Finding rare hare
Chef Pete Sheldon turns his skills to a rare art to produce a game dish Matt Fowles has been wanting to attempt for years: Hare Tartare.
Pete hails from Brisbane and spent years cooking in London before returning to work at The European restaurant in Melbourne five years ago. “In England I would get partridge and other game on the menu; we would go up to Scotland and get the first game meat of the season and have it on the menu at the restaurant the next day,” he said. “We did a lot of game over there but here it is dribs and drabs: sometimes squab and we like to get venison in but we use it in pasta or as a raw dish. “We use quail once in a while but we have had a rabbit pasta on for two years: just straight rabbit, ricotta and hazelnuts or with green olives and tagliatelle, delicious.”
Another signature dish is a bit of a surprise: duck ham, which is made by layering the breasts with the skin on and a process of curing and smoking. “We then roll them up nice and round so you have skin all the way round and little bits running through the middle like marble. We carve slices and serve it with pickles,” Pete said.
While rabbit is a staple on the menu, hare is a little more divisive. “Some people like the dark meat, some prefer the white meat, but for those who do like hare, it sells itself; when we have it on it is pretty popular.”
As a chef, Pete is unafraid of tartare dishes. A beef tartare has been on the menu at the restaurant for 20 years, so creating a hare tartare is simply applying the same technique and some restraint with the garnishes.
“With the hare dish, to start with it is more about making sure it was a head shot and that it has been frozen to kill anything that could be bad for you,” he said. “We were going to use the fillet but we have opted for the topside, which is just as tender as long as you get all the sinew out. Break it into its muscle groups and then chop it up from there.
“It is clearly a different flavoured meat to beef so you don’t want to overpower it with the rich tomato that you would use in the beef tartare; we have gone for a softer juniper, port, and red wine reduction.”
The key is to start with very cold meat that is just short of being frozen. “At the start you want the hare as cold as possible and then, as you are chopping up the meat, keep putting it back in a bowl resting on some ice just to keep that low temperature,” Pete said.
“It is really good, the same quality as doing a venison loin tartare. “You want to be able to eat what you hunt and this is another option; you don’t have to be a chef to throw some capers and shallots into a tartare, just dice the meat up nicely and have it cold.”
For Matt Fowles the dish was a longawaited triumph. “I have wanted to create hare tartare for a very long time,” he said. “Apart from the obvious alliteration, hare is my favourite game meat and I think it is much underrated. Any tartare is a great way to judge the skills of the chef — you have to be on point, so when Peter agreed to try the hare tartare instead of beef, I couldn’t wait to take the freshly shot hare to him.”