As I get more into cookery, I can’t resist a brief note regarding my latest culinary achievement. Of all dishes known to country folk, jugged hare has to be the most vaunted and notorious. Everybody has a take on the old-fashioned recipe, and if you know nothing else about the process involved in “jugging”, you probably know that it involves a great deal of blood. This little detail is enough to either titillate or repulse the huge majority of would-be hare-juggers, but having given it a go last night, I am actually rather impressed with the recipe.
To begin the process, I “caught my hare”. As I walked through a stubble field in Norfolk, the beast rose up like a beige spectre at my feet and coursed off through the dead stalks with a crackle. I wanted a hare specifically to try “jugging”, and his black-tipped ears flicked and turned as he soared over the remains of the crop just thirty yards away. The shot spun him to an abrupt somersault. So far, so good.
The question was then raised as to how I would extract the blood from the hare while it was still warm. I tried to bleed him into a bag offered by my host, but after a dribble of blood had run out, it emerged that the bag was leaking. The bag was transferred to a tub and then the chest cavity drained with an abrupt “gollop” of blood to the tune of about half a cupful. This had been an extremely messy process which only got worse as, having opened the floodgates, the hare then bled all over the back of the pickup, down the back door and all over me.
As soon as I got home, I dug a recipe online from an American website – http://honest-food.net/2008/12/30/classic-civet-of-hare/ This was by no means the most straightforward recipe, but it had a reassuring complexity that I found quite encouraging. As it turned out, this was quite the most challenging piece of cooking I have ever tried. For a start, it took several hours of hands-on labour to get the pieces together in the right order, and like so many older recipes, it called for minute quantities of dozens of very specific ingredients. It was an eye-opening experience to see just how simple and stripped-down modern cookery is by comparison.
With half an hour to go, I poured the blood and the liver into the blender and pushed the button. Rather than descend into a foul festival of gore, the resulting juice was actually quite pleasing. It was slowly stirred into the stew and had the miraculous effect of thickening it into an extremely satisfying consistency – the protein in the blood cooked like the white of an egg, binding the whole thing together and creating a gloopy, appealing casserole which smelt of red wine, dark meat and onions.
Sure enough, it was delicious – perhaps not so much more delicious than a beef casserole that could have been made in one fifth of the time, but certainly a respectable dish. On a slightly personal note, the hare was so rich that it would have been difficult to have eaten more than a modest plateful, and the house rang to the sound of bubbling tums well into the night.
In terms of a piece of sporting, culinary history, it would be hard to beat a jugged hare. A single hare produced enough stew to feed eight people, and the work that went into building this edible monument felt like a fitting tribute to a fine beast. I don’t feel compelled to eat jugged hare every night of my life, but it was certainly a worthwhile experience.