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The story of Easter

It’s always on Easter weekend I’m reminded that my friend Ty Fain used to love to ironically cook rabbit stew every Easter.

One year, knowing I was in Austin heading toward Big Bend where he and his wife Kate lived, he asked me if I could go to Central Market and pick up a couple of rabbits for his annual meal. I told him I’d be happy to, and he warned me that I should call ahead, as the store didn’t always stock them. So I called Central Market, and the butcher said he had 2 left and would hold them under my name.

When I got to the butcher counter the day before Easter, I took a number and waited my turn. Standing next to me waiting her turn was a mother with her two children. Soon my number was called, and I told the butcher “I’m Harold, I called about the rabbits.” The heads of her children whipped around with a horrified speechless expression, and the young mother said, “oh you sick bastard.”

The things I’d do for Ty Fain. I miss him, and I miss his rabbit stew.

When Kate Fain passed away, a friend gathered up all the recipes Kate and Ty had, and put it into a book which went to friends. I looked through the book, and sure enough, found Ty’s recipe for the rabbit stew. It’s a zerox copy of a newspaper clipping, but sadly, since the newspaper isn’t identified, I can’t give credit here to the publication, but there is indication that the recipe is contributed by chef Marco Canora. But for those wanting to make rabbit stew, I reprint it here. Just be sure that when you go to the butcher to pick up the rabbits, you do so more discretely than I did, especially around Easter.

Rabbit Stew with Olives and Rosemary (6 servings)

1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Two 3-pound rabbits, each cut into 10 pieces

Salt and freshly ground pepper

1 cup dry red wine

1 onion, finely chopped

1 carrot, finely chopped

2 celery ribs, finely chopped

2 tablespoons tomato paste

4 rosemary sprigs, tied into 2 bundles with kitchen string

4 cups chicken stock or low-sodium broth

1/2 pound Nicoise olives (1 1/2 cups)

1. in a large, deep skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Season the rabbit with salt and pepper. Working in 2 batches, brown the rabbit over moderately high heat, turning occasionally, until crusty all over, about 10 minutes. Lower the heat to moderate for the second batch. Transfer the rabbit to a large plate.

2. Add the wine to the skillet and cook over moderately high heat, scraping up any browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Pour the wine into a cup, wipe out the skillet.

3. Add the remaining 1/4 cup of olive oil to the skillet. Add the onion, carrot, and celery and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 8 minutes. Add the tomato paste and rosemary bundles and cook, stirring, until the tomato paste begins to brown, about 5 minutes. Add the rabbit and any accumulated juices along with the reserved wine to the skillet and cook stiffing occasionally, until sizzling, about 3 minutes. Add 2 cups of the stock, season with salt and pepper and bring to a boil. Cover partially and cook over low heat for 30 minutes. Add the olives and the remaining 2 cups of stock and cook until the sauce is slightly reduced and the rabbit is tender, about 20 minutes longer. Discard the rosemary bundles. Serve the rabbit in shallow bowls.

Make ahead: the stew can be refrigerated for up to 2 days.

If you serve it on Easter, just don’t tell the kids what it is.

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The Spy Who Fed Me

I remember when I was a little kid, I watched the normal TV shows little kids watched during my little kid era. But, for some reason I also regularly watched two cooking shows: The Galloping Gourmet starring Graham Kerr, and Julia Child’s show, The French Chef.

Graham Kerr’s trademark was that he cooked everything with a ton of wine, and while he cooked, he drank twice as much as he cooked with. By the end of every episode, he was a very entertaining guy, in that snot-slinging drunk kind of way. I didn’t learn a damn thing about cooking, but at least he was a total riot toward the end of the show.

Then there was Julia Child. Even then, when I was a little kid, it was obvious to me that she, with that falsetto voice and lanky build, was probably actually a hugely unsuccessful drag queen. But she obviously had a blast cooking, not only in the end product but in the entire process, a trait I share to this day.

Turns out she was also a spy. A spook. A secret agent. A mole.

Apparently beneath that butter and garlic exterior, during World War II she was slinking around on behalf of the OSS, which later became the CIA, slinking however slinkers slink, in the slinkiest way slinkable.

I have no real punchline for any of this, I just find it completely fascinating, in the “wow, you just never know” sort of way. I, for one, will think twice next time I see a suspected drag queen who reeks of butter and garlic. Then, after thinking twice, if this individual is in my kitchen, I will be calling the police.

That said, in the best wine-soaked tradition of Graham Kerr, and the best butter and garlic-infused tradition of Julia Child, I herein offer a tasty recipe for halibut.

Yes, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “what the hell are recipes doing on a political website?” You’re also thinking, “but Harold! We’re nearing the end of Halibut season! Why are you telling us this now??!”

Actually, you’re not thinking that at all, because you are uncivilized barbarians who have no freaking clue about halibut season, because you’ve all been so busy with politics that you do not lead a well-balanced life. But I will trudge on dutifully, and merely patiently explain to you people that once this season is over, Halibut will again be available in due time, it will still be the most expensive thing you will ever buy besides gasoline and politicians, and the result will still be delicious.

So…as with any great meal preparation plan, the very first step is to lure somebody into your kitchen who you actually like hanging out with. Step two is to open the first, but not last, bottle of wine of the evening, in this case a chardonnay or pinot grigio. Don’t even think about starting to cook until you’re at least a glass into it.

But after that:

Preheat over to 325.

Ingredients (for 2)

2 halibut fillets.
2 medium tomatoes, finely diced.
capers (I dunno, maybe a medium handful tops, I never measure anything).
4-5 cloves garlic, finely chopped. At least. To start. Don’t wanna scare ya.
1 stick of butter. Yes, I mean butter. If you can’t take it, go back to your wussy little tofu miserable life.

On the stove, pre-heat a large skillet until hot, then add a little butter or oil or pam or other oil-like substance which isn’t KY Jelly. Sear fillets on both sides (even if the skin is still on, which I recommend). Don’t over-do it – you don’t want to overcook fish, you just want some color on the top and bottom and to start ’em out right. Carefully remove the fish from the pan, put it in something oven-safe, and pop ’em in the oven to finish cooking.

Refill your wine glasses. You’re falling behind on that by now.

Remove the pan from heat for a minute or two to let it cool somewhat, then put it back on low heat and add a little bit of the butter, the tomatoes, and some of the garlic (you can add more garlic until it seems like the mosquitoes will leave you alone for a while, or to taste). You really don’t want to stop stirring at this point, except for brief wine breaks. As the tomatoes get really red, add some of the wine from your glass and let that simmer for a minute or two, then add the rest of the butter and the capers. Stir it around on low heat until the butter melts, plus another couple of minutes.

By now, in the time since the fish disappeared into the oven you’ve probably killed about 10-15 minutes BS’ing with your partner and preparing the sauce, and that’s more than enough time for the fish, so remove them from the oven, carefully transfer each fillet to a plate, drizzle the sauce over the fish, re-fill the wine, and eat up. If you end up with food poisoning, don’t come cryin’ to me, but that’s how I’ve done it a hundred times and I’m still taking up space on the planet.

Graham Kerr would be proud, because you drank a lot of wine. Julia Child would be proud, because you spared no garlic or butter. Really, the only victims here are the halibut, and the hell with ’em.

Have fun. But leave the spying out of it. And as Julia would say, bon appetit! Which, come to think of it, was the surest sign of all that she was a drag queen.

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