I really don’t know why Americans don’t eat rabbit. There’s definitely a factor of “oh, it’s too CUTE to eat” which is part of why we don’t eat much lamb as a nation, either. But it’s really hard to find rabbit in grocery stores – we asked once at our usual market and I think they could special order it frozen for us if we gave them enough notice, and it cost an arm and a leg. Weird.
So when a friend of ours, a local farmer, asked if we wanted to take one of the rabbits she’s been shooting to keep them out of her vegetables, we said Definitely. Even before we received the rabbit, I started looking through my British and Mediterranean cookbooks for possible recipes. We haven’t had much experience cooking wild game of any sort, so I wanted to get a feel for the most common treatments. Rabbit isn’t a strongly gamey meat, but it’s still liable to be stronger-tasting than, say, a farm-raised chicken, and the meat is very dense and low in fat, so it requires some care in preparation.
Braising seemed to be the way to go, although I did find some instructions on roasting (best for young bunnies), as well as some advice on barbecuing (just the rabbit saddles for that, apparently). We weren’t sure of the age and potential toughness of this rabbit, so I picked a really tasty-sounding braise from the beautiful cookbook Olives and Oranges involving lemon peel and fresh rosemary, which seemed like it would make anything delicious.
First we cut up the rabbit. It had been thoroughly cleaned already, so we just had to whack it into pieces. I was keeping an eye out for the bullet, but it must’ve gone with the head. I added salt and pepper, then seared the meat in olive oil in a heavy Dutch oven in several batches, setting the pieces aside until they were all nicely browned.
A little more olive oil went into the pan, then I added two smashed garlic cloves, four branches of rosemary, and one whole lemon’s worth of zest, cut in wide strips with a vegetable peeler. When the garlic began to turn golden, I added a cup of white wine (Domaine des Cassagnoles, as that was what we had handy), and scraped up the fond from the bottom of the pan.
The browned rabbit pieces went into the liquid, largest pieces first, and I added a bit of water to just barely cover the meat. When the liquid came back to a simmer, I put the lid on and stuck the whole thing in a 350° oven for an hour and twenty minutes, which gave me plenty of time to have a drink and chop some kale.
When the braise was done, I lifted the rabbit pieces out onto a platter, then boiled down the liquid on the stovetop until it was down to a cup or less (I pulled the rosemary stems out first). I also mashed the garlic a bit so it was more integrated into the sauce. I scraped the reduced liquid out onto the rabbit, and we were ready to eat.
We had the rabbit with some simple soft polenta and a pile of Tuscan kale sauteed in olive oil, with plenty of juices and lemon zest pieces on top. The lemon was fantastic, sweet and almost candied and dissolving in the mouth. We had two wines that we were trying, the Cassagnoles I had used for the braise and a lovely, funky French Cinsault that was recommended to us. The white went gorgeously with the lemon sauce, but not as much with the rabbit, which was dark and very much like turkey leg meat (except for the belly flap, which tasted exactly like duck – hey, it’s Turducken!). The Cinsault went perfectly with the rabbit but drowned the lemon sauce. So we alternated. It worked fine.
This is a great recipe for rabbit, but I think it would also be fabulous as a shorter braise with chicken, or a longer one for pork. Any excuse to eat all that lemon zest. So what should we do with our next bunny?