“SWAN?” SAID the voice on the phone, “Hare here”. Then after the usual pleasantries, he went on: “Now look here, I need a couple of dozen purple sprouting plants, have you got any spares?”
Well, as it happened I had plenty, which Steve Hare came to collect the next morning. Feeling that a 40-minute drive was a bit much for a few plants, I suggested breakfast. And so began one of several breakfast disasters with my old chum that we still giggle about.
The previous evening I had shot a half-grown bunny with the .22, and this seemed the perfect embellishment to the usual eggs, bacon and sausages. There had been a faint whiff of wild garlic when I gutted it, and I noticed it again when I fetched it out to fry, but it was nothing compared to the taste. The wee critter must have been feasting on decaying ramsons for weeks, and this had clearly permeated deep into the flesh. The taste was unbelievably awful.
But don’t be put off. Now is the season of succulent small rabbits, and they make a wonderful breakfast dish. To get the best from them (and as a matter of good practice) they need to be cleanly killed, so it’s a head shot with an air rifle for the skilled, or one in the shoulder with a .22 rimfire for the rest of us.
After this the rabbit should be cleaned quickly. Leave it to “relax” for a few minutes, then empty the bladder by rubbing your thumb down its groin. As soon as you get it home, hang it up by the feet, and carefully open up the belly with a sharp knife. Pull out the gut by breaking it away at the groin, reaching in between the stomach and the liver with your fingers and lifting out the whole thing.
Do not keep your bunny too long ? it will go yeasty quickly. To use, I suggest a mixed grill of fried liver, kidneys, haunches and saddle, with grilled smoked bacon rashers. Remove the gall bladder from the liver, or you will find it very bitter. This is a small, rather delicate sac on the underside of the biggest lobe, and is removed by pinching the tip very delicately with your index finger and thumb and pulling away (see picture).
When you come to cook the meat, coat the liver and kidneys in seasoned flour but simply wash and dry the main joints before frying in butter seasoned with a little salt and pepper. As the joints take longer to cook just add the offal to the pan when the rest is nearly done and starting to caramelise on the outside. I usually serve with buttered wholemeal toast and a cup of tea.
Mike Swan is head of education at The Game Conservancy Trust.