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Dorothy Ballam’s Poacher’s Pie

This is not really a pie at all but rather a stew of concentrated flavor baked in a fairly slow oven under a lid of sliced bacon and potatoes.

Hiding Rabbit -2 bay leaves
-8 slices of bacon
-3-4 leeks cut into ½ inch discs
-1 lb sliced mushrooms
-a rabbit cut into 8 pieces (split each saddle crosswise)
-salt and pepper
-3 Tablespoons minced parsley
-2-3 baking potatoes (like Idahoes), or enough to cover your casserole, cut into thin discs of about ¼ inch
-mushroom ketchup
-a generous Tablespoon of malt vinegar

Preheat the oven to 325°

  1. Put the bay leaves in a heavy casserole and lay 4 of the bacon slices over them, then half of the leeks and half of the mushrooms.
  2. Put the rabbit on the vegetables in a single layer and top it with layers of the remaining leeks and mushrooms. Season this level generously with salt and pepper, add a splash of mushroom ketchup and strew the whole with 2 Tablespoons of the parsley.
  3. Arrange the potatoes in a slightly overlapping layer to cover the filling without gaps; sprinkle the remaining parsley over the potatoes, top them with the other 4 slices of bacon and sprinkle the vinegar over the top.
  4. Tightly cover the casserole and bake it for 2 hours.
  5. Serve with a lightly dressed salad of... lettuce.

Further notes:

- The absence of stock or other liquid from the recipe is deliberate: The juices from the vegetables moisten the rabbit with their wonderfully concentrated flavor. As a result, however, you must heed Ms. Garmey’s warning: “Resist the urge to look at the pie while it is cooking as uncovering it will result in a loss of the natural juices.” (Great British Cooking 105)

- Once, long ago and before she knew better, the Editor destroyed this dish by baking it in a reactive pot that resulted in the dreaded Pizza Delivery. Nothing jolts the palate like a dose of aluminum. Barring such a gaffe, however, this is a good company dish: Foolproof. It is even simpler to make than its description would appear. Besides, you can substitute chicken here too for the squeamish.

- The mushroom ketchup is our addition, made in the spirit of David Everitt-Matthias’ passion for the essence of flavor.

- A number of traditional British recipes cook lettuce, including some soups, China Chilo and a delicious shrimp dish recorded by Philippa Davenport, while lettuce and peas reappear together in a superb Jane Grigson recipe for boiled duck. We will cover them in a future number of britishfoodinamerica.

- Meanwhile, another recipe for rabbit appears elsewhere in the practical, in a Note From the Edge (of the Forest of Dean).

- In the lyrical, our Guest Historian refers to a number of recipes for rabbit, including a fifteenth century one for spiced rabbit from Seven Centuries of English Cooking by Maxime de la Falaise (aka the more prosaic ‘McKendry;’ London 1973). It is suitable if you have leftovers, and not just of rabbit; turkey or chicken work too. The dish has a curious but not unappealing palette, not unlike a weird curry. It is easy to make this Spiced Rabbit from the Age of Exploration. Melt 2 Tablespoons of butter on medium heat and make a white roux by stirring 2 Tablespoons of flour into the butter until the flour no longer looks raw. Stir a cup of chicken or rabbit stock into the roux along with ¼ cup ground blanched almonds, ¼ teaspoon each of ground clove and saffron (or the much cheaper and less assertive ‘Bijol’ powdered condiment), ½ teaspoon each of cinnamon and galangal and a full teaspoon of ground ginger. Cook this sauce until it thickens, then add 2 cups of chopped or shredded boneless cooked rabbit, chicken or turkey. Heat it through. Serve on toast.

- The original recipe is typically Medieval in its incorporation of sugar. We have omitted it because we do not share the premodern enthusiasm for sweetening main course dishes. Incidentally, the original name of the recipe is the rather charming if somewhat hallucinatory ‘Conyngys in Graveye.’

- Galangal, spelled variously ‘Galingale,’ ‘galanggal’ and ‘Galyngale,’ is a root spice that tastes something like a cross between ginger, horseradish and white pepper. It is a staple of southeast Asian cuisines and was prevalent in Medieval English kitchen manuscripts but has fallen from use in Western cooking, proof that notwithstanding our globalizing cultural climate and easy access to exotica, we still may take lessons from the past; the Shakespeare factor. ‘Conimex’ is one brand of dried ground Galangal. It used to be available in the UK from the sadly diminished Culpeper, now redirected in marketing terms from the kitchen to the makeup stand.

- ‘Bijol’ is a mixture of Annatto, cornflour and cumin that is widely available in Latin shops and markets, and in bigger supermarkets in bigger cities in the United States. Substitute turmeric if you live in the UK and refuse to pay the extortionate price of saffron.