This small, common game animal has been a part of the human diet since early history, and bone remains have been discovered in ancient caves in Greece dating back to 15,000 BC. While rabbit boasts a mild flavor, wild hare appeals mostly to ardent game lovers, as its red meat is distinctly gamey in flavor.
Although both animals are from the same family, they are from different genera: hare is Lepus and rabbit is Oryctolagus. Hares are larger, weighing anywhere from 5 to 8 pounds. They have longer ears, and larger hind legs and feet. In spite of their names, American jackrabbits and snowshoe rabbits are both hares. The cottontail, however, is a rabbit.
The flesh of hare is darker, and the legs always need long, slow braising to become tender and less gamy. The saddles are best served rare. Because of its assertiveness, hare loves aggressive flavors—dried fruits, rich wines, wild mushrooms—as its partners. A slow bath in a hearty red wine and dried cherries, or a full-bodied port wine with fresh thyme does wonders to temper a hare.
Of all the ways to prepare a hare, the most noble is surely Lièvre à la Royale—boned hare stuffed with foie gras and forcemeat. Rolled and braised in wine and stock, the hare is then sliced and presented with quenelles and sauce (often made with egg yolks and foie gras). “Royal hare” is a labor-intensive dish likely developed for French monarchy, and passed down into the annals of culinary history as a legendary dish, on the life list of nearly every gourmand. It is claimed to be one of the most challenging dishes in French cooking, but it rewards with intense, concentrated flavor and richness.
Hare has been a constant from the royal table to the peasant kitchen, as jugged hare will attest. References to this classic recipe appear in England before the Roman invasion, where it was long considered fare for poor country folk. A recipe for jugged hare was recorded in an early 18th century cookbook, and the French make it, too, calling it civet de lièvre. To jug a hare is to cut it into pieces, marinate and cook it in red wine and juniper berries in a tall jug standing inside a pan of water. Traditionally, the hare’s blood is added to the sauce.
Older hare can be tough so many braising and stewing recipes were developed to tenderize the meat. Roasting is only used for young animals, but when hunting animals it’s hard to pick and choose which one you get. Like all game meat, wild hare is lean, so if benefits from moist cooking like braising and stewing.
At D’Artagnan, wild Scottish brown hare (Lepus europaeus) is procured in weekend estate hunts organized from mid-September to February, and is immediately processed in a facility supervised by the European Economic Community Inspectors. Like all our wild, hunted game, hare may contain shot, so chew with care.