At the turn of the 20th century, there were two conflicting schools of thought on how to prepare the dish. In famous French senator Aristide Couteaux’s version, the key ingredients were a male hare, 30 cloves of garlic, 60 shallots and 2 bottles of Chambertin. His recipe produced a sauce that was almost a black porridge to accompany meat that was eaten with a spoon.
The rival recipe appeared in Ali Bab’s (Henri Babinski’s) Gastronomie Pratique, described by Elizabeth David as: “A remarkable achievement by any standards.” He opposed the heavy use of shallots and garlic and added truffles and foie gras. He converted the stew into a ballotine, garnished with game quenelles and accompanied by a sauce thickened with foie gras and egg yolks.
At the three-Michelin-starred Les Crayères, Thierry Voisin has evolved Ali Bab’s recipe by removing the unnecessary richness from a sauce that is already full-bodied and by cooking the hare so that it remains moist and keeps its form even after 16 hours cooking. The use of an old, expensive Burgundy, he feels, is counterproductive, because the taste imparted by oak barrels doesn’t improve a red wine sauce.
With all his simplifications, it remains a time-consuming dish that requires more than a little dexterity from the larder chef. But it is, nonetheless, practical for a kitchen that is already comfortable with vacuum-packs and that can plan ahead.
Choosing a hare
Thierry Voisin buys hares from the Beauce, Sologne or the Aisne regions of central France, but their size, age and condition is more important than any provenance. They should be young (the ears tear easily), weigh between 2.5kg and 3kg and cleanly shot. Senator Aristide Couteaux’s famous recipe specifies a male, but there’s no advantage in choosing either sex. It’s important, though, not to hang the animal. Ideally, it will be prepared within five days of being killed.
Chop off the ends of the fore and hind legs. Cut through the skin around the waist. Pull off the bottom half of the pelt like a sock (1). Do the same with the top half, pulling it over the head. Chop off the tail.
Slit open the paunch and remove the innards. Keep the liver, heart, kidneys and lungs, but discard the giblets.
Note on “blood”: If the animal has any blood inside the stomach, keep it for binding the sauce. If not, about 50g of liquidised liver can be used instead.
The objective of this highly skilled task is to obtain a completely boned hare that can be formed into a ballotine shape. It may take 30 minutes or so at first, but with practice the time will be halved.
At this stage you will have a half-boned hare. Turn it on to its second side and repeat the process. You should then be able to lift out the complete hare’s skeleton in a single piece (2).
Optional: split the skull and use the brain in the farce.
Yield (after skinning)
This will vary from animal to animal, but here is a good pointer to the ratios of meat to bone:
Liver, heart, lungs and kidneys: 180g
Skeleton and head: 600g
This will ultimately produce 10 main-course or 20 intermediate-course portions.
Thierry Voisin prepares two hares at a time and the marinade quantities reflect this.
300g chopped carrots
200g chopped onion
1 head of garlic, lightly crushed
3 chopped tomatoes
1 large bouquet garni
Juniper berries to taste (about 12)
6 litres Côtes du Rhône or similar wine
Put the skeleton and the boned meat in a container (but not the liver, etc). Pour over the marinade ingredients and leave for 24 hours (3).
Quantities here are for two hares.
400g chopped fatty, pork belly or neck
300g streaky bacon
150g veal trimmings
100g hare trimmings (scraped off the bones, ends of legs)
30g bread, soaked in milk and squeezed
140ml flamed Cognac
100g rendered foie gras fat
65ml truffle oil
200g chopped truffles
Liver, heart, kidneys and lungs
2tbs chopped parsley
2tbs chopped thyme
Mix all the ingredients together. Put them through the mincer (coarse blade) and reserve for 24 hours.
Foie gras boudin
400g foie gras
Salt and pepper
Knead foie gras into a single piece, lay on a sheet of baking parchment and roll out like a long sausage, about 30cm. Sprinkle generously with seasoning (4 and 5).
Three sheets of barding fat and muslin large enough to wrap the ballotine, are essential for the next step – forming and trussing.
Forming and trussing
Take the hare out of the marinade and dry it carefully.
Lay three overlapping strips of bard on the work surface and put the hare on top.
Remove one loin. Split it open and insert a strip of bard as a basting. Split the second loin (that has been left in place).
Cut partly into the leg meat and spread it so the ballotine will be of an even thickness. Season them lightly.
Lay the fillets end to end so they form a channel of prime meat through the middle of the hare.
Spread stuffing over the whole surface (about half the total amount given above) (6). Put the foie gras boudin on top and press down (7). Lift the sides of the hare and envelope the foie gras (8). Envelope the hare in the bard and tie neatly (9).
Wrap the large trussed hare sausage tightly in muslin and knot or tie the ends (10).
Bard is the hard back-fat, sliced very finely, from large (usually bacon) pigs. For this recipe, you’ll need three strips at least 50cm x 15cm for wrapping the hare and two thin strips 20cm long for putting inside the loins.
Brown the chopped hare bones in a hot oven. Put them in a braising pan large enough to contain the hare ballotine. Pour over the marinade and one litre of veal stock. Boil, skim thoroughly and lower the hare into the liquid to cover it completely. Reduce the heat to 70°C and leave it to cook for 12 hours. Chill overnight.
Remove the crust of fat on top of the cooking liquid.
Take the hare out of the jellied liquid. Remove the muslin. Scrape off all traces of bard (most will have melted). Cut the strings. Slice the meat into 80g (approx) slices (11).
Put two slices into a sous-vide (vacpack) container with one tablespoon of braising liquid (12). Optionally add one teaspoon of foie gras butter.
Seal the packs and low-temperature cook them (steam or water bath) for four hours at 65°C.
Ensure that the braising liquid is fat-free. Boil and reduce by about two-thirds. Strain into a fresh pan and check seasoning.
(To finish 500ml sauce – about enough for 10 portions)
500ml reduced braising liquid
50ml liquidised hare blood or about 50g liquidised hare liver.
Heat the sauce to 65°C maximum – if it’s hotter, the blood will curdle. Montez with the butter and then whisk in the blood a little at a time to achieve a full-bodied coating texture. Add salt or pepper if necessary.
Tip: A small square of bitter chocolate will give additional smoothness and shine to the sauce.
Assembly and service
For each serving, remove the two slices of hare from the packs, pour a cordon of hot sauce around them. Accompany with two quenelles of celeriac purée, three chestnuts cooked in a light stock and fresh cèpes sautéd in butter.
Recommended by the sommelier
Photographs by Adrian Franklin ©