As we sped along, a hare ran out and a deft flick of the steering-wheel rendered it stone dead but intact. We left the sea-side town of Sanlúcar de Barrameda at 4.30am, a time of day I am afraid to admit with which I am barely acquainted. We had to be at Seville Airport before 6.00 so extreme measures were called for.
The road out of Sanlucar in those days led across vineyards and rolling fields of cotton and sunflowers . As we sped along, a hare ran out and a deft flick of the steering-wheel rendered it stone dead but intact. I felt my companion had done this before, my suspicions confirmed when he stopped, put the hare in the boot and was delighted to announce that his wife would be preparing the hare with rice: a favourite dish of his.
The Spanish love rice. Not as a bland accompaniment but as a dish in its own right. Paella is just one of hundreds of rice dishes, albeit a very specific one. It must be Spain’s most misunderstood and abused dishes. ‘I really love Paella’ I heard an English visitor announce to a mystified restaurant-manager, ’but I don’t like rice!’ Hmmm. Presumably – and it’s wild presumption – what she meant was that she liked prawns, chicken, chunks of pork which she picked out of the rice, leaving the carefully seasoned , lovingly cooked grains on the side of her plate to be fed to the cat.
What that particular English visitor would have made of ‘arroz a banda’ would have been fascinating to observe. The rice is cooked with fish, fish heads, shellfish which are then discarded leaving a fabulous and deeply flavoured rice and nothing else! A Spanish cook will slave for hours producing a stock of the required depth of flavor. For this purpose the strong flavor of hare, of course, is just perfect.
Over the following months my mind often went back to the Sanlúcar road, the hare and my friend’s anticipation of ‘arroz con liebre’. My foody longings were finally satisfied one night travelling from Extremadura when we stopped in Valdemoro, a featureless dormitory town but, as it turned out, possessing one excellent, family restaurant, ‘El As de Oro’. Our arrival was marked by a curmudgeonly ‘no tenemos mucho para servirles’ (there’s not much on); normally the prelude to a memorable and authentic repast. And this was indeed the case. Once mine host had decided that we weren’t the traditional omelette-demanding English tourist, the full glory of his cuisine was revealed: chicken-peas with black-pudding, Fabada, roast baby goat, a veritable roll-call of Spanish country cooking. And finally, the magic words ‘liebre con arroz’ (or was it arroz con liebre’?)