Thursday, January 8, 2009

What's up, Doc?

I cooked my first wabbit last night. No, not a wild one. I don't own a gun...yet, but soon, my pretties, soon—which is a story for another time. This one was store-bought and cooked with porcini mushrooms from two of my stashes (frozen and dried), hence the foraging connection.

Rabbit cookery has been on my mind a while now, ever since I started ordering them at restaurants in the last few years. Like a lot of folks, I was kinda squeamish about summoning Bugs to the table on a platter, but when I finally got up the gumption at the Palace Kitchen a while back, what greeted me was not a carrot-chomping wascal but a tender and delicious meal that registered high on the comfort-o-meter. Mr. Fudd would have been in heaven.

Maybe that was the problem. My Palace rabbit and equally yummy ones that followed were the products of professionals. Truth be told, I was a little disappointed with what emerged from my own amateur-but-trying-hard oven last night, although I've learned a few lessons. For one thing, I need to try to refrain from my usual headlong dive into new waters; you know, do a tad more research on the literature and expertise so abundant online. For another, expectations should be set accordingly. Who did I think I was? Daniel Boulud?

In retrospect it occurs to me that all my restau-rabbits have been boneless—and here is a key to quality rabbit-eating: they're bony critters, with meat similar to chicken but bonier bodies, including a bunch of sneaky little bones to boot. Even though the finished product turned out to be quite flavorful, next time I plan to de-bone the bunny first, or see if my butcher offers alternatives to the whole rabbit. The other tricky issue is that rabbit meat is very lean and subject to drying out. You would think that de-boning would raise the risk of a too-dry rodent. Obviously there's a skill to be learned about cooking rabbit so that it is both tender and moist.

At 7 clams per pound, as Bugs would say, this experiment wasn't cheap either. I present the recipe below (in French, no less) in any event because the sauce was so good and it's a simple preparation that would work just as well with fowl. And to all you Bunny Experts out there: Please weigh in with your own tips and travails.

Le Lapin avec Cèpes Deux Fois

Cèpes are porcini in French, aka boletus mushrooms. I used two types of boletes: frozen "spring king" buttons, of which the exact species name is up for grabs although some call them Boletus pinophilus, others Boletus rex-veris, and still others believe them to be part of the Boletus edulis complex. These are a spring and early summer variety found on the east slope of the Cascade and Sierra Nevada mountains, and they're known to be less pungent than their fall cousins though still firm and delectable. The second variety was a handful of dried Leccinum mushrooms from this fall's harvest, probably Leccinum aurantiacum. Also from the Bolete family, Leccinums are generally better dried and pulverized to extract their earthy flavor.

1 3 1/2 lb rabbit, cut up
4 tbsp (1/2 stick) butter
1 large onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 cup white wine
1 1/2 cups beef stock
1/2 pound fresh (or thawed) boletus mushrooms, sliced
1-3 oz dried boletus mushrooms, pulverized
1 large can whole tomatoes, chopped, minus extra liquid in can
1/2 tsp dried tarragon
1 tbsp parsley, chopped
parsley for garnish

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Add warm water to dried pulverized mushrooms to cover.
2. Melt butter in large pan and brown rabbit pieces; set aside. Saute onions and garlic in same pan. If using fresh mushrooms, add to saute and cook 5 minutes; if using previously frozen mushrooms, saute in smaller pan with an extra tbsp of butter until slightly browned, then add to larger pan.
3. Deglaze with wine, stirring until mostly evaporated. Add tomatoes, stock, reconstituted mushrooms with their water, and herbs, stirring. Cook over moderate heat until reduced and thickened, several minutes.
4. Arrange rabbit pieces in buttered casserole dish, then cover with sauce. Bake at 350 degrees for 30-35 minutes. Serve over polenta with a garnish of chopped parsley.

This recipe was inspired by James Villas's Braised Rabbit, Mushrooms, and Tomatoes, from Crazy for Casseroles. Bugs Bunny photo by Gabrielle.


mdmnm said...

Finspot- you should go check the Querencia archives- Bodio has some hare and rabbit recipes there and he uses wild mushrooms a lot.
Rabbit is bony, but not horribly so. The saddles pull right off the spine, cooked or raw, and for the rest, eat with your fingers! If you try frying rabbit, once you've gotten a good crust on each side of the piece, cover the skillet and let everything steam a bit, that'll help make it tender. You do the same thing frying quail, which can also get dry.

Last, if you do plunge into hunting, rabbits are usually pretty inexpensive to harvest and have long seasons in addition to being good eats.

Good luck!

klahmers said...

Looks tasty. This I know about. I grew up with harvested rabbit. My grandmother once threatened to serve roadkill if I didn't go get her some rabbits. Never believe that someone from the depression era won't try something like that! Anyway, I tended to cook the rabbit longer in the oven which doesn't seem to dry it out, just makes it fall off the bones. I would suggest that you consider parting it a little if you get your gun. Allows you to remove more traumatized portions and the shot. Spitting out pellets is inglorious and can turn a kid off (my experience as a kid). Best of luck with your next bunny.

Langdon Cook said...

Thanks for the advice Mdmm and Klahmers! I'm not done with rabbits, that's for sure.

Heather said...

I usually do a slow braise with everything but the loin - those get a quick sear as medallions. I bet a bunny'd confit nicely...

Langdon Cook said...

Mmmnnnn, medallions. You're on to something there, Heather. Thanks for weighing in!

Also, I should clarify: My dinner guest thought the rabbit quite tasty, and I second that--it's just that the bones were more of an issue than I anticipated, and unlike, say, chicken, they don't separate from the meat as easily, making for a more involved fork-and-knife deal, sort of like the heel-toe work for those of us who insist on driving standards in Seattle's ever-deteriorating traffic quagmire...

Hunter Angler Gardener Cook said...

A few things: Yes, rabbit is excellent as confit. It is also easy to debone a rabbit, then make stock from it - far more appropriate, IMHO, than using beef stock, which I find too heavy for rabbit.

Domestic rabbits can always be fried Southern style like chicken -- deee-lish! You should try that one...

I would be happy to help you learn to rabbit hunt; I do a fair bit of it in California.

Braises are always a good thing, as Heather writes. I cook mine a lot longer, like 90 minutes at 275 degrees. Meat falls off the bone...

Hares (jackrabbits) are en entirely different matter. Just know that should you find one.

Langdon Cook said...

Hank, I may take you up on a bunny hunt. First I need to learn how to fire the dang thing. Well, that's not entirely true. I had a pellet gun as a kid and have fired a .22 at targets before; I even fired an old Enfield 30.03 rifle a few times to scare bears out of an orchard in Oregon, but man was that a loud and scary gun. I'm thinking of taking a hunter safety class this winter to get the ball rolling...

Hubert Hubert said...

Hi there, Fat of the Land.
I enjoyed reading your post about rabbit here (and also the cooking tips from your commentators - I shall try the fry/steam combo with rabbit very soon I think).

I've been blogging my own stumbling attempts to learn air rifle rabbit hunting over the last few months. It's over the pond and over at: - it's called 'Rabbit Stew'. Fat of the Land folk would be very welcome guests. All the best, Hubert Hubert

tazz said...

I'm enjoying cruising your blog... I'm a backyard rabbit raiser in Oregon. Just a couple things to add to the bunny conversation. If you have a young rabbit 9 to 10 weeks of age then it should be plenty tender. I find it best to cut the bunny up and cook the larger pieces like the back legs for one dish and the smaller ones like the front legs for a different dish it keeps the smaller pieces from drying out. Oh, and those small bones are only associated with the front legs.

I cook mine just like chicken and always with moist heat. My current favorite is to bake in a casserole dish slathered in bbq sauce. Coconut curry is also great.

One last.... they aren't rodents... they are lagomorphs.. different critters.

Anonymous said...

My tip? Get a breeding trio of 1 boy and 2 girls. Breed them 4x/year. 10 kits per litter you will have 80 rabbits a year. Each litter takes just 10 weeks to grow out. They are impossibly easy to raise and process. Seriously - even on a city sized lot. And if you grow your own barley fodder they're practically free to feed.