Monday, January 17, 2011

Cooking a Rabbit

The other night, I cooked a rabbit for the first time. My friend Peter was coming over for dinner and I wanted to try something new. We used a simple recipe from The Art of Eating #76 called Lapin à la crème, or Rabbit in white wine with cream. The first task was to butcher the rabbit.

I've become rather competent, if I may say so, at butchering a chicken. Rabbit - need more practice. You can see from the picture above that I was able to remove the hind and front leg portions without much trouble, but the loin is actually larger than what you see above. I left some meat on the ribcage and there were some thin flaps of muscle that I decided to remove from the main loin portions. When I looked at the Art of Eating photos afterward, those flaps were left as part of the loin. Live and learn...

The recipe calls for "stiffening" the rabbit in butter (cooking but not browning), sweating some aromatic vegetables, returning the rabbit to the pot and braising it with the aromatics in white wine and stock for 45-60 minutes until tender, removing the rabbit and then reducing the braising liquid. Then straining the liquid and adding some cream (although the recipe called for adding the cream before straining, but that didn't sound right to us). Then cooking some mushrooms - we used hedgehogs, returning the rabbit to the sauce with the mushrooms to marry the flavors, and adding white pepper and lemon. We substituted parsley for the white pepper and lemon.

I must say, the braising liquid and the rabbit smelled great. We plated our rabbit portions over a mound of plain white rice, spooned some of the sauce over the top, sprinkled with parsley, et voila.

Rabbit is a very lean meat, more gamy than heavy. This sauce is delicious, but not terribly pungent or complex. What to drink with this dish? James MacGuire in The Art of Eating writes "With the rich but not unusually flavorful sauce of rabbit with white wine and cream, you might drink a dry or near dry, fresh, aromatic Alsace Riesling or Pinot Gris." That sounded good to me, but I had no Alsace wine in the house. So I opened a bottle of the most aromatic Riesling that I had, the 2004 Alzinger Riesling Smaragd Loibner Steinertal, $30, Imported by Michael Skurnik Wines.

According to Peter, Alzinger's Steinertal is one of the absolute greatest white wines of Austria. So yes, it is possible to buy one of the greatest white wines in the world on closeout for $30, and the new vintage (2008) costs under $65, by the way. Anyway, this wine was vividly fragrant, delicate and finely focused, and very intense with a great presence on the palate and a lazy lingering finish. It was a lovely match with the rabbit. I thought it was just a spectacular wine. And it held up for next three days, too.

All of that said, I liked but didn't love my rabbit. I didn't achieve that falling off the bone texture that the recipe suggests. What do you think - have you cooked rabbit with any success? I'm willing to try again but I need a little inspiration. I might prefer simply to drink the Steinertal.

15 comments:

NickG said...

My suggestion is longer braising at low temp. Just replace the 45-60 minute braising step with 1 1/2 to 2 hours covered in the oven at 250 degrees. This consistently gets juicy, falling off the bone rabbit for me.

Jeremy Jennings said...

It took me a bunch of tries to cook rabbit in a manner that made me truly happy. I did a rabbit pie over the holidays that turned out very well, but that's a pretty different kind of thing... I'm pretty sure some kind of cured pork (pancetta, sausage, prosciutto) has been a part of every time things have come out well, but that's probably just because I haven't tried enough variations.

Timothy said...

I'd agree with NickG in that i've almost always found that braising longer than the recipe suggests yields better results. It's funny, i've noticed a trend that recipes from restaurant recipe books tend to have crazy long braise times when compared to those in cookbooks. i bet if you throw it in a small dutch oven after the stiffening, put it in the oven at a low temp for twice the time you'll get what you're looking for.

bill lundstrom said...

one of paula wolferts book has an excellent recipie for breaking down a whole rabbit and how to cook the whole thing.
i have done it twice with good results.
pretty sure the braising time is longer. i used those "flaps" in th esoup made from making stock with the bones and rib cage.
i will check the book later and let you know which one it is.

Clotpoll said...

Lower temp, longer cooking time, heavier pot. Also doesn't hurt to finish the braise, cool it, degrease, refrigerate, then rewarm slowly the next day. Be sure to refresh the acidity and re-season.

Another trick is to save the braisage (braising liquid). Riesling and other acidic wine-based braisages mellow and get better with re-use.

bill lundstrom said...

paula wolferts "cooking of southwest france" has the recipies i was referring to.

Fillay said...

Yeah, I've never had much luck with the 45-60 minute rabbit braise. Maybe it's something that's lost in translation from European rabbit to domestic. I have had enormous luck with two NYT-available recipes: Barbara Lynch's braised rabbit with pappardelle, which at 2 hours in a fairly hot oven is definitely falling off the bone; and Kurt Gutenbrunner's spaetzle with rabbit, which was reverse-engineered to go with Alzinger.

Brooklynguy said...

thank you all for this - clearly i have to let the braise go longer next time.

2GrandCru said...

Totally agree about the Alzinger, that's one really well structured , thought provoking wine.

Anonymous said...

Go as low as you can, temp-wise, in a heavy pot in the oven for at least two hours. Pull out a half cup or so of the braising liquid and add a tablespoon or so of flour to make a slurry, add some mustard powder and add it all back to the pot for the last half hour.

LeifJus said...

Adding a liasion and seasoning toward the end of the braise is a nice idea, but I prefer to gently reduce the braising liquid and incorporate further seasoning and lisaions after straining the liquid from the pot. And even better than flour is arrow root. Or, for a decadent sauce, try emulsifying butter in the sauce....

Cliff said...

Thank you so much for posting this. I braised (covered) for about 1.5hrs at 300 early in the day, then brought it up to temperature at dinner. Falling off the bone delicious.

Anonymous said...

Rabbits are smart and social animals, just like dogs. I'm just sorry you didn't choke on one of the bones during your little dinner. In any case, even though you seem to have no conscience, hope you will consider the next time when you are cooking an animal that is considered a pet in NYC that you are eating someone's best friend and companion.

Anonymous said...

Rohasi4
I have been experimenting a lot with rabbit. I recieve mine from a farm in vermont via a friend who lives there. They are raised as meat and humanely killed then fully butchered. Ihave slow cooked them and fried them. Both ways they are delicious. Inusually use a stock, chicken, and cook for aboiut 2 hours, remove the rabbit, then reduce the cooking liquid and add veggies, whatever i feel like. Seasoning also is up to your taste. I like bay, garlic, salt pepper and thyme. I add the liver and kidneys and heart with the veggies to enrich the flavor. I jusy cooked one tonight which is why i was looking up about how others cook rabbit. After removing the cooked rabbit from the broth i added baby ball carrots for 5 minutes, then fingerling potatoes, for 10 minutes, then fresh peas for another five minutes. Finish it with more salt and thyme and a couple splashes of olive oil. It looks beautiful.
One of the nicest preparations was frying it just like chicken. That also was great

Rabbit in the slowcooker! said...

Cooked rabbit takes me back to my childhood. My dad used to cook a big pot of bunny stew (far bigger then you could ever eat of course!) and dish it out on a cold winters day. To any one reading this post who hasnt tried wild rabbit, its a must.