If you can hold your hand on your heart and honestly say that you’ve tried traditional Maltese food, you’re more of a foodie than most of us up at On the Beach HQ. And if it hurts your pride to say that you haven’t tried any of the tastes of Malta, we have exactly the information you need to rectify the situation. One for the adventurous meat-eaters, the below recipe for Stuffat Tal-Fenek (otherwise known as traditional Maltese rabbit stew) was recommended by our friends over at the Maltese Tourist Board and they promised us it is nothing other than delicious…
Why not try it for yourself?
- 2 rabbits skinned and jointed
- ¾ bottle robust red wine (a cheap and cheerful choice will do)
- 2 wine glasses of water
- 2 onions, finely chopped
- 4 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
- 8-10 bay leaves
- 1 x 400g can tomato polpa or whole plum tomatoes mashed up
- 3 tbsps tomato puree
- 2 carrots, peeled and sliced
- 6-8 medium potatoes, peeled and roughly chopped
- Salt & pepper
- 3 tbsp regular olive oil
Allow an hour for preparation, cooking and serving, excluding marination time.
- Marinate the rabbit in the wine, garlic and bay overnight, or if possible the night before cooking. Cover and chill in the fridge.
- When ready to cook, remove the rabbit joints from the marinade, shaking off excess liquid. Heat the olive oil over a high heat in a heavy-based casserole and sear the rabbit on all sides until lightly browned (approx 4 mins each side). Remove and set aside.
- Lower the heat under the casserole and add the onion and some fresh bay leaves to the pan. Brown the onion gently for around 5 minutes, then add the garlic and continue to fry gently for another minute.
- Add the tomato ‘polpa’ or peeled whole canned tomatoes mashed up, and increase the heat. Cook for around 5 minutes stirring a little, then add the marinade and bring to the boil. Return the rabbit joints to the pan, give a good shake and top up with water to just cover the rabbit. Cover, return to the boil, and then reduce to a medium simmer (gently bubbling).
- After half an hour, add the sliced carrots, potatoes and tomato puree’, shake the pot gently or stir to ensure the vegetables are covered with liquid. Continue to simmer the stew for around another half an hour.
- At one hour, prop the lid half off to allow the sauce to thicken up. Check the rabbit after 15 minutes – the stew is ready when the rabbit is just falling off the bone and the root vegetables are tender.
- Serve with fennel-seed and olive oil roast potatoes or regular potato mash and with white crusty bread to mop up the delicious and rich sauce.
Extra tip: the secret to achieving the ultimate, sumptuous flavour is the marinating stage. The marination process ensures the wine and herbs are fully absorbed.
A little about the dish
The history: Traditional Maltese Stuffat Tal-Fenek is often identified as Malta’s national dish. This quite possibly started off as a form of symbolic resistance to the hunting restrictions imposed by the Knights of St John. The Knights’ decision to prohibit the local population from hunting rabbits led to the Revolt of the Priests in 1773, and in turn a rise in secret hunting. The dish was to enjoy a particular surge of popularity after the lifting of restrictions in the late 18th century, at which time the indigenous breed had multiplied and prices dropped.
How the locals do it: There are many places in Malta that will cook Rabbit dishes. But Mgarr which is a town in the northern part of the island actually specialises in it. Staff are very friendly and welcoming and portions are generous… what’s more to want?