To modern eyes, this recipe does not appear so odd. To Elizabeth David, in French Provincial Cooking (1960, and in my mind her best book), it seemed quite extraordinary and she described it as an act of faith to continue with the recipe as it was written.
David is struck by the variety of meats (in truth one can use others too: a little venison or a couple of wood pigeons would not go amiss), the volume of liquid and the presence of chocolate. These days, we are used to seeing the odd bit of chocolate in Mexican and even Italian recipes, so we are less easily fazed.
As with many of the great lady’s recipes and others from the same period, I find the directions somewhat wayward. I have never understood how to brown meat in a casserole which already contains some gently softened shallots (or onions or other vegetables, come to that) and have opted to brown the meat in separate pans before combining it all. In other respects I have been reasonably faithful to the original.
I read the recipe years ago, when I was hungrily devouring the David canon. I cooked it once, on a Rayburn stove with a couple of wild rabbits and various other meats. Then I forgot about it until around 1985, when the publisher Anthony Blond invited restaurant critics to cook for an assembly of chefs. Jonathan Meades brought a voluminous casserole of la sauce. A few years later, when he crowned Kensington Place as his restaurant of the year, the award was sealed with a dinner in which Meades again produced large quantities of the dish, with plenty of creamed potato to mop up the juices. I believe he might have answered “roadkill” when asked what meat was used. “Ah,” pronounced one wag, “I thought so, car crash and mash.” We enjoyed it greatly.
La sauce au vin du Médoc
Good for a crowd on a cold night but can be enjoyed on successive days thereafter, especially as a sauce for hard pasta such as rigatoni. The wine would originally have been from the Médoc, when it was cheap, plentiful and its thinness could be compensated for by a little sugar and chocolate. Other wines will serve just as well.
750g beef shin, cheek or oxtail
750g belly pork
1 rabbit, wild or domestic, or a hare
2 or 3 bottles red wine
3 large shallots
4 cloves of garlic
A few sprigs thyme
2 bay leaves
20g dark chocolate
● Trim the outside sinews from the beef and pork and cut into large chunks 3cm square. Cut the rabbit or hare into joints, viz two legs, two shoulders and four pieces cut across the trunk, saving livers, hearts and kidneys for later. The head can go in the stew too if you are feeling sporting.
● In one or two large frying pans, fry all the meats, either in pork or goose fat or in olive oil. Drain these meats in a colander over a bowl. Once you have finished frying, pour away any surplus fat, pour a glass of red wine into each pan and scrape up any juices that have collected in the pan. Add this to the juice draining from the meat.
● Peel the shallots, slice them finely and stew in a deep casserole in a couple of tablespoons of fat or olive oil. Once softened, add the finely chopped garlic and stew the mixture gently in turn. Add the drained meats to the casserole along with two heaped tablespoons of flour, a good teaspoon of salt, and another each of sugar and milled pepper. Turn this all together very well so all the meat is well coated. Now pour in all the wine and the juices from the bowl before the shallots or meat can burn.
● Peel the carrots and cut into large chunks. Add these, the bay leaves, thyme and the chocolate to the pot and then add enough cold water so that all the meat is well immersed. Bring to a simmer and skim carefully, then leave to simmer at a very low temperature for at least three hours. Leave to cool.
● The next day, bring back to a simmer, add the rabbit offal and cook for at least another hour. The meat should all be extremely tender and threatening to fall apart. You should have a great deal of incredibly well-flavoured, rich red wine sauce. The stew can be served in the first instance either with mashed potatoes or just a lot of good crusty bread.
Rowley’s drinking choice
A robust country red from the Minervois or Corbières is probably a better option than fine Médoc but no red is going to suffer.
Rowley Leigh is the chef at Le Café Anglais