Latvian Hare Trio, Part 1: Sautéed Loin, Blackcurrant Balsam, Barley

Black Balsam is a traditional Latvian herbal liqueur. Its recipe, created by a pharmacist living in Riga, is based on a composition of 24 different plants, flowers, buds, juices, roots, oils, and berries prepared in oak barrels. The drink itself is black and very bitter, but with a distinct sweetness to it. Admirers of chartreuse and the early novels of Poppy Z. Brite will love it. Others, maybe not so much.

Legend has it that Catherine the Great became ill during a visit to Latvia and was cured after drinking Black Balsam — one sure has to hope that such a harsh-tasting beverage has some medicinal virtues to justify consuming it. Nowadays, however, a smoother version is available, mixed with blackcurrant juice. If you have trouble finding it in the US, try mixing regular black balsam (check availability here) with crème de cassis instead.

Latvian Hare - Sautéed Loin, Blackcurrant Balzam, Barley

What does this all have to do with today’s recipe, you might ask. Well, balsam and hare have more in common than it seems: they’re both consumed in Latvia, and both can be acquired tastes. Because Latvian cuisine gravitates around a somewhat limited number of ingredients, it made sense to me to try to pair them together — and I think the association works quite well. Barley, another staple of the region, was a natural accompaniment.

Blackcurrant balzam sauce
Yields 4 servings

3 oz peeled onion, sliced
1 garlic clove, sliced
0.5 oz butter
4 oz chicken stock
2 oz blackcurrant balsam
2 oz heavy cream
1 egg yolk

  • In a small saucepan over medium heat, sauté the onion and garlic in butter until golden brown.
  • Add the chicken stock, and reduce by half.
  • Add the blackcurrant balsam, and simmer for a couple minutes.
  • Transfer to a blender, let cool for a few minutes, and process with the heavy cream and egg yolk.  Pass through a chinois, and reserve.

Barley risotto
Yields 4 servings

3.4 oz bacon, small dice
1.7 oz peeled onion, small dice
2.5 oz peeled carrot, small dice
2.5 oz barley
about 10 oz chicken stock

  • In a saucepan over medium heat, sauté the bacon for about a minute, until it renders some fat. Add the onion and carrot, and keep cooking until golden brown, stirring regularly.
  • Stir in the barley, then pour in about 1/3 of the chicken stock. Turn the heat to low, cover, and cook until the liquid is reduced. Repeat with the rest of the stock in 2 more additions — this should take about 1 hour. You may have to use a little bit more stock if the barley isn’t completely tender or feels a bit dry. Reserve.

Hare loins sous-vide
Yields 4 servings

prepared hare loins (see here)
1/2 oz butter
1 thyme sprig

  • Take the loins out of the plastic wrap, and place them in a sous-vide pouch with the butter and thyme. Vacuum-seal.
  • Cook in a 145 F water bath for 20 minutes.
  • Proceed with dish assembly immediately.

Assembly
Yields 4 servings

0.5 oz sour cream
blackcurrant balzam sauce
hare loins sous-vide
salt
0.5 oz canola oil
barley risotto
about 4 thyme sprigs

  • Mix the sour cream into the barley risotto, and reheat gently.
  • Reheat the balzam sauce over very low heat; do not boil.
  • Take the hare loins out of the sous-vide pouch, and season with salt. Sauté in the canola oil in a very hot pan, turning the loins on all sides very quickly, until brown. If you like your meat medium-rare, make sure to cook the loins minimally, to an internal temperature of 135 F. Let rest for a few minutes.
  • Slice the hare loins. On each plate, place some barley risotto next to some slices of hare loin. Top the meat with the balzam sauce, and sprinkle a few thyme leaves. Serve immediately.

Latvian Hare - Sautéed Loin, Blackcurrant Balzam, Barley

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