This is another recipe I remember from the summers we spent at our grandparents’ house in the south of Slovakia – a warm, sunny region with rich soil and a long history of farming. There was a farmyard in between the house and a large back garden, where we could watch and help care for pigs, chickens, geese, ducks and rabbits.
At feed time, when their hutches were open one by one, we were allowed to stroke the rabbits and cuddle a few that our Grandpa knew were the friendliest. They had names, as you would imagine, usually associated with the colour of their soft, fine hair.
When there was a summer feast in the village, or a family gathering at grape harvest time, one or two of them would mysteriously disappear. For each missing rabbit, a new skin would appear stretched out on a hanger in the dark shed we rarely entered as children. Once in a while a familiar voice from a speaking trumpet announced the arrival of a van that was stopping on the other end of the village. At this point Grandma would grab the dried rabbit skins from the shed, and rushed out to the street to meet the skin buyers.
I loved my Grandma’s cooking, although I’ve never been a big meat-eater. I would try her meat dishes now and then, but generally refused to eat what I’d seen alive and running around just a few hours before. I now understand the animals in my grandparents’ farmyard were well-cared for and well-fed. They yielded meat of excellent quality, which my Grandma brought to culinary heights in the process of cooking. She only used fresh produce from her gardens and home-made ingredients like pork lard or paprika, both of which are typical for southern regions of Slovakia. Living so close to the Hungarian border, and having been brought up in the area that was once part of the Kingdom of Hungary, my Grandma’s recipes bore a strong hallmark of Hungarian cuisine.
Unfortunately, I had to buy all the ingredients for the recipe below in a local supermarket – well, almost all, because at the time of cooking I still had some bear garlic left from my friend’s garden in the mountains. I had experimented with this herb in the Bear Garlic Soup recipe.
Halušky (pronounced as halushki) is a Slovak home-made pasta that also features in our national dish, albeit in a slightly different form.
Braised Rabbit Thighs with Halushki
2 rabbit thighs
1 small onion
oil or pork lard
salt and pepper to taste
water, wine or vegetable stock for braising
bear garlic or other herbs
1 heaped tablespoon paprika
150 ml water & 2 heaped teaspoons fine flour to thicken the gravy
10 tablespoons coarse or pasta flour
60 ml water
bear garlic or other herbs
salt to taste
Wash the rabbit thighs under running water and pat them dry. Transfer on a meat board, season with salt, pepper and ground caraway and leave to rest. Peel and chop the onion. Rinse and chop the bear garlic, or use other fresh herbs of your own choice.
Prepare a large, deep pan with a lid. Heat the oil or pork lard in it and add the chopped onion. Fry over a medium heat until translucent, stirring occasionally. Put in the rabbit thighs, increase the heat to medium-high, and brown the meat from both sides.
Pour in the water, wine or vegetable stock so that the meat is covered half way up. Season with the marjoram, stir well and reduce the heat to medium-low. Cover the pan with a lid and braise until the meat is soft and tender. This can take between 1½ – 2½ hours depending on the toughness of meat. Check the level of the braising liquid from time to time and add more if needed. Halfway through the process, dust with the paprika and turn the meat so that it cooks evenly from both sides.
Meanwhile, let’s make the dough for halushki by beating the egg in a bowl and adding the flour and the water. When all the ingredients are well-combined, throw in the chopped herbs, season with salt and mix well.
To make halushki, you will need a holey tin-plate that can be attached to or hooked over a pot with boiling water. Make sure to reduce the heat before throwing the dough in the water through the plate. Because it is loose enough, the dough will pass through the holes by simply stirring it with a wooden ladle. Small dumplings, which we call halushki, will form in the water. Stir them well and let simmer until they come up to the surface. Be careful to adjust the heat so that halushki don’t overflow.
Take the cooked halushki out with a sieve or a slotted spoon, and put into a bowl. Cover to keep warm.
When the rabbit thighs are done cooking, transfer them onto serving plates and place in the oven at 50ºC to keep warm.
To thicken the gravy, mix the water with the flour in a mug until smooth. Pour into the gravy, bring to the boil and cook for a couple of minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Before taking the thickened gravy away from the heat, throw in the remaining bear garlic or herbs and stir well. Generously spoon over the rabbit thighs, and serve hot with halushki on the side and a garnish of fresh summer vegetables.