This curious dish — which has very little to do with actual cheese — was actually what first motivated me to start my Latvian Hare Trio. The final result may look like a traditional pâté, but the preparation is quite different. Lesley Chamberlain’s Food and Cooking of Russia and Pokhlebkin’s Cookbook of the Soviet Peoples both contain fairly similar instructions: take a hare, roast it, braise it, grind it, then cook an omelette, grind it, and mix everything together with mushrooms and butter before baking in a dish, optionally wrapped in pastry.
I found that the result of this procedure had an unpleasantly dry mouthfeel, so I made several changes to improve it. In particular, cooking the leg meat as a confit was a big improvement, and it made little sense to use the precious hare loins. I also got rid of the bizarre ground omelette and used raw eggs to bind the forcemeat like a normal person. Finally, the onion jam and cornichons bring welcome touches of sweetness and acidity.
After last week’s hare loin, this post features the hare legs with another group of typical Latvian winter flavors: potato, sauerkraut, and animal fat. The recipe is pretty short, because most of the work has been done during the hare preparation.
The only non-trivial element left is the potato pancakes. I’ve already talked about deruny here, but I’m taking a different approach today, simply slicing the potatoes and relying on the starch and salt to bind them all together.
Finally, if you want to make the dish a little bit healthier but still recognizably Latvian, you could prepare a wine reduction to drizzle on the meat, instead of the fat!
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.
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.