In the spirit of estival amnesty, we chose not to publish an Easter post about rabbit, but now that our kitchen has been picked clean of of brightly colored eggs, it’s back to the
cutting drawing board. Herewith, Mustard-Braised Rabbit with Leeks, Peas and Radishes. In other words, rabbit for grown-ups.
My first dining experience with things that go hippity-hop was in the French-speaking part of Switzerland, a double whammy; first for the rabbit, and second, for the chasseur or hunter sauce (tomato, chanterelles, cream). Europeans love to serve rabbit sautéed, braised (my favorite) and roasted (a bit tricky; some parts cook faster than others). In France, Italy and Germany rabbit is considered just another choice among a range of staple meat. But in the US, where My Little Bunny, Goodnight Moon and Peter Rabbit impinge on the culinary imagination, we have a more ambiguous relationship with rabbit. Common when most of America was still an agricultural economy, or later when domestic husbandry was encouraged as matter of public policy (World War II), rabbit has always been a little too controversial to make it into the supermarket. It’s pet, a stuffed animal icon or the last resource for the rural poor, only a step up from squirrel. Try putting any of those on the meat counter down at your local Safeway.
I understand some people who find the naked corpses of chickens unobjectionable are disconcerted by rabbit. If you’re one of them, then come back in a couple of weeks when we’re not eating bunnies. For more omnivorous types, read on. Rabbit has a higher protein to fat ratio than chicken, but it also has a higher bone to meat ratio. But for those of us concerned with compassionate animal husbandry, this is more than offset that rabbit is raised on small farms. There are no giant rabbit combines, unlike those that produce pork, poultry or beef. In fact, the difficulty with rabbit is simply finding it. Most rabbit is supplied by individual farmers, who can’t keep up with supply. The best place to start is a good butcher, who can order it for you if they don’t regularly carry it. The next place is online, but be forewarned, it can be pricey.
Farmed rabbit tastes like chicken only if you’re not paying attention. The meat is denser, less fatty, with a richer flavor. The Easter Bunny taboo is a bigger obstacle to the consumption of rabbit than anything to do with the taste itself. Just about anything you’d pair with chicken can also serve for rabbit, but since rabbit will almost alway be a special occasion dish here, it’s worth troubling yourself for ingredients that transcend the ordinary. Wild mushrooms (morels!) are good, so are the first arrivals of spring–new peas, leeks, artichokes, and asparagus. On blog day our local Whole Foods was suffering from a temporary dearth of spring peas (“Sorry. All sold out. They’ll be back in a couple of days.”), so we substituted frozen. You should have better luck now. Any of these green things can be good simply sautéed and served alongside or over a rabbit sauced with no more than the braising juices, but if you’d like to pull everything together with a dollop of crème fraîche and mustard, as we are wont to do, don’t hold back. Who couldn’t use need a rich jolt out of culinary hibernation right now? One rabbit will serve 2 to 4, depending on what else rides along. Rabbit bones are quite light and fracture easily, so when eating one of the saddle (torso) pieces be alert for bones, particularly in the ribs. The photo of the rabbit carcass also shows lobes of rabbit liver, the heart and kidneys, in the interests of including what typically arrives inside a whole rabbit. The liver, in particular, is delicious. We did not use these in the recipe; instead we sautéed them with a bit of rosemary, salt, pepper and (in the case of the livers) a splash of balsamic vinegar. The livers were incredible as crostini; we diced the kidneys and heart and added them to a tomato sauce for pasta. Enjoy. Ken
P.S. See Jody’s Notes about cutting up a rabbit, if you want to do it yourself. I’ve also included a collage with representative photos. Roll over the photos with your mouse for instructions (a few of the photos have no captions).
Mustard-Braised Rabbit with Leeks, Peas and Radishes
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
- 3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
- 1 3-pound rabbit, cut into 8 pieces: 2 hind legs, 2 forelegs, and the loin portion cut into 4 pieces. (Ask the butcher to do this for you or you can do it yourself – see Jody’s Notes and the photos.)
- Kosher salt and coarsely ground black pepper
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 large leeks, white part thinly sliced and washed
- 2 cloves garlic, chopped
- ¼ cup + 2 teaspoons champagne vinegar
- 1½ cups chicken stock
- 1 tablespoon chopped tarragon
- ½ cup creme fraîche
- 1 cup fresh or frozen peas, blanched
- 5 ounces radishes, cut into quarters + leaves, rinsed
- 1 tablespoon honey
- Combine vegetable oil, thyme, and Dijon mustard in a large bowl and mix together. Season the rabbit with salt and pepper and toss in the marinade, cover and refrigerate 4 hours or overnight.
- Remove the rabbit from the marinade. Reserve the marinade.
- Heat 1 tablespoon butter in large, deep-sided sauté pan over medium heat. Add the leeks and garlic season with salt and pepper and cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Remove from the pan.
- Add a tablespoon of butter, and brown the rabbit pieces on both sides, about 2 minutes per side. Deglaze the pan with the champagne vinegar. Add the chicken stock and the residual marinade in the bowl. Cover with a piece of parchment paper and then a lid. Cook over the lowest heat , about 20 minutes. Flip the rabbit over. Cover with parchment and lid and continue cooking 10 minutes. Add the leeks. Then cook until the meat is done, about 20 minutes. Remove the rabbit from the pan and cover to keep warm.
- Reduce the sauce until it coats the back of a spoon. Stir in half the tarragon and creme fraîche. If the sauce seems too watery, put the pan back on the heat and reduce it until it is thick. .
- While the sauce is reducing, heat the remaining tablespoon of butter in a small sauté pan over medium heat. Add the radishes and brown all over. Season with salt and pepper. Add the radish leaves, toss and then add the peas, honey, the remaining teaspoons of vinegar and remaining tarragon and toss to coat.
- Arrange the rabbit on serving plates. Spoon lots of sauce over the rabbit, then add the peas and radishes.
- You need some good crusty bread to soak up the extra sauce.
I believe in cutting up animals oneself, if possible. It brings you closer to origins of food – you can’t escape the knowledge that you’re cutting up what was once a living creature – while imparting a fundamental awareness of the structural differences between the different animals we eat. Whether you choose to take this approach or not, here are a few bits of advice.
You can buy rabbit already cut into pieces. Any place that sells whole rabbit will almost certainly cut it up for you, if you ask. I believe that the belly flap and ribs contribute to the flavor of the dish – and I like chewing on them. If you want to give them a try, instruct your butcher to leave them on (the default is to clip them off). In the recipe above I cut the loin into 4 pieces; 3 is often the default, so mention you prefer 4, if that’s what you want.
Breaking down a rabbit for the first time can be daunting, but if you’re comfortable with a knife, go ahead and try. It goes by fairly quickly, even if you’re unpracticed. You may make wonky cuts, but the dish will still be delicious. You do need a sharp knife–without that, you’re lost. A cleaver is ideal for chopping the saddle into pieces, but a heavy chef’s knife will work too (that’s what we used). You need to slice the silver skin and sinew off the carcass, an easy task with the sharp knife. I tend to be pretty fastidious about trimming extra fat, skin, sinew or veins. Check out the fabulous detailed instructions, with photos, on how to cut break down a rabbit on Hank Shaw’s Honest-Food blog. He takes a more refined approach than I do (belly flaps and ribs – gone). Because I have a restaurant kitchen and want to minimize the possibility of any problems I instruct my cooks to take an extra step. In the photo of the rabbit skeleton below, find #33, the suprahumate process – it’s in the expanded picture of the shoulder joint. There’s a thin blade of bone that projects out from joint just above the shoulder joint. I instruct my cooks to clip this off – you may choose to skip this step. I have never had a problem with anyone biting into this, but at Rialto we sometime grind the meat of the forelegs and use it for meatballs or mix it into stuffing for sausage, and I don’t want pieces of bone in my meatballs.
Guide to Breaking Down a Rabbit
(Roll your cursor over the photos to read the instruction; some photos have no captions.)
Oooo love this! My grand mother use to make this for me when I was a kid. So much memories, I remember loving the flavours and how tender the meat was.
Hi, Raphaelle–Unfortunately I never got to taste my grandmother’s version, although I’m told she made it too. It really is a lovely meat, well worth the effort. Ken
Lovely, I’ve never thought of adding radishes but it’s a terrific idea. Our rabbits are usually wild, so a bit tougher, but delicious. Didn’t know, btw, that rabbit was regarded as such a low-rent meat in the US, although some people in the UK are iffy about eating Fluffy too.
Hi, Linda–For my parents’ generation I think that’s often the case, especially if you grew up someplace rural. As a Depression-era kid, my dad lived in an upstate New York factory town where his father, lucky to be employed at all, often only got 2 or 3 days of work a week at the local paper during the worst of times. They raised their own–as my father put it–“eating rabbits.” To find it on the menu in a restaurant was a very rare thing here until 1980, and then only in a very fancy place (and it’s still infrequent–I wouldn’t be surprised if I called around Boston and found nobody serving it at any given moment). My dad, once surprised to see me ordering it, said, “You like it, eh?” When I responded that I did he told me that it was alright, but he’d eaten enough of it as a kid that he’d never eat it again. Ken
During WW2 my mother’s family, who worked on the railways, used to send rabbits from the country to relatives in the city. Meat was rationed so it was a huge help. My family has never really stopped eating it, but then we always ate a lot of game. I love rabbit, wild and farmed. Can’t understand why anyone would turn their noses up, really.
I’ve only had the opportunity to try wild rabbit once, at the ancient Parisian Auberge Nicolas Flamel, where I enjoyed a “civet de lièvre,” the classic red wine and hare stew. I thought it was great, much more “dark meat” tasting than ordinary rabbit. My Parisian fellow diner pronounced it “honorable.” I’d love to find a local source for (not too expensive) hare. Ken
Hare though is a different beast to a wild rabbit. Much stronger, gamier flavour. And longer ears. :) I am a bit sentimental about hares – I prefer to see them running round the fields than on my table because they’re such beautiful, graceful animals. I have no such qualms about wild rabbits, which cause a lot of damage to our garden.
I thought hare and wild rabbit were the same – silly me. Shows you how often either of them appear on my table. Back to Watership Down.
Hum, just looked up hares in the US and it seems a Jack Rabbit is actually a hare. And I thought they were rabbits. I say to-mah-to and you say to-may-to. Let’s call the whole thing off. :)
Gorgeous everything! Looking forward to having fresh petits pois.
Thanks. I think you’re on the right track. I’m sorry we missed them with this dish. Ken
Funnily enough, I just started seeing rabbit at our grocery store! I love rabbit and it’s only the price tag putting me off. However, since my sister is visiting next weekend, it might be worth the splurge (as long as I pre-clear any bunny taboos with her). Also, first food blog post where I’ve seen a textbook skeleton.
Haha! When Jody showed me that bone while she was cutting things up, I said, “You’re kidding me–we’ve got to tell them about that??!!” I took some photos but they weren’t as clear as I would have liked. Best to go with the textbook illustration. Where are you seeing rabbit? Ken
My best rabbit experience has been in a Spanish restaurant run by a Spanish expat in Tokyo if I remember correctly. We would have to go to a specialist to buy some but in general, I don’t think we have much inhibition about eating rabbits. We eat other meats that may offend some peeps so…
Hi, Ayako–You’re right. The Japanese do eat unusual things, by Western standards, but so it goes… I’ve had a really terrific rabbit molé, which is the closest I’ve ever come to a Spanish version, but I’m sure every European country has dozens of great versions. Ke
Pretty much. :-) Ken
There is always one and here I am. I think this is right up there with your bug post a while back. They both leave me yearning for a bowl of plaster dust from the post just prior to the bug post. I only really write to tell you the previous owners of my property raised rabbits as pets which eventually moved into the brush and surrounding areas. A hunter told me they were not the generic rabbits but some good cooking rabbits, as if. My landscaper also told me I have more rabbits here than any five of his customers combined. So Ken, if you want some good eatin’ rabbits, bring your gun or nets or almost-have-a-heart-traps down someday. No charge. Best of Spring to you both.
Quick, everybody, clothes back on! Look who walked in the door! Sigh… Take my word for it, rabbits are far tastier than bugs. I wish I could take you up on your offer and had the freezer space to store them. I can’t believe you didn’t try the polenta with rabbit ragu on the menu this last fast. Killer. You would have become a convert. Ken
I like rabbit and favour a nice mustardy-herby one to the white sauced ones of my childhood (though still good). But sadly, just as I read this, my husband says ‘Don’t even think about it!’ – still hasn’t forgiven me the day I told him it was chicken… Nicole
Haha! Isn’t it funny about the forbidden zones some of us carry about some foods (vinegared Japanese potato starch has my name on it). The most interesting ones are psychological hurdles. I used to eat horse regularly as a student in Europe, but I nearly killed a dinner when my revelation so offended a guest she stopped talking to me. Ken
I can imagine that so vividly, Ken! Where I grew up, horse meat was and still is quite normal fare like in most former mining towns where no one had today’s luxury of sentimental arguments or over-production of meat. It was shear necessity to eat the animals that had finished their hard working life underground to keep the miners who did this back-breaking work semi-alive. Still, that does not mean I specifically like it. My cousin loves horse but does not eat lamb, too cute for her…. N.
Thanks for sharing! I tried raising rabbits in the U.S. last year, but they didn’t do well kept outdoors. They seem to get sick easily. Now I can see what things might have looked like if farming rabbits had gone better!
As a kid, I knew a few people who raised rabbits, but the weird thing is the topic of eating them never came up. It was all about, “Let’s go over to Billy’s and poke lettuce through the rabbit screens!” I think I just thought they “belonged” on the farm. Ken
That’s a good point! As kids we seem to have a genuine innocence when dealing with animals. As an adult, I can see that we were meant to include animals in our diets, whether or not they have feathers or fur.
Just when I think I’m starting to turn out some half decent looking posts, you and Jodie have to come along and puncture my culinary and photographic balloons. You set such a high standard. this is truly wonderful in every respect. I love it!
I hope you are both well.
Thank you, Conor. What are you talking about–your photos are great (I, for one, have yet to break the blow-torch photography barrier). I’ll let you handle the Dublin Bay Prawn dissection post. Ken
I have a nice enough prawn flambé shot yet to post. Very happy with it.
Conor–I wish you lived closer, we could try a couple of posts together. Believe me, this one was a bear. You should have seen me going all yogic and prezelling up trying to get a revealing angle on that damned bone process–and all for nought! By the way, I think you win the award for your last post: First Official Photo of A Kitchen Blowtorch in Use in a Savory Context. Ken
My son has been asking me to cook a rabbit for months. I just don’t know where to find fresh (not frozen) rabbit. This really looks fabulous and I can’t get over your photographs! Gorgeous.
Thanks. I’m afraid I can’t help you out with that one. I’d give frozen a try if that’s your only aternative. Rabbit meat is akin to chicken in that it’s much more forgiving of being frozen than, say, seafood. Good luck. Ken
Reblogged this on Cappuccino.
Lovely twist on the rabbit in mustard sauce. Have you read Novella Carpenter’s charming Farm City? I can’t make rabbit now without thinking about the “taking off the pajamas” quote. And, of course, there’s the Michael Moore “pets or meat” lady. I adore rabbit. Luckily we have a number of farmers here who raise it because I always think the ones from Whole Foods are too mushy.
Hi, Michell–I haven’t read that, and now I’m going to put it on the list. Oh, to be in your position, where you not only have a surfeit of rabbits, but are are able to make quality control judgments. I suspect if I were in your position I’d find WF pork somewhat deficient in comparison to what was locally available too. By the way, how do you cook your rabbit? Ken
This is our favorite one: http://wp.me/pSGe4-bJ. A confit of sorts, I guess.
I must admit that I have some apprehension about trying rabbit. But this entree looks delicious. I am intrigued. Thanks for sharing!
Thanks. Once you get past the Boy-this-is-certainly-unusual-feeling I think you’ll like it. Like I said, no one who’s ever tried it dislikes the taste. Good luck. Ken
What at awesome post. I really love rabbit and this is classic. When i was in Chile i hunted rabbits and was upset that when it came time to skin and butcher i was relegated to the sidelined. I wanted to be pay off the process from start to finish as Jody mentions in her notes. Thank you for the instruction and the photos. Your posts are as informative as they are delicious. Such quality. And what a recipe. I miss you guys and still hope to make it to Boston soon. Xo
*sidelines *part of #ihateautocorrect#
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What a gorgeous post. Discovered your site via Amanda at What’s Cooking. I remember my mother and father-in-law telling me stories of eating rabbit in the 30s and 40s as a means of survival. Here in Australia we have access to farmed (expensive) rabbit, but rarely eat the wild creatures (in plague proportions and free). There seems to be quite a disconnect? Perhaps I need to learn how to hunt?
Look forward to seeing more of your posts.
PS I use Thai fish sauce in place of Garum…x
Reblogged this on maticinfinity and commented:
‘ Wish to eat rabbit someday.
I’m sure you will. Thanks for the reblog! Ken
My husband has been itching to go rabbit hunting. When he does, I’m definitely trying it your way. He can break it down though, I’d hate to keep all the fun to myself.
Heheh… one thing to keep in mind, wild rabbit is considerably stronger/gamier tasting than the farmed version, which is why you so often see it paired with juniper berries, wine, bacon, etc. Not that I would ever discourage you from making one of our recipes. :-) Ken
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