Rabbit is the type of dish that you either love or you hate. It has a lot to do with culture. Belgium, like France, Italy and even Malta, the country I come from has a certain affinity to this dish.
It is a lean meat with lots of nutritional benefits though in some places people are starting to lose the tradition of eating rabbit.
Christophe Hardiquest, chef of two Michelin star Brussels restaurant Bon Bon has been on a mission to recreate a traditional rabbit Brussels recipe at his restaurant. Over the past months, he has been working and evolving dishes with rabbit and gueze, a traditional sour Brussels beer that has unique characteristics that are enjoyed by beer lovers from around the world. A gueze beer is a blend of lambics that have been produced during different years which produce a beer that is acidic and fruity with a delicate woody fragrance and a dry finish that lingers on the palate.
The rabbit dish at Bon Bon has been evolving. He has served a rabbit tartare with Gueze beer to the latest creation, rabbit served with gueze and langoustine.
The basis of any culinary creation in a fine dining restaurant comes from tradition. That has led the Belgian chef to Cantillon, a special brewery in Brussels that creates lambic and gueze beer that is sought after worldwide.
Christophe has developed a friendship with Jean Van Roy, the brewer and blender of one of Brussels last breweries. Times were difficult at Cantillon as people lost the appetite for this unique but bitter beer but the brewery is undergoing a revival and can barely cope with the international demand for its beers. The company has been producing bio beers since 1999 in the brewery turned museum in Anderlecht, one of the 19 communes of Brussels.
Their respect for each other is reciprocal. ‘We are lucky to have someone like Jean Van Roy and Cantillon in Brussels,” said Christophe Hardiquest.
The day after the first two Bon Bon origins dinners, Christophe invited visiting journalists as well as chef José Avillez and sous-chef David Jesus to a visit to Cantillon followed by a lunch to savour a traditional rabbit dish using the recipe of Jean’s mother. And it was really special to see Jean Van Roy’s reaction when he was served his mother’s rabbit recipe by Christophe.
Here was one of Belgium’s top chefs creating a recipe that had been cooked repeatedly by Jean’s mother. Christophe also served the dish to his mother who was emotional, Jean told us, when she realised that Christophe had prepared her recipe.
The result is astonishingly good. The recipe is simple. He uses onions and carrots with bacon as the basis together with rabbit fat and adds bay leaf, garlic and flour and cooks the rabbit in beer. At the final stage, after the rabbit has cooked for 45-50 minutes, he adds parsley and then serves it with mashed potatoes. The Gueze works perfectly well with the rabbit. Christophe’s secret? He uses beer, lots of beer.
The second time Christophe cooked rabbit at Cantillon he also prepared rabbit kidneys. These were cooked in in olive oil with shallots, mustard, Gueze and a touch of cream. The end result was delicious. Simplicity at its very best.