It’s funny how you can spend your spare time day dreaming about what to cook for a class assignment, but those million ideas are thrown out the window as soon as you notice a whole rabbit on sale for $5/lb ($11/kg) at the grocery store. This rabbit called to me, the vegan cashier nagged me, and the cycle of life continues. In total, I paid $15.66 for the 3lb (1.4kg) rabbit.
In North America, rabbit has not been a popular choice since WWII but that could easily change as sustainable and urban farming takes off. Rabbit is one of the healthiest, leanest, and environmentally friendly meats you can eat. Rabbits are foraging animals that are easier to raise, reproduce and slaughter than chickens. They are a high source of protein and calcium while being low in cholesterol and fat. Rabbit fryers are harvested at 12 weeks, weighing from 2-4lbs. They could become a popular choice for the urban farmer, and in fact, as a child my neighbours in downtown Toronto used to raise rabbits in their garage!
Since all meat sold in Canada must be inspected, and hunted meat is not inspected, all rabbit meat sold commercially is farmed. This means the majority of rabbits you would ever cook with are much lighter in colour, tenderer and much milder than its gamey, wild counterpart. This opens up more cooking techniques than the traditional rabbit stew as the young farmed rabbit can withstand dry heat cooking methods of grilling, roasting or sautéing. However since rabbit is very lean it is prone to drying out, so even young rabbits are fantastic braised or stewed, as I plan to make.
Rabbit is as versatile as chicken with a similarly mild flavour. According to “The Flavour Bible” (which is one of my favourite and most used cooking books!) rabbit goes fantastic with bacon, garlic, mushrooms, mustard, onion, pepper, thyme, and dry wine. After looking through many recipes, I have put together my own using the above ingredients. But first, we must joint a rabbit.
Rabbit’s consist of their two meaty back legs, front chicken-wing-like legs, and the saddle which consists of the loin, ribs, and belly flaps. The back legs are prized since they contain the most meat, and the loin is also sought after for dry heat cooking methods. Although the ribs and flaps can be used to make stock, I threw them into my stew to extract as much flavour as possible.
The rabbit also came with its offal, which could be used to make terrine or pate, and in some traditional Italian recipes the liver is ground up with crème fresh and added to the sauce at the end for richness. Today, I was hungry for rabbit, so as my stew bubbled away I seared up the liver, kidney and heart. The ultimate cooks snack! The only thing that went into the compost was the fat, which unfortunately in this animal is foul tasting.
Rabbit & Mushroom Stew
1 3lb Rabbit, jointed
400g bacon, sliced into lardon
500g mixed mushrooms (I used white button & shiitake), halved or sliced.
30g dried porcini, soaked, diced, water reserved.
4 small onions, medium dice
2 small carrots, medium dice
4 cloves garlic, diced
375ml Dry Riesling
1-1.5 L Stock, as needed.
8 springs thyme
2 bay leaves
1 tsp Dijon mustard
Salt and pepper, to taste
- On medium heat, crisp up bacon. Remove from pot, strain and reserve most of the fat.
- Dry, season, and lightly flour the jointed rabbit, shaking off excess. On Medium-high heat, sear the rabbit, remove and reserve.
- Pour some reserved bacon fat into the pan and saute the mushrooms until all the liquid has evaporated. While cooking, season with salt, pepper, and 4 springs thyme. Remove and reserve.
- Using reserved bacon fat, saute the onions and carrots. Season lightly and cook until nicely caramelized. Add the garlic and stir until fragrant.
- Deglaze with wine, scraping up any remaining fond, reduce by half.
- Chop up the dehydrated mushrooms and add with the thyme, bay leaf while returning the rabbit, bacon, and mushrooms to the pot. Cover with the rehydrated mushroom liquid and stock. Bring to a boil, and reduce to a simmer. Cover and cook until rabbit is tender, about 45 minutes.
- Once tender, remove the rabbit and raise the heat to high. Reduce the liquid, skimming regularly, until it reaches the preferred consistency.
- Add dijon, cream and taste for seasoning.
I served my rabbit over some deliciously creamy roasted garlic mashed potatoes with roasted broccoli. To drink we finished the bottle of wine the rabbit was cooked in, Etyek-Budai Riesling 2013. It was very dry with a slight lemon, green apple flavour.
Next time, I would rub the rabbit with dijon before searing and perhaps add a spoonful of tomato paste into the carrots and onions just to give it slightly more sweetness and richness. I would also suggest adding the loin 20 minutes after the legs, as just like chicken breast it cooked faster and just wasn’t as juicy as the legs. After seeing how tender the meat was, I would love to do a pulled rabbit dish. Another day with another hare.