Monday, March 22, 2010

Belgian Chicken (rabbit)

As a child, one of my favorite dishes was a sweet and tangy stew that my Belgian grandma Pauline used to make. It was usually served during Christmas as the main dish and sometimes during Easter. My brother and I loved it and would often ask for this Belgian chicken dish. Because that's what we were told it was: chicken made the Belgian way.

One pretty Sunday in Spring, I must have been six or seven years old, my grandma's sisters and nieces came to visit. The table was set for lunch and judging from the smell that came from the kitchen, I knew we were going to have my favorite dish: Belgian chicken! How appropriate, I thought, Belgian chicken for Belgian ladies and said so to one of my grandma's nieces. She looked puzzled and said she had never heard of Belgian chicken before. I dismissed it at the time and figured they must call it something else over there.

Once they started serving lunch I was initially disappointed: instead of the boney legs and tender breast meat, I saw chunks of what looked like beef. I briefly hesitated but decided to say nothing, because once I tasted a piece of meat I realized that it tasted very similar to the chicken dish. It was so good I even asked for seconds. The whole table held their breath. I may have been ditzy as a child, but even I knew something was wrong. "So you really like this meat, huh?" one of my aunts asked, barely containing her laughter. "Yes, I do" I said, wondering what all the fuss was about. "It tastes just like Belgian chicken.". At that point the whole table was in stitches, laughing. Why? Because the meat was foal. And I happened to be a horse-crazy little girl at the time and nobody had dared tell me that we were going to have horse meat for lunch.

For a split-second, I was hurt. They were making me eat HORSE MEAT?? But then I realized that this horse meat tasted darn good and I held up my plate demonstratively for seconds. What can I say? My tummy wins over my heart, I guess!

We had a great time that Sunday, visiting with the family and eating good food. Nevertheless, when they all left I took my grandma aside and asked her if these people were from Belgium, then how come they had never heard from Belgian chicken? Ah....the moment of truth. I guess that my initial reaction to eating horse meat made my family realize that taste ruled over cuddliness in my book. Turns out that Belgian chicken is nothing else than rabbit. And I am glad to say that neither my brother nor I have stopped eating rabbit.

Rabbit is hard to come by here in America but I found a small poultry processing plant in a town nearby that also does rabbits. And they happened to have a couple of them in the freezer, ready to go. Hiphiphurray!!!

So yesterday, I was in my kitchen cutting up this animal. It was a little unnerving because neither the head nor the tail was on this pink carcass. Enough for my mother to venture the thought that perhaps it was cat after all: it was not unheard of during the war years to buy "rabbit" in the stores and have a diminishing feline population at the same time. These pieces of meat were called "roof rabbits" among the people in the know......

Anyway, back to the bunny. So if there are no Easter eggs in your yard this year, I guess it's because I ate the Easter bunny. Just like that. With vinegar and brown sugar. And it was good! For those of you that have never had tastes a little bit like chicken. Belgian chicken. :-)

Belgian Chicken
1 medium sized rabbit, approx. 2 lbs
2 cups of water, divided
1 cup of white wine vinegar
2 bay leaves
10 black peppercorns
1 large size onion, peeled and sliced thin
2 tablespoons of butter
1/3 cup of brown sugar
1 tablespoon flour
1/3 cup of water
pinch of ground cloves

Cut the rabbit up. I did a slightly un-traditional cut because I did not have a cleaver and the rabbit's backbone is hard as a rock. Make sure you remove small bones or splinters before cooking the meat, they can be nasty.

Add the water, vinegar, bay leaves, peppercorns and slices of onion to a large bowl and add the pieces of meat. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

The next day, take the meat out of the marinade and pat it dry with some paper towels. Heat two tablespoons of butter in a Dutch oven and quickly brown the meat on all sides. Remove from the pan, brown the onions and add the meat back in. Pour the marinade over the meat but keep the peppercorns behind, they are a pain to remove once the sauce is made. Bring to a boil, turn low and simmer for about 30 minutes. Remove the meat from the pan, scrape all the brown bits from the bottom of the pan and add the brown sugar and the second cup of water if needed. Bind the sauce with a tablespoon of flour and 1/3 cup water, taste and adjust with salt and pepper. Add the meat back to the sauce and simmer for another hour or until the meat is tender to the point where it falls off the bone.

Add the pinch of ground cloves, taste again and adjust. You want a sweet, tangy but not overly sugary taste. Serve with boiled potatoes and red cabbage.

Sunday, March 07, 2010


Ten percent of the Dutch population thinks that macaroni and chili con carne are.......Dutch dishes. I kid you not. Eighty-seven percent of that same population eats macaroni at least once a week. When you ask children here in the USA what their favorite kind of food is, they'll usually say: Pizza! Dutch kids would tell you that macaroni was their favorite food.

A Dutch TV show called "Man Bijt Hond" ("Man bites dog") has a section called "Hond Aan Tafel", where the camara crew knocks on a random house door around dinner time and asks the surprised habitants if they can join them. Most often the answer is yes, and the short scene allows for a peek in the life of just an ordinary person. Nine out of then, the answer to "What's for dinner?" guessed it.....macaroni.

And they're not the only ones that love macaroni. Yours truly enjoys a huge plate of the salty, warm, comforting pasta with a pickle on the side to provide some crunch, yummmmm!!!!!!!!!!!! It's one of the many reasons why I keep ground beef in the freezer: once the meat is thawed, this dish is quick and easy to prepare. Just what you need when you're looking for some comfort!

Dutch Macaroni
3 cups of elbow macaroni or fussili
1 lb of ground beef
1/2 a leek, white only, sliced thin
1 red pepper
1 sachet of macaroni spices*
1 small can of tomato sauce
Pickles, optional

Cook the macaroni according to instructions. Brown the ground beef in a skillet, pour off the fat and add in strips of red pepper and the sliced leek. Stir in the spices and the tomato sauce, simmer for ten minutes. Add the macaroni and mix with the sauce. Serve warm.

* I buy the macaroni spices in Dutch stores online, but the spaghetti spice mix packages that are available in your standard supermarket is practically the same.