HOP TO IT!
HOW TO COOK RABBIT


With Recipes For
Lapin a la Moutarde

Papperdelle with Rabbit Sauce
Roasted Rabbit in Thyme Jus
and
Tips on Cooking Rabbit
What Wine to Drink with Rabbit


Here comes Peter Cottontail, hoppin' down the bunny trail, hippity, hoppity ... into your frying pan."

Whether it's rabbit mole, pappardelle with rabbit sauce or lapin a la moutarde, let's talk rabbit for Easter dinner. But before you cancel your subscription because I'm suggesting you serve that wittle bunny wabbit, please hear me out.

Do you go weak at the prospect of eating chicken, just because you cheered with The Famous Chicken (a.k.a. The San Diego Chicken) strutting around at baseball games? And do you boycott lamb chops because your kids stroked those cuddly creatures at the petting zoo? No, of course you don't.

So unless you're a vegetarian, there's no reason why you shouldn't consider eating rabbit instead of ham (and what about poor old Porky Pig, huh?) this Easter, or any other time.
"We still have the Easter Bunny syndrome in this country," says Clyde Marsh, who owns the Cloverdale Rabbit Co. in Hollister, California. "But I just got back from Barcelona and I saw rabbits all over the place, in markets and in restaurants."

Europeans, especially the French, Italians, Portuguese, Spanish, Hungarians and Germans, aren't squeamish about eating rabbit, even though they all celebrate Easter - with baby lamb often the preferred meat.

If we can get over our prejudices, eating rabbit makes a lot of sense. Four ounces of roasted rabbit meat has 175 calories and 7.2 grams of fat, slightly less in both categories than skinless turkey dark meat. And rabbit meat has more flavor than chicken, to which it is often compared.

"I think it's a cross between rattlesnake and frog legs," says Jim Connolly, chef of Emile's restaurant in San Jose, CA. Rabbit is often referred to as a cross between rattlesnake and frog legs. Speaking of rattlesnake, don't confuse rabbit with wild blue hare, which is occasionally found at restaurants that specialize in game. The meat on hare is much darker and the flavor much gamier.

In addition to the Easter Bunny syndrome, one hurdle that has to be overcome before rabbit is as popular as chicken is price, which can range from about $3 a pound to as high as $4.69 a pound. (In Europe, most meat, including chicken, costs more than it does in the United States.) Though rabbits multiply like, well, rabbits, most rabbits are raised in mom-and-pop operations, a far cry from assembly line-produced chicken.

"Clyde (Marsh) picks up 20 here, five there, during the week, then he processes them on weekends for Monday delivery," says Jim Riparbelli, one of his regular customers. "That's pretty primitive, but I guess that's how chickens used to get processed in the old days." (The processing. is done by hand, incidentally, which also jacks up the price.)
Another reason for the dearth of rabbits on restaurant menus and in home kitchens is that they breed seasonally, mostly in the summer when there is less demand - most people who do eat rabbit think of it as game, a coldweather meat.

Unlike other livestock breeders, rabbit ranchers can't use antibiotics on their animals because there aren't any that have been developed for rabbits. That increases animal mortality, another deterrent to low prices. But Marsh points out that the controversy about how much grain it takes to raise some livestock for meat, particularly cattle, favors rabbits.

"Rabbits don't compete with humans for food. They eat things like alfalfa and other food byproducts humans don't eat," Marsh says.

Working with rabbit is very much like working with chicken. Think of the forelegs as wings. There isn’t much breast meat but the saddle or tenderloin makes up for it.
When cutting up a rabbit, remove hind legs and forelegs and the saddle (or have the butcher do it). The bony rib cage can be used for stock. A 2-1/2 pound rabbit should serve 2 people, more if you have a rich sauce or several side dishes.


recipe card
 Lapin a la moutarde
top

1 rabbit, cut up, liver set aside for another use
Salt and pepper to taste
1/3 cup Dijon mustard
3 tablespoons canola oil
1 tablespoon butter
1-1/2 cups dry white wine
2 medium onions, finely chopped
1 tablespoon superfine flour such as Wondra
1-1/2 cups Chicken or rabbit stock
Several branches fresh thyme, rosemary, summer savory or tarragon
1 bay leaf
Chopped parsley
Cooked rice

1. Season rabbit with salt and pepper. Brush one side of each piece with mustard. Heat oil and butter in a deep, non-reactive skillet and cook pieces, mustard side down, when fat is hot. Don't crowd the pan. Cook in batches if necessary (or use two pans). Brown 10 minutes. Season and coat other side with mustard. Brown another 10 minutes.

2. Remove rabbit and add a few tablespoons of wine to pan. Scrape up browned bits with a wooden spoon. Add onions and cook until soft. Stir in flour and mix well. Add remaining wine, stock, thyme (or other herb) and bay leaf. Return rabbit to pan, bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer, uncovered, about 45 minutes.

Transfer rabbit to a platter, pour sauce over and sprinkle with parsley. Serve with rice.

Serves 2-4.
Adopted from "Bistro Cooking" by Patricia Wells (Workman Publishing).

recipe card
 Pappardelle with rabbit sauce
top

Pappardelle is a wide noodle pasta that Italians like with gamesauces, particularly rabbit. If you can't find it (normally at specialty markets), try fettuccine.
1 rabbit, cut up, liver reserved
Salt and pepper
1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 rib celery, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 small onion, chopped
2 ounces pancetta, chopped
½ cup dry red wine
1 cup chicken stock
1/2  cup tomato sauce
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, chopped
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
1 to 2 teaspoons tomato paste, optional
Freshly grated nutmeg
16 ounces pappardelle
Grated Parmesan, optional

1. Season forelegs, hind legs and saddle with salt and pepper. Heat butter and half the oil in a large skillet and brown rabbit over moderate heat 15-20 minutes. (Use two pans or do in batches toavoid crowding. Smaller pieces will take less time). Set aside on a warm platter. In a separate pan, sear the liver in remaining oilover high heat, about 2 minutes on each side. Cool. (Liver should still be pink inside.)

2. Cook vegetables and pancetta in same pan as rabbit until just tender. Add wine and reduce over high heat by half, scraping bitson the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon. Add stock, tomato sauce, rosemary and half the parsley. Return rabbit and cook just until rabbit is tender

3. Remove rabbit. If necessary, thicken sauce with tomato paste.Season with nutmeg, salt and pepper to taste. Chop liver coarsely and add to sauce.

4. Cook pasta until tender but firm. Drain and top with sauce,sprinkled with remaining parsley and Parmesan if desired. Serveforelegs, hind legs and saddle separately.

Serves 2-4.

recipe card
 Roasted and braised rabbit in thyme jus top

For this savory rabbit dish, created by Jim Connolly at Emile's, you will need two oven-proof skillets. Connolly doesn't use the forelegs but I did when I made it. Just be sure not to cook them as long as the hind legs.

1 rabbit, cut up
Salt and pepper to taste
Flour
4 tablespoons canola oil
Equal amounts of chopped carrots, celery and shallots to make 1 cup
1 cup white wine
1 cup rabbit or chicken stock
1 bay leaf
4 sprigs fresh thyme
Cooked pasta
2 sprigs fresh thyme, 1/2 cup chopped tomato for garnish

1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Season hind legs and forelegs with salt and pepper, dust in flour and brown in half the oil in a heavy skillet over moderate heat. Remove to platter. Add half the chopped vegetables to the skillet. Brown and add 1/2 cup wine, stock, bay leaf and thyme. Add cooked rabbit pieces, cover and put in oven 25-30 minutes. Remove forelegs after 15 minutes, cover and keep warm.

2. Meanwhile, season saddle with salt and pepper and brown in remaining oil in another skillet over high heat. Remove saddle, add remaining vegetables to pan, top with saddle, cover and put in the oven for about 6 minutes. Let rest 5 minutes in the pan.

3. Remove saddle, deglaze pan with 1/2 cup white wine and combine with juices from the pan in which the legs were cooked. Cook down to 1/2 cup of liquid; strain.
4. Put cooked pasta in the middle of a platter and surround with rabbit pieces. Drizzle with cooking juices and garnish with thyme sprigs and tomato. 

Serves 2-4.

More Tips on Cooking Rabbit top
Here are some tips for cooking rabbit at home.

  • Cook the legs and saddle separately. Braise the meaty hind legs in stock and aromatic seasonings and roast the saddle (loin) separately because the type of meat is different in both areas - like a chicken breast and leg. Smaller, bonier forelegs can be cooked with the hind legs or reserved for stock or soup.
  • Use rabbit legs as a substitute for chicken in paella or other dishes.
  • If you're simply roasting rabbit, cook it to an internal temperature of 150 degrees, slightly lower than chicken. You want a bare hint of pink remaining because rabbit is so lean it will dry out easily if overcooked.
  • Strong seasonings overpower the meat so stick with aromatic herbs such as thyme, tarragon and sage. Serve rabbit en brochette with grilled vegetables and grains such as buIgur (cracked wheat) and polenta or pasta.
  • Since rabbit is considered a game meat by most folks, try it in a ragout with wild mushrooms.
  • Though white wine is often used to deglaze the pan that rabbit is sauteed in, you can also use grappa (the fiery Italian clear brandy) and balsamic vinegar.
  • Rabbit liver is unusually large and unusually delicious. Sear it on both sides in clarified butter, leaving it pink inside. Then add a few shallots to the pan with some wine, port or brandy and cook a few minutes. Process with a touch of cream, salt, pepper and a pinch of allspice or nutmeg for quick pate.

What wine to drink with rabbit? top
Light reds such as Beaujolais and Pinot and full-bodied whites such as chardonnay should do the trick. In the classic French lapin a la moutarde, rabbit with mustard sauce, the wine used in the cooking is often an Alsatian riesling. This could also be the wine you drink with the dish. Or you could try a gewürztraminer or white Rhone.

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