Rabbit or hare stew, kunéli stifátho is one of the most loved winter dishes in Greece. Game is still popular in Greece, hunting however is slowly dying down as a hobby, counting only a few seasonal hobbyists in rural areas. But when you refer to this stew it’s most often a wild rabbit with plenty of shallots and a mouth-watering tomato sauce.
Head straight to the recipe.
Yes, rabbits are cute, so are piglets, calves, lamb and deer. Animals can be adorable, but let’s not forget that most of these animals are bred to be consumed. It doesn’t sound nice, I’m well aware of this but I think it’s always good to have a healthy perspective on where our food is coming from. I certainly do not claim to be a fan of intensive breeding and farming but I’m realistic on how and where my food is sourced. Hunting, when done in season to no endanger the animals might actually be one of the most sustainable forms of getting our protein. Especially, since rabbits are so low maintenance and well, they breed like rabbits.
I recall the first time I tried to get rabbit in central London. Most of my friends were curious on how this meat tasted, it sounded exotic. Although my Italian and Spanish friends had eager childhood memories of a hearty rabbit stews, my British friends were somewhat perplexed. They didn’t really know if and where you could get any rabbit these days. It wasn’t an easy case, as most of the food in London comes in plastic, triple wrapped supermarket packaging and independent butchers are something of a luxury to stumble upon in London. Borough market to the rescue.
Rabbit is a very old-fashioned meat to cook. It fell out of favour in the UK, I believe during the ‘70s; be it a truly peasant food it’s not surprising. Is it difficult to cook? Not at all, you treat it as any other meat in the pot. In Borough market, you can find both wild and farmed rabbit. My last rabbit stew here was a bit of an experiment, a pot of wild, a pot of farmed rabbit just so we could make the comparison and feed a jolly company of 10 people. Well, the farmed tasted just like chicken and this is quite literal, not simply as the saying goes. The wild rabbit however has a deeper, richer, much more gamey flavour that gives depth to the sauce.
So, here are some important notes for making rabbit stew, kunéli stifátho.
- If you have a wild rabbit, make sure it’s free of pellets, some might have stayed on the flesh.
- Clean it and give it a bath in a vinegar/water solution before cooking it, it’s almost like marinating. The analogy is one-part white wine vinegar, two parts water.
- For the traditional Greek kunéli stifátho, the recipe requires half a field of shallots, so make time to prepare them – this is what makes all the difference.
Traditional Greek kuneli stifatho
- 1 wild rabbit, cleaned and cut
- 1 kg of shallots, peeled
- 2-3 medium white onions
- 5 garlic cloves
- 5-6 sprigs of rosemary
- 4 bay leaves
- 6-7 all spice berries
- 500 gr chopped tomatoes
- ½ tsp of sugar
- 2 shots of dry red wine
- 200 ml vinegar
- Olive oil
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Crush 3 garlic cloves, chop 1 onion and grab a couple of bay leaves. Prepare a solution of water and vinegar and place in the pieces of the wild rabbit along with the garlic and onion slices. Cover and keep in the fridge overnight or for at least 4-5 hrs.
- The following day, drain the rabbit and pat it dry with some kitchen towel.
- Heat up some olive oil in a deep, large pot and sauté 1 onion. Add the rabbit pieces to brown for a few minutes. Follow with a glass of water, just enough to cover the rabbit; put the lid on and turn the heat to low for approximately 35-40 minutes.
- Meanwhile, prepare the shallots. You will need to peel them, the quickest way is to blanch them, let drain and once at room temperature peel. The shallots should be kept whole.
- Once the shallots are peeled, use a different pot, add a bit of olive oil, allow to heat up and add 1 crushed garlic clove and then add all the shallots to give them a quick browning. Once well sizzled, transfer the shallots to the big rabbit pot.
- Now it’s time to add all the seasoning, 2 bay leaves, pepper and salt, all the spice berries, the chopped tomatoes with half a teaspoon of salt and of course the wine. Once it comes to a boil, lower to a gentle simmer. Your rabbit stew will be ready once the sauce sets.
As you can probably tell from the images, I accompany my stifatho with freshly fried potatoes. It’s the best way to mop up the sauce. You can certainly have it with a side of rice or slightly healthier baked potatoes perhaps.
If you don’t have access to game, you can try a different meat like veal instead. Nowadays it is equally popular in Greece and there is also a vegan version of stifátho. The vegan recipe keeps the wonderful shallots and replaces the protein with whole chestnuts. It’s equally delicious.
Have you tried kunéli stifátho? Do you have any favourite rabbit recipes? Let me know in the comments below.by