( Trout Caviar Sweepstakes, 2009 Local Food Highlights now in progress. Tell us about one of your 2009 local food highlights in the comments section to enter our book drawing.
And hey! Check it out! I'm tweeting! Who woulda thunk it? Follow Trout Caviar on Twitter by clicking the "Follow me on Twitter" button at right, below the "tweets".)
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