Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Yummy Bunny

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Alternate title, a la Updike: "Rabbit is Rich." Wild rabbit, like this one I shot out at Bide-A-Wee last week, is indeed rich. Tastes like chicken? Not a bit. But then I don't think a good farm-rasised rabbit, which I also relish, tastes like chicken, either. That said, the wild thing is in a class by itself.

One thing rabbit has in common with chicken, or any other fowl, is that some parts cook more quickly than others; some parts take to long cooking better than others. On a bird you have legs, which can take a lot of cooking, and the breast, which goes dry very easily. Rabbits don't fly (except in Monty Python...), so there's no breast meat to speak of. But like many another mammal, they have well-developed loin muscles, running right along the backbone. The loin from a wild rabbit is some of the finest meat you'll ever eat, in my opinion--tender, toothsome,
savory, rich, just gamy enough. As to how to cook it, just think of how you'd prepare a pork loin, a good steak, a lamb loin chop--medium rare is best, to my taste, rare if you prefer; anything beyond medium is...too much cooking, I think (not to attribute moral imputations to one's preferred doneness of meat...!).

What I did with this bunny: Broke it down into its significant components: Separated the back legs(at the top) from the carcass , then the front legs (bottom). Trimmed up the sort of "flap meat" hanging down along the rib cage. Trimmed up the "saddle," the back of the rabbit, leaving the loin on the bone (middle).

All trimmings, including the head, I chopped up and browned in a bit of oil, added carrot, leek, onion, garlic, thyme, black pepper, celery root trimmings, white wine, water, and simmered for stock.

For garnish I rendered some cubes of homesmoked bacon. In that fat I browned cubes of parsnip, celery root, carrot, and squash. Set all that aside for later.

Browned the legs, tossed in a half an onion sliced, some cider, some of the rabbit stock. Cover and braise a good hour and a half.



Oh, those jowls, or cheeks, of which I have "tweeted"--I did indeed confit those, along with the heart, tossed them in some Sichuan five-spice salt to cure for a while, cooked them slowly in duck fat for a couple of hours, with a little chopped leek. It was just a rich couple of mouthfuls by the time it was done, served over a round of sourdough, but let me tell you, it nearly stole the show.

Toward serving time, brown the loin well in a bit of oil and butter, stick it in a 350 oven to finish, six to eight minutes. Let rest while we strain the braising liquid, add a little more stock to it, then the cubes of precooked bacon and vegetables to warm through.



Serve on soft polenta. We usually cook polenta in plain water. This time we used one-third each water, rabbit stock, and milk. It was excellent in its own right, but in the context a bit rich, like buttering the foie gras (a culinary version of gilding the lily...!).

If you hunt and like to eat, go get yourself a wild rabbit. If you don't hunt but know someone who does, implore him or her on your behalf. Invite the hunter to share the meal. Everyone wins (okay, everyone but the rabbit). Another good thing about rabbit: In Wisconsin, and I suspect it may be the same elsewhere, if you're hunting on private land, there's no closed season. You have to observe the daily bag limits and possession limits, and have a small-game license but that's it. Rabbits are plentiful, they get to be pests. Do your duty as a top-of-the-food-chain predator, and enjoy the perks.

Text and photos copyright 2010 by Brett Laidlaw

15 comments:

Emily said...

awesome! ihave never hunted but try and keep up with my end of the top of the food chain bargain by eating copious amounts of animal products!

Trout Caviar said...

Hi Emily: I'm glad you're with me on this one--we need to show all those little furry, tasty little critters who's boss!

But seriously, I wonder, if all of us who eat meat ate a wider range of types of meat, from different sources, could we cut down on the need for factory farms?

The hunter's credo is, "Know your target, and what is beyond"; it could apply to shopping for food, too.

Cheers~ Brett

stephmarch said...

Loooove this post. I am a huge bunny fan, but haven't attempted it at home.

mdmnm said...

Brett,

Way to really get the most from your rabbit! One of my favorite preparations is Rabbit in Brown Sauce from Paul Prudhomme's "Louisiana Kitchen". The sauce is spicy (not really a surprise, given the source) but wild rabbit has enough flavor to stand up to it and contribute it's own character.

Trout Caviar said...

Hi Stephanie: By all means give rabbit a try at home. One thing it does have in common with chicken is that it's just as easy to cook. You can roast or braise a whole or cut-up rabbit without cooking the loin/saddle separately as I've done here. With wild rabbits I go the extra mile, because we don't have it that often.

Good sources for farm-raised rabbit in the Twin Cities: Clancey's; Bar 5 at the St Paul winter farmers market; and the co-ops sometimes have them in the freezer section.

Thanks for writing~ Brett

p.s. for all "bunny lovers": I've just remembered this photo in a Breton cookbook we have. On one page is a picture of two live, sweet little rabbits sitting adorably in a basket surrounded by vegetables, garlanded with rosemary branches. Two pages previous, the recipe for "Lapin Sauté aux Herbes"....

ESP said...

Hi Guys.
Wild rabbit...I grew up with it, and I caught quite a few with my two ferrets: "Bonnie and Clyde" check out a recent post I made on the subject and on the more disturbing experience I had:

http://www.eastsidepatch.com/2009/12/down-the-rabbit-hole/

Enjoyed your post as I always do...ESP.

Trout Caviar said...

Hi mdmnm: I really do think we did that animal justice, and it returned the favor (flavor?). In addition, we had enough stock left over to add a lot of depth to a posole and smoked pork stew. The pelt is in my freezer, awaiting my first attempt at preserving a hide; I'll use it for fly-tying material. Have you done this? Any hints?

All best~ Brett

Trout Caviar said...

ESP, the narrative in that post is amazing, and the images, as always, strange and compelling. I've seem videos of Brits hunting rabbits with ferrets, but your first-hand account really brings it to life.

I wouldn't be stickin' my hand down there...!

Thanks for writing~ Brett

mdmnm said...

Brett,

For fly tying, are you looking to make bunny strip flies or just use the hair for dubbing and wings and such?

If the latter, just take the hide out of the freezer, make sure it is dry, then cover the meat side very generously with kosher salt, an inch or so deep. Check after a couple of days, if the salt is wet, then shake it off and add fresh salt. Let it cure for a week or two, and it will be hard and dry and (at least in the SW climate) last for years. If you want to cure the hide so it's soft, I'm afraid I can't help.

Charles Leck said...

Brett, the recipe sounds (and looks) wonderful. I wish I'd come across it a few days ago. Wednesday night I did a Hossenpfeffer (pickled rabbit, German style) like my father cooked when I was a boy. It was terrific, but I would have preferred trying your approach.
Charlie Leck (Anne's husband)

Trout Caviar said...

mdmnm: Most likely I'll try to use the fur for dubbing, legs, etc. I seem to recall that the fur strip go into "zonkers"...? I don't tend to fish flies that big very much. Thanks for the tips.

Brett

Trout Caviar said...

Charlie, your rabbit sounds delicious, too! Luckily, rabbit is widley available now, whether you hunt or not, so there are lots of chances to experiment.

Best~ Brett

Sylvie said...

For Stephanie: one of the big difference between domestic rabbit & chicken is that rabbit meat is so much denser. For the same weight, a rabbit feeds more people because the meat is so dense.

Brett: aren't there health concern about wild rabbit? something potentially transmittable to humans?

My husband started to hunt two seasons ago, so far just deer. But we both like rabbits...

Trout Caviar said...

Sylvie, there is a disease, tularemia, that can be transmitted from rabbits to people. It can be spread either by contact with an infected rabbit's blood (but only if you have a cut or open sore--isn't that a tasty thing to read in a food blog?) or from a bite from a tick from an infected rabbit. Or perhaps by eating undercooked rabbit meat.

On the bright side, it's quite rare. According to one website (http://beaglesunlimited.com/rabbithunting_tularemia.htm) I consulted:

"Remember, out of several million people that frequent the outdoors, work with laboratory rodents, and rabbit hunt only 150-300 cases are diagnosed throughout the entire US on a yearly basis. Also, remember this disease has been on a sharp decline for the past 50 years."

If you're opening up a rabbit you've killed yourself, it's apparently quite easy to tell if the rabbit is infected by looking at the liver. The author of that same website notes that in over 30 years of hunting rabbits with beagles, he had never encountered an infected animal.

Now, let's get back to our lunch...!

Cheers~ Brett

p.s.~ Sylvie, if your husband is getting you venison, I'd say the rabbits would be small potatoes...er, small rodents, well, you get my meaning, I'm sure....

Sylvie said...

Thank you! I just could not remember what it was. Looked it up. Lyme disease much more of a problem!

Variety in the diet is good, no? plus, the pretext to get another toy can be a powerful motivator...

Best