Monday, June 22, 2015

A Rare Taste of Rabbit

I ate a rabbit and liked it. Actually, I LOVED it. I think rabbit is my new favorite food, and I can thank Malta for showing that to me. Like most Americans, I had my reservations about trying rabbit. I was a little terrified. (As was my roommate when I had to cut the head off of it.) Most of Western Europe eats rabbit, so it can't be too radical or nasty. At least that was what I tried telling myself. Then I bit into the deliciousness that is Maltese Rabbit Stew. I forever am a convert. I am going to miss having the opportunity to buy rabbit when I go back to the US. I'm glad I got to try it while I'm here in Spain.

Only 50 miles south of Italy, the small island country of Malta is one of the most densely populated. Its 450,000 inhabitants live in 122 square miles. Its capital city, Valletta, is actually the smallest in area out of all the capitals in the European Union. As you can expect from having such a central location to Europe, Asia, and Africa, Malta has been controlled by several other nations during its history. Finally Malta gained its independence from Britain in September of 1964, a little over 50 years ago. Even though Malta might be a young nation, it has a long and rich history beginning in 2400BC. Apparently Malta had some sort of dwarf elephants and hippos that early arrivers from Sicily killed off. The Bible mentions Malta as the place where Paul got shipwrecked. Malta has been in Greek, Phoenician, and Roman hands as well as Moorish, Spanish, and French. You can just imagine how amazing the architecture is as a result of all these distinct influences. The Maltese language is the only Semitic language in the European Union. The Maltese are also the most generous people in the world. Over 83% of them donate to charities.


Maltese cuisine is very Mediterranean. Although they have had influences from so many different cultures, they have continued to maintain their own unique cuisine. Rabbit stew is their national dish, and the Maltese have the highest rabbit consumption rate per person in the world. (Each person eats about 8.89 kilograms of rabbit.) Pasta, bread, and rice are common carbs and accompany practically every meal.


One thing I could not find at any of the five bakeries on my street is sourdough bread. Everyone gave me blank stares when I asked for it. Panicking because I had not thought ahead to make my own bread, I had to randomly choose a loaf that looked similar to the Maltese sourdough bread pictures I googled. Hobz Malti is the name given to the particular bread loaf that is a mandatory ingredient for every meal. It is eaten as a complete meal in itself topped with tomato paste and seafood, olives, and/or cheese called Ħobż biż-żejt. Here in Spain they eat something like this called pa amb tomaquete in Valenciano. I wish I had devoted a little more effort to the meal and made my own Hobz, but the bread from the bakery was also delicious. Too bad we don't have a ton of little bakeries on every corner in the US.

Stuffed artichokes Maltese-style? Yes please! These delicious and tender beauties are super fun to make since you get to smash them against the counter to open up the tops. I advise that you use a small pot that you can cram them into, but I had to use a larger one with a jar wedged in-between the artichokes and it worked fine.


Qaqocc Mimli
2 artichokes
2 black olives, chopped
1 tbsp red wine
1 bunch parsley, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
2 anchovies, chopped
1 large slice of Maltese or sourdough bread, toasted and crumbled
salt and pepper, to taste
olive oil, to drizzle

Wash the artichokes and cut the stems off of them so that they can stand up by themselves. To make the filling, mix the olives, parsley, red wine, garlic, anchovies, bread, and salt and pepper to taste in a bowl. Bang the tops of the artichokes on the counter to open them up. Shove all the stuffing inside. (It all fits. Just keep shoving.) Place the artichokes upright in a pot. I used a jar wedged between them to keep them upright. Pour water into the pot to cover the bottom third of the artichokes. Drizzle liberally with olive oil and bring the water to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for about 40 minutes, or until the artichokes are tender.


 Here's how I cooked the artichokes. I also filled the jar with water to make sure it wouldn't move around.

Malta's national dish of rabbit stew is a must-have. Rabbit hunting was severely restricted when Malta was under the rule of the Knights of Saint John. I see their elevation of rabbit stew during this time as a form of rebellion and cultural pride. I am so glad that this dish was able to withstand the test of time so that I could enjoy it.

Stuffat Tal-Fenek
1 rabbit, skinned, gutted, and decapitated
1 bottle red wine
4 cloves peeled garlic
3 bay leaves
1 clove chopped garlic
2 onions, sliced
1 tbsp tomato paste
2 tbsp olive oil
1 ½ cups diced tomatoes
2 carrots, sliced
4 waxy potatoes, cubed
½ cup green peas
salt and pepper, to taste
pasta, to serve

Cut your rabbit into 10 serving pieces, cutting off the legs and cutting the body into fourths. Put it in a large bowl with the peeled whole garlic and two of the bay leaves and cover it with the red wine. Refrigerate overnight. Pat the rabbit dry and heat one tablespoon of the olive oil over medium heat in a large pan. Add the rabbit and brown on all sides. Heat the remaining oil over medium heat and cook the onions and chopped garlic until tender, about 10 minutes. Add the tomato paste and cook another minute. Add the rabbit to the pot along with 2 cups of the marinating wine, a bay leaf and the diced tomatoes. Bring to a simmer and cook for an hour. Add the potatoes and carrots and cook for another 45 minutes. Finally stir in the peas, cook for 5 minutes, season to taste, and enjoy on top of bed of pasta doused in the sauce from the stew.


Wow. What can I say? I would have never thought that rabbit would taste so good. Why don't we have this in the States??? Why? Slowly simmering the rabbit for almost two hours yielded super tender and juicy meat. The sauce was thankfully not taken over by a wine taste. It was the perfect topping to my pasta. The artichokes were great and didn't taste fishy at all even with the addition of anchovies. I think they served more as a subtle salty addition than anything else. My only disappointment was not being able to make/find an adequate substitute for Maltese sourdough bread. Oh well. The bread I bought from the bakery was probably equally delicious if not completely authentic. Yep, Malta is definitely a place where I would not mind grabbing a bite to eat.

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