Sardinian Hare Stew

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Sardinian hare stew in a bowl
Photo by Holly A. Heyser

There’s a reason few people eat jackrabbits in this country: For many, they are indelibly stained as poverty food, a meat of the Depression or the even harsher privations of the pioneer farmers who eked out a living on the sod of the Great Plains.

What’s more, non-hunters cannot buy jackrabbits, which unlike their cousins the true rabbits, will not cotton to domestication. And most hunters, who see these giant rabbits everywhere, rarely shoot them: Their minds are filled with cloudy notions about parasites, diseases and foul-tasting meat.

This is a pity, because jackrabbits are nothing more than American hares. Not a true rabbit, most hares have dark meat whose color falls somewhere between duck and beef. Hares live longer and are smarter than rabbits, and give birth to young that can hop away at a moment’s notice; rabbit younglings are pink and helpless.

Holly and I shoot hares, mostly black-tailed jackrabbits, whenever we get the chance. We do this for several reasons, mostly because they are gamey and delicious. Hares are more highly regarded in Europe, and I have many recipes for them from countries as disparate as Sweden and Sardinia.

That’s where my most recent hare stew came from.

An antelope jackrabbit
Photo by Johnathan O’Dell, AZ Game and Fish Dept.

I developed my recipe for a Sardinian hare stew from a rabbit dish called coniglio al guazzetto that I found in Giuliano Bugialli’s book Foods of Sicily & Sardinia and the Smaller Islands. It is unusual in that it uses capers as a major flavoring component. The other dominant flavors are saffron, which grows on the island, and red wine vinegar. It is a heady dish, great for cold weather. 

If you cannot get hare, which is likely I am sorry to say (although you can buy real Scottish hare from D’Artagnan), I would substitute lamb first; that just seems more Sardinian to me. You could also go with rabbit or chicken, but make sure the chicken is as old as you can find — look for a stewing hen in Asian or Mexican markets.

How did jackrabbits and hares get to be so stigmatized? Part of the reason is because those cloudy notions wafting through hunters’ heads have an element of truth to them.

Jackrabbits, like all rabbits in this part of the world, can carry a disease call tularemia, which is no fun. You can tell by looking at the liver: If it is streaky with white marks, it may be infected. The meat will be fine, however, so long as you braise it well. Always wear gloves when butchering wild rabbits and hares in the West and you will be fine.

There is another unusual thing about the meat of jackrabbits — it lacks a certain protein (or amino acid, I can’t remember) that most other meats do, so if you eat nothing but jackrabbits, as many Great Plains pioneers did, you will actually develop malnutrition; it’s a little like contracting pellagra from eating too much corn. Once our ancestors realized this fact, they banished jackrabbits from their diet. Tossing the bunny out with the bath water, I’d say.

I would like to make the case for reintroducing hares to the American diet.

For starters, jacks are abundant — and there is no closed season on them in many states. That means you can shoot as many as you will eat, whenever you feel like it. And they freeze well. You should know that jackrabbits in hot weather are not nearly so tasty as those in the fall (the ones I used for the hare stew were shot in a pear orchard in September), and summer jacks can sometimes be attacked by botfly, which leaves icky sores on the hare’s back but does not normally affect the meat; botflies also affect other game animals, but the flies are usually gone by the time hunting season rolls around.

Another reason to eat more jackrabbits and hares is because they are big. Really big. One black-tailed jackrabbit can feed four easily, and Holly and I got four meals out of two jackrabbit forelegs plus four hind legs.

Still another pleasure of eating hares is their flavor. The dark meat is undeniably gamey, with an indescribable aroma and flavor that screams “wild.” It is not for everyone: One allegedly epicurean judge on Iron Chef turned her nose up at the wild hare she was served in “Battle Rabbit.” Keep in mind that snowshoe hares are very different — they are lighter in color and far milder, more like rabbit, actually. I like the lustiness of jackrabbit, however, especially with other strong flavors like the capers and saffron in the hare stew. A little goes a long way.

Which is probably the best reason why eating more jackrabbits and hares is a good idea in these tough economic times. Like I said, we got many meals out of a little more than one hare. The reason is because the meat is so flavorful you can plunk a dollop of stew on a bowl of polenta, or couscous, or rice, and be perfectly happy. We ate most of a loaf of bread when we first sat down to eat this stew. The only domestic animal I can think of that even comes close to the depth of flavor of a wild hare is an old chicken.

Eating this way brought me back to my old days as a graduate student and cub reporter. I was poor, and needed to make meat stretch. I developed an eating technique that made sure I got some sauce and a little bit of meat with every large spoonful of grain. I always left the choicest piece of meat for the last bite. It was — and is — a gratifying way to eat. It felt like I was satisfying my Champagne tastes on a Budweiser budget.

And that’s a good thing these days.

Sardinian hare stew recipe
4.83 from 45 votes

Sardinian Hare Stew

I love the flavors of Sardinia: saffron, capers, lusty sauces, stews and game meats. This stew has it all. The recipe has its origins with a rabbit recipe I found in Giuliano Bugialli’s Foods of Sicily and Sardinia. It is traditionally done with rabbit or chicken, but I had some jackrabbits — really hares – I wanted to cook, so here it is. The dominant flavors here are the gamey hare, vinegar, saffron and capers. Use the best saffron you can afford here; it matters. It is a heady mix that needs a strong red wine, crusty bread, couscous or our favorite, a soft polenta with butter and cheese.
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Italian
Servings: 6 people
Author: Hank Shaw
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 2 hours
Total Time: 2 hours 20 minutes

Ingredients 

  • 1-2 hares or rabbits
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 cup chopped parsley, plus another 1/4 cup for garnish
  • 5 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1/4 cup capers
  • Large pinch saffron
  • 1 cup warm water, to bloom saffron
  • 1/4 cup high-quality red wine vinegar
  • Salt

Instructions 

  • Salt the hare or rabbit pieces well and set aside at room temperature for 30 minutes.
  • Get the olive oil hot over medium-high heat in a large pot or Dutch oven. Pat the hare pieces dry and brown well in the pot. You might need to turn the heat down to medium. Do it in batches and take your time. Place the browned pieces in a bowl while you do the others. This could take 30 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, chop half the capers. Get your tap water running as hot as it will go and fill a cup measure. Crush the saffron in your palm and sprinkle it into the hot water. Get every bit, and let this soak as the hare is browning.
  • Once the meat is all browned, remove it to a bowl. Add the onion and saute until browned. Add the garlic and cook for 1-2 minutes.
  • Add everything into the pot except the extra 1/4 cup parsley, nestling the hare pieces in tight. If the liquid does not come at least halfway up the sides of the hare pieces, add some more water. Do not add wine or stock — the point is to have pure flavors here. Cover tightly and simmer gently over low heat for at least 90 minutes. Hare needs longer, but chicken and domestic rabbit should be done by then. Check the hare after 2 1/2 hours; it should be close to falling off the bone. When it is, pull the meat out and strip it from the bone.
  • Return it to the pot with the extra parsley and mix well. Turn off the heat and cover for five minutes. Serve over polenta, couscous, Sardinian fregula pasta or with crusty bread. Don’t forget the wine: You will want a big, heavy red here.

Nutrition

Calories: 289kcal | Carbohydrates: 3g | Protein: 37g | Fat: 13g | Saturated Fat: 2g | Cholesterol: 135mg | Sodium: 290mg | Potassium: 694mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 1g | Vitamin A: 431IU | Vitamin C: 9mg | Calcium: 39mg | Iron: 6mg

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Tried this recipe? Tag me today!Mention @huntgathercook or tag #hankshaw!

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About Hank Shaw

Hey there. Welcome to Hunter Angler Gardener Cook, the internet’s largest source of recipes and know-how for wild foods. I am a chef, author, and yes, hunter, angler, gardener, forager and cook. Follow me on Instagram and on Facebook.

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128 Comments

  1. Hi, I am about to make this for the second time for one of our family get-togethers this Easter. I made it last Easter and it was a massive hit. A few people rated it up with the best wild game they have ever had. I followed the recipe exactly, (I always do that the first time as I believe it is the only way to give it a fair shake). I have purchased a couple of Hanks books for myself and my family and so far all the recipes have been great. So thanks, and to anyone wondering about giving this one a try do it, you will not be disappointed.

  2. I tried a variation of this recipe due to the fact that saffron is simply not available in my neck of the woods. I substituted turmeric instead which might make you cringe but it still worked out and turned out fairly well. I used two snowshoe hares and it was nice to get some different flavor than I’m used to. I’ll be looking for more recipes as I have three more hares to cook!

  3. Hank, I grew up on the Great Plains eating Jacks, Cottontails, pheasant, and surprisingly pigeon(we would shoot them off the grain bins). My grandmother cooked wild game her entire life and knew how to do it for her grandson as well. We recently tried your Venison Diane recipe on a deer I killed, my wife loved it, and that is my first step in getting back to the days of eating nothing but wild meat. This hare stew is next! Thanks so much for your recipes.

  4. Hi Hank! I am going to try this recipe with squirrel soon hopefully. Currently having some lunch at work and day-dreaming about this weekends hunt/cooking. Do you think this could work with squirrel? I suppose I am going to try it either way but I thought I’d ask your expert opinion in case there are any modifications you’d recommend! The biggest thing would be how many South-Eastern size grey squirrels would you recommend to work with the measurements given in the recipe?

  5. Hello! Last year I made this recipe with cottontail and we were blown away by how good it was (it was my first time eating/cooking rabbit)! Only problem was that I had really over salted it, but it was still delicious. I figured the next time I make the dish I’ll just back off the salt some at the first step. My husband is currently out hunting in Kansas and he told me he got a jackrabbit for me, so I’m looking forward to doing this dish again soon. My question is since he got a jackrabbit this time, does the jackrabbit need a heavy hand of salt more than a cottontail? Or can I use the cottontail experience as a baseline for the jackrabbit?

    1. Kate: Nope, just salt to your taste. You can always add, hard to subtract. BUT… if you do accidentally get it too salty, add potatoes to the stew. Cook’s trick.

  6. This recipe is awesome! My girlfriend Holly, her mother, and myself all are loving this! I recently took two nice jackrabbits out of a ravine near my home in Calgary and needed a great way to cook my first ever harvested game animal. What a dandy I stumbled upon! Love your work Hank, thanks eh!

  7. Served this over polenta. Um… damn! That was good! I see jackrabbits all the time when I’m pheasant hunting. Last time out I thought I would shoot one and put it in the pot to see how it tasted. Ya, I’ll definitely be doing that more frequently in the future.

    My wife isn’t squeamish about wild game, but she doesn’t eat it with as much enjoyment as I do. She loved this dish better than any other wild game dish I’ve ever served up. My kids ate it up as well, with my 10-yr old going back for seconds as we looked on in amazement (he doesn’t usually eat much of anything).

    Thanks for the great recipe! This is one I’ll be saving for sure.

  8. Struck out on deer but luckily came across the hare with my bow in hand. This recipe passed the picky kid test! I could sip on this broth all day.

  9. This is great!! One question about the capers- it says to chop half-are the rest just added whole?
    It turned out delicious! Made with a snowshoe hare it was dinner for two nights!

    1. Valerie: Yes, the chopped ones kind of disintegrate and flavor the stew, the whole ones remain and are little flavor bombs as you eat.

  10. Can you describe the amount (weight) and type (cuts) of lamb that you would substitute in this dish? I am very interested in trying the flavors but know that rabbit/hare will be very difficult /expensive to obtain. Thanks so much!

  11. This stew is one of the best things I’ve ever eaten. We also made bone broth from the carcass so that we could use every part of the jackrabbit, and I used the bone broth in HAGC’s German Rabbit Stew recipe (which we made with a cottontail). Both were delicious, but seriously…my first taste of this Sardinian stew is something I’ll never forget!

  12. Delicious and really quick to prepare. I served it with celeriac mash which complimented the saffron flavours well.

  13. Hank, this was amazing! My husband and I took my brother on his first hunt yesterday, and it was our first time cooking any rabbit recipe. We had heard the warnings against jackrabbit, so we were extra careful to remove all hair while cleaning. This was so delicious and we’re all ready to keep hunting jackrabbits! Thanks to Steve Rinella for letting us know THIS is the way to cook jack rabbit! Thank you for sharing!

    1. We also got the recipe from Steve Rinella and so glad we did, we are in the UK and dont really get many recipes like this around but we hunt and so glad we have!

      1. Hey there, just so you know, this is my recipe. I made it for Steve. Very glad you liked it.

      2. Loved Steve Rinella’s enthusiastic mention of your name re: this recipe in Season 7, Episode 5 of Meat Eater. I love this one.

  14. Sorry Hank, my computer really didn’t like your site. Seems to be working better now. What I was trying to say is that I have already de-boned our jack rabbit. I have the four quarters and the back straps to use. Any adjustments I should make with this recipe?

    Thanks, Rich

  15. I live in the south west of England and we have a lot of hares, I read the post in 2012 about us having no hares, not sure where that comes from here they are a pest to farmers, I am trying your recipie its on the stove now, I am really looking forward to eating it. But was looking to see if anyone had eaten it with new potatoes, instead of pasta or polenta

  16. Hi Hank,
    I am in Tasmania, Australia. A friend gave us two freshly caught hares. I made your recipe ladt night and we have just eaten it with soft polenta. I can attest that the dish was fantastic. So much flavour. I will be making this again. Rosie