This recipe is a reminder of 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 our Grandpa opened their hutches one after another, we were allowed to stroke the rabbits and cuddle them. They had names, as you would imagine, usually associated with the colour of their hair.
When there was a summer feast in the village, or a family gathering at the grape harvest, one or two rabbits would mysteriously disappear. Their skins were then stretched out on a hanger in the dark shed that we never entered as children. Once in a while a speaking trumpet would announce the arrival of a black van in the village, at which point our Grandma grabbed the dried skins from the shed and ran down the road to trade them to the ‘skinners’.
I loved my Grandma’s cooking, although I refused to eat animals I’d seen alive and running in her farmyard just a few hours before. I now understand they were well cared for. They yielded meat of excellent quality, which my Grandma always brought to culinary heights. She only used fresh produce from her gardens and home-made ingredients.
I’m still not a big meat eater, but I occasionally cook meat for my family. I had bought the rabbit thighs for the recipe below in a local supermarket, and used freshly picked bear garlic to liven up the halushki. Halushki is a Slovak home-made pasta that also features in our national dish, albeit in a slightly different form.
Braised Rabbit Thighs with Bear Garlic and Halushki
- 2 rabbit thighs
- 1 small onion
- 3 tablespoons oil
- salt and black pepper to taste
- 1 teaspoon ground caraway
- water for braising as needed
- 1 tablespoon paprika
- a handful of bear garlic
For the gravy:
- about ½ cup water
- 2 heaped teaspoons fine flour
For the halushki:
- 1 egg
- 10 tablespoons pasta flour
- 5 – 7 tablespoons water
- salt to taste
- Wash the rabbit thighs under running water and pat them dry. Transfer on a meat board, season with salt, black pepper and ground caraway and leave to rest. Peel and chop the onion. Rinse and chop the bear garlic.
- Heat the oil in a large deep pan and add the chopped onion. Roast over a medium heat until translucent, stirring occasionally. Put in the rabbit thighs, increase the heat to medium high, and quickly brown the meat on both sides.
- Pour in as much water as to cover the rabbit thighs halfway up. Reduce the heat to medium low, cover the pan with a lid and cook until the meat is tender, adding more water if needed. Halfway through the cooking, dust with the paprika and turn the thighs on the other side so that they cook evenly.
- Meanwhile, make the dough for halushki by beating the egg in a bowl and adding the flour and the water. Throw in half of the chopped bear garlic, season with salt and mix well.
- To make halushki, you will need a holey tin plate that can be hooked over a pot with boiling water. Make sure to reduce the heat to medium low before ‘throwing halushki’.
- Transfer the dough to the tin plate and pass it through the holes with a wooden spoon. Small dumplings, which we call halushki, will drop 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 slotted spoon, put them in a clean bowl and cover to keep warm.
- When the rabbit thighs are cooked through, transfer them to serving plates. To thicken the meat juices, mix the water with the flour in a mug until smooth. Return to the pan, bring to the boil and cook for a couple of minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Before taking the gravy away from the heat, throw in the remaining bear garlic and spoon the generous amount of the gravy over the rabbit thighs. Serve hot with halushki on the side and a garnish of seasonal vegetables.