Paddock to Plate

Homemade puff pastry, time consuming but it transforms a rabbit pie into a dish the Brits would envy.
Homemade puff pastry, time consuming but it transforms a rabbit pie into a dish the Brits would envy. Photo: David Reist

Bryan Martin

I couldn't think of many reasons to get up last week after I hit the sack in a state of total frustration. Australia was nine out for something like 130 runs in the first game of the Ashes series.

I'm not even much of a cricket fan, thinking there are so many better ways of spending five days than this, but there is something about the Ashes that makes me an expert, and a very vocal expert at that. I wake the house as I yell at the flatscreen, ''Really, Clarke, that was the best you could do?''

Which gave me a restless night going over and over in my head the frustration of another national sporting team failing to beat the Poms. Why did Kurtley Beale fall over? In the first Test against the Lions, all you had to do was pop the ball over the crossbar, what 10 metres away (OK, it was more like 40), and we'd have essentially won the series.

So you can imagine my mood change when I woke to hear the joyous and surprising news that a young guy no one has ever heard of had, on debut, had saved the innings.

Like every parent that morning, I look to my kids with no small amount of disappointment. When have you lot done anything remotely as sensational as this 19-year-old?

So the mood is all up this fine winter's day, and I finally have a plan for the brace of wild rabbits that Jeff shot near Crookwell a few days ago.

Wild rabbits always speak to me of the rolling green hills of England, of thatched-roof cottages, freshly baked pies cooling on the window sill, gardens of turnips and leeks, towns referred to as a villages or hamlets, pints of scrumpy, and nursery rhymes featuring talking food. Yes, with the English on the backfoot and my trio of gutted bunnies everything is pointing towards rabbit pie. I've painted you a picture, now let's see if I can sell it to you.

This type of pie is basically a rich, starch-thickened stew topped with crispy, golden puff pastry. The technique can be used for just about any quarry. You make a stock from sundry bones and organs and reduce it until flavour overcomes volume. Then the meat and vegetables are cooked in the stock, which is thickened using starch, then baked under its golden hat of pastry.

You can substitute farmed rabbits, chicken, quail, game and even fish and eels. Anything, really - your pie, your choice.

You can, of course, buy frozen puff pastry. Careme is very good, but stay away from the big commercial brands. And there is nothing better than making your own.

A rough puff is fine, but today I'm going the whole nine yards and making it from scratch. You need at least 24 hours.

So here's a tribute to young Ashton Agar, let's hope he continues how he started.

>> Bryan Martin is winemaker at Ravensworth and Clonakilla, bryanmartin.com.au

Rabbit, leek and prune pie

3 wild rabbits

80g salt

about 1 litre cooking liquor (see recipe below)

100ml cream

50g butter plus 20-30g extra

50g flour

2 leeks, white part only, sliced

a handful parsley

200g smoked bacon (speck), diced

salt and pepper

5 prunes, marinated in hot tea, stones removed, flesh broken apart

puff pastry (see recipe below)

1 egg, to brush pastry

Cut the hind legs off the rabbits and set aside. Chop up the rest of the rabbit for the stock. Dissolve the salt in a litre of water and brine the legs overnight. Drain and soak in a few changes of water. Bring the cooking liquor to a simmer, add the cream, then the rabbit legs. Cook at a very low simmer until tender, about an hour. Cool a little, then pull the flesh off the bones. Break into bite-size pieces and reserve the flesh. Put bones back in the stockpot and cook the stock down by half - you will need about 500 millilitres.

Melt the 50 grams of butter and cook until it stops sizzling, then add the flour in one dose, stir and cook until it looks the colour of sand. Add the reduced stock and cook over a very low heat, stirring, until smooth.

In a frypan, saute the bacon briefly till it releases some fat, then set aside. In the same pan, melt the extra 20 to 30 grams of butter and saute the leeks for just a few minutes so they collapse but not so they break up; leeks cook out their flavour quite quickly. Mix together the leeks, rabbit meat, parsley and bacon. Season with pepper and (if necessary) salt.

Put into a pie dish and insert the pieces of prune, then pour over the veloute (that's that velvety sauce we made, hence the name), making sure it fills all the nooks and crannies. Allow to cool completely and chill.

Top with puff pastry, make vent holes as you see fit and brush with the beaten egg. Bake in a pre-heated oven for 45-60 minutes, until golden.

Cooking liquor

chopped bones from the rabbits

butter

1 cup dry cider

1 leek, chopped

1 stalk celery, chopped

2 carrots, chopped

4 sprigs of thyme

Roast the rabbit bones in butter until caramelised. Deglaze the pan with the cider, reduce a little, then pour into a stockpot. Add the vegetables and thyme and about a litre of water. Cook at a simmer, lid on, for two hours, skimming. Strain.

Puff pastry

500g butter, unsalted

500g plain flour

2 tsp salt

220ml cold water

2 tbsp vinegar

Cut off about a quarter of the butter and dice. Form the rest into a square and chill until needed.

In a food processor, add the flour, salt and butter. Pulse a few times to form a breadcrumb-like mixture. Add the cold water and the vinegar and pulse again until a loose crumbly dough forms.

Turn out on to a pastry mat and quickly gather and knead into a ball. Flatten slightly, wrap and chill overnight. The next day, place the butter between two sheets of baking paper and bash out to a thickness of five millimetres with a rolling pin, keeping it as square as possible.

Dust the pastry mat with a little flour, roll out the pastry into a cross shape so the middle part is about the same size as the butter, then fold the four edges into the middle so you have a neat, squarish bundle of butter wrapped in pastry. Roll out to about 20 centimetres wide and 60 centimetres long. Fold into thirds (longways). Roll again to 20 x 60 centimetres, and fold again into thirds. Chill for at least three hours, then roll and fold twice more. Chill again, then roll and fold again. Now cut into thirds and chill or freeze until needed. You'll need just one of these for a hearty family pie.