April 23, 2016

Duck and Rabbit Pie

Pie is not very common in Germany, and savoury pie seems almost completely unknown, at least not this part of the country. I've had to explain it to a number of people, who seem, frankly baffled by the whole thing. We like savoury pies rather a lot, though, so I'm forced to make my own. To be fair, I tended to make my own even in Canada, where I could pick up a frozen pie in almost any supermarket, so this is no hardship.

This pie, though, is a little different. I should start by saying that yes, this was our Easter dinner. Rabbit is shockingly popular for Easter in Germany, even if pies aren't, and the markets are full of fresh and frozen rabbit. Not just the usual whole-or-parts options (rabbit liver is a special treat), you can also get fresh, boneless, fillet of rabbit at this time of year. It is a bit more expensive, just like boneless fillet of anything else, but for this kind of dish it seemed worth it not to fuss with the myriad tiny bones.

I was originally going to make the pie with just rabbit, but when my eye fell on the smoked duck breast, I couldn't help but think of that Bugs Bunny cartoon "Rabbit Fire" (is it rabbit season or duck season?), and decided to make it with both. The flavour of commercial rabbit is very mild and the texture much like chicken breast, so the smoky notes of the duck, along with its firm texture, created a nice balance in the finished pie filling.

Duck and Rabbit Pie

Serves 6 - 8

Pastry for a double crust pie (such as this recipe)

600 grams rabbit fillet, fresh or thawed
600 grams smoked duck breast, skin removed
500 mL duck broth (or chicken)
2 tablespoons butter
1 small onion, finely diced
2-3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 sprigs fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
Salt to taste
one egg, beaten

In a shallow pan such as a small skillet, heat the broth until just bubbling. Place the bay leaves and the rabbit fillets in the liquid, cover tightly, and turn off the heat. Let stand for 20 minutes, after which the rabbit will be perfectly cooked, and very tender.

While the rabbit cooks, dice the smoked duck breast into smallish bite-sized pieces (reserve the skin for another purpose, such as duck skin tacos, or an omelette) and set aside. Peel and finely dice the onion. Strip the leaves from the thyme.

In a different shallow pan/medium skillet, melt the butter over medium heat, add the onions, the white pepper, and the thyme, and sauté until golden. Add 2 tablespoons of the flour, and stir to make a thick roux. Cook and stir the roux, lowering the temperature if necessary, until the rabbit is cooked. Remove the rabbit to a plate to cool enough to dice. Add the broth from cooking the rabbit to the onion-y roux, and stir or whisk until smooth. Continue to cook the gravy until it is very thick. Increase the temperature if you need to, stirring constantly, and let it reduce if it isn't looking very thick. You can also let it simmer, uncovered, on low heat, while you do the rest.

Dice the cooled rabbit to similarly sized pieces as the duck. When the gravy is satisfactorily thick, ie thick enough to coat the pieces of duck and rabbit and not just create a flood of liquid when you cut the finished pie, add the chopped meat to the gravy and stir about. Let stand while you roll out the pie crust.

Preheat your oven to 425 F/ 225 C. Beat the egg very thoroughly in a small bowl and have standing by.

Roll the lower pie crust out and line the pie plate. Before filling the crust, roll out the top crust and have it ready.

Once the oven is preheated, the pie plate is lined with the bottom crust and the top crust is rolled out and standing by, Use a slotted spoon to scoop the meat up out of the gravy and into the pie plate. Fill the pie plate evenly, and if there is leftover gravy add a tablespoon or two (no more) on top. Add the top crust, and finish however you like. I use classic crimped edges, because my mother always did.

Use a pastry brush to gently paint the top of the pie crust with egg wash (there will be a lot of egg wash left over. Use it for scrambled eggs in the morning). Cut a couple of vents for steam in the top of the crust, and then place it in the oven.

Bake for 15 minutes at the high heat, and then lower the heat to 375 F / 190 C for another 25 minutes. Keep an eye on it, and if the top and bottom crust (if you have a glass pie plate) are both golden brown, remove the pie to stand for ten minutes before slicing into six (or eight) pieces.

Serve with a big green salad, ideally one packed with vegetables and with a lemony dressing.