In cooking, a civet or civy is a kind of stew made by simmering meat - usually some kind of game, and frequently including the organ meats such as the liver, kidneys, and/or lungs - in a sealed container with a thickened broth. In some cases, the stew is thickened with the blood of the animal: the traditional English dish jugged hare is a type of civet. Most commonly, civet recipes call for hare or venison, although some include the comment that partridges or other game birds can be cooked similarly.
The term "civé" applied to a meat stew goes back to at least the 14th century: Le Menagier de Paris provides recipes for "Hare Civé" and "Veal Civé", both of which are bread-thickened stews made with stock, vinegar or verjuice, and spices.
Here's one of the Menagier's recipes. I've made this one, although using farmed rabbit rather than hunted hare, and it's very tasty.
Hare Broth. First, cut the hare through the breast: and if it is freshly taken, that is no more than one or two days since, do not wash it, but put it on the grill, that is roast it over a good coal fire or on the spit; then have cooked onions and fat in a pot, and add your onions to the fat and your hare in pieces, and fry them over the fire, shaking the pot very frequently, or fry them on the griddle. Then heat and toast bread and moisten in stock with vinegar and wine: and have ginger, grain, clove, long pepper, nutmegs and cinnamon ground beforehand, and let them be ground and mixed with verjuice and vinegar or meat stock; gather them up, and set to one side. Then grind up your bread, mixed with stock, and sieve the bread and not the spices, and add stock, the onions and fat, spices and toasted bread, cook all together, and the hare also; and be sure the broth is brown, sharpened with vinegar, mixed with salt and spices.
Taken from Janet Hinson's translation of Le Menagier de Paris, available here.
Redaction for modern cooks: on the whole, this one isn't terribly obscure, as mediaeval recipes go, apart from the complete lack of quantities. The general process of softening the onions and browning the meat, then braising the meat in a seasoned sauce, is reasonably familiar in modern cooking.
When I made this, I assumed that a frozen and thawed rabbit didn't qualify as a "freshly taken hare", so I skipped straight to the browning step. The Menagier doesn't specify the type of fat, although elsewhere in the book he mentions beef, mutton, pork, and bacon fat, so presumably in this case he intends to use whatever is on hand. From what I can see in the original French, he does distinguish between "oil" (presumably vegetable-based, since it shows up in a lot of fast-day recipes) and "fat" or "grease" from meat. Similarly, he doesn't specify what kind of stock should be used: given that rabbit isn't very strongly-flavoured, I'd use something like chicken.
Of the spices he mentions, "grains" are grains of paradise, the seeds of a plant related to ginger. Long pepper is in the same family as the familiar black pepper. Both may be available in specialty shops or Indian groceries - or you could use a little extra pepper and ginger.
After all that, I end up with something like the following. The quantities are all approximate, especially for the spices.
- One rabbit or hare
- One onion
- A tablespoon or two of bacon grease or beef dripping
- Two slices of stale bread
- A pint of chicken stock
- ¼ cup each wine and wine vinegar
- ½ tsp each ginger, cinnamon, long pepper and grains of paradise (or 1 tsp ginger and ½ tsp black pepper)
- ¼ tsp each clove and nutmeg
- Salt to taste
Toast the bread, or dry it out thoroughly in a warm oven. Cut the rabbit in quarters (if it didn't come that way) and dice the onion. Heat the fat in a deep skillet, cook the onions in it until they soften, and brown the rabbit. Wet the bread with the wine, vinegar, and a bit of stock, and press it through a sieve. Grind the spices (as needed) and mix with a tablespoon or so of vinegar or stock.
Add the sieved bread, spice mix, and stock to the skillet, and simmer it all together until the rabbit is cooked through. Salt to taste, and add a little more vinegar if the sauce isn't sharp enough.