof pot with a sliced sweet onion and my recipe for mustard sauce, which I came up with as a cross between a French rabbit with mustard sauce recipe Holly found for me in an old Saveur and the South Carolina barbecue sauce I tend to lean on when I do straight-up BBQ. (South Carolinians prefer their barbecue with a mustard-based sauce.)
As an added touch, I included sprigs of rosemary, sage and rue from my garden. Rue, you say? Rue loves onions, and its beguiling aroma and bitter flavor put some backbone in an otherwise sharply sweet and spicy sauce. Can’t find rue? Leave it out.
Cover the pot and cook over the open flame (I used charcoal and almond wood) over as low a heat as you can muster for at least 90 minutes. The result? Meat that is tender and falling off the bone. It really resembles pulled pork barbecue in color and slightly in flavor — it even has a beautiful red smoke ring from the ‘cue. And the sauce is lip-smackin’ good: Sweet, spicy, savory, yet refined by the presence of white wine, herbs and bay leaves.
BARBECUED HARE with MUSTARD SAUCE
This recipe is intended for hares or jackrabbits, but it can be used with domestic rabbits or cottontails — just be sure to decrease the cooking time by about 30 minutes. Barbecuing is a perfect choice for jacks, which while flavorful can be tough. This recipe turned the hare into a tender, falling-off-the-bone plate of yummy goodness. And the mustard sauce is spicy-sweet-savory all at the same time.
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 2 hours
- 1 hare or domestic rabbit, or 2 cottontails
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- Kosher salt
- 1 large sweet onion, sliced thickly
- 1/2 cup yellow mustard
- 1/2 cup cider vinegar
- 1 cup white wine
- 1 tablespoon dry mustard
- 1/4 cup white sugar
- 1/4 cup honey
- 1 jalapeno chile, minced
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1/2 of a grated onion
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 3 sage leaves, chopped
- 1 sprig of rosemary, about 3 inches long
- 1 sprig of rue, about 2 inches long (optional)
- 2 bay leaves
- Rub the hare with olive oil and salt.
- In a heavy pot, add the 1/4 cup olive oil and saute the onions and chile over medium-high heat until the onion is translucent. Add the yellow mustard, white wine, cider vinegar, honey, sugar, dry mustard and salt. Bring to a boil, then turn down to a simmer. Add the herbs and the bay leaves and simmer slowly.
- Grill or sear the hare pieces until nicely browned.
- Meanwhile, set in a shallow pot (a Spanish cazuela works well) the sliced sweet onion and, as the hare pieces brown up, nestle them into the onion. When the hare is all seared, pour in the mustard sauce and mix well.
- Cover the pot — but leave open a way for steam to escape — and simmer over the grill set on low heat (or close the vents on a charcoal grill) for at least 1 hour, 15 minutes. You want it to simmer strongly, not be at a rolling boil. Slower cooking is better than faster cooking. Cook until the meat begins to fall from the bones. This could take up to 2 hours.
- Set the pot aside to cool for 10 minutes before eating. Eat with a loaf of crusty bread, a simple salad and either a light red wine or a fruity white wine.