Sunday, April 29, 2007

Braised Rabbit with White Wine & Mushrooms

There were crates and crates of mushrooms at the market yesterday. Perhaps it’s all the rain New York’s had recently, but as I passed the Bulich Mushroom Company’s stall, the air was heady with the earthy scent of criminis, shitakes, oysters, and portobellos. Having been assured that the latter were the most flavorful right now (always ask the grower what to buy – it’s one of the greatest benefits of using the greenmarkets), I remembered we were expecting yet more rain last night. A rustic French braise was called for, and Northshire Farms had a great heap of fresh rabbits.

In the Northern Mediterranean, rabbits are most frequently eaten in the colder months, but they are standard, affordable fare the year round. Their meat is lean and easily confused with chicken – especially when the rabbit is farm-raised. Rabbits are at their best between 3 and 12 months, and they are usually sold with their liver, heart, and kidneys still intact. These organs can add tremendous depth of flavor to braises and patés, and rabbit kidneys can be a real treat in a brandy or port wine sauce.

Now, on that note, if your thoughts run more to Beatrix Potter than sticky pan juices when you hear rabbit, by all means get yourself a chicken and continue as normal. I have a close friend who lived and worked in France for years (where rabbits or lapins are often displayed at market in various frolicking poses with fur and heads still on), and whose dinner parties are endlessly varied and chic. This friend cannot bear to sit with me when I “eat bunny,” and how can I argue with that? Anyway, chickens are usually more foolproof as they have their skin to protect them from drying out.

I wanted something hearty and simple, so I’ve kept the garlic and the shallots whole, and I tore the portobellos into fifths or sixths. Don’t be concerned by the amount of garlic. When braised, the cloves turn mild and sweetly soft. Fingerling potatoes are beautiful right now, tiny and packed with flavor, so they just needed a rinse and into the pot they went, whole as well. Serve this dish with plenty of good crusty bread - the juices are simply too good to leave on the plate.

Can't find good rabbit where you shop? Try Eat Wild.

Serves 4

kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
1 rabbit, cut into 6 (your butcher or supplier can do this), liver and heart reserved
extra virgin olive oil
½ lb whole shallots, trimmed and peeled
1 head of garlic, cloves separated and peeled
5 portobello mushroom caps, brushed clean and torn into bite-sized pieces
1 lb new fingerling potatoes
1 bottle white wine (I used a Chateau Lamothe de Haut Bordeaux)
2 fresh bay leaves
2 tbsp chopped chives

Season some flour with salt and pepper. Dredge the rabbit pieces in the mixture, and tap off the excess. Heat a large braising pot over medium-high heat. Add a generous glug of olive oil and brown the rabbit pieces, a few at a time, about 5 minutes a side. Remove to a plate.

Reduce the heat to medium and add a little more oil to the pot if necessary. Add the shallots, season with salt, and sauté about 5 minutes until translucent. Add the garlic cloves and mushrooms, season with a little more salt, and sauté, stirring often, for 3 more minutes. You will probably need to add more oil, as the mushrooms soak it all up until they start releasing their juices.

Stir in the potatoes and put the rabbit pieces back in the pot along with the juices that will have collected on the plate. Pour in the wine, stir in the bay leaves, and add the heart and liver if using. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce to a very gentle simmer, cover, and cook about 1 hour until the rabbit is tender but still moist, stirring occasionally.

Check the seasoning with salt and pepper. Serve hot, sprinkled with the chives.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the very helpful recipe! I always wanted to make rabbit, but it sounded too complicated until I read this.

che tibby said...

hi, thanks for the recipe!

i've tried cooking rabbit, but the meat became very tough.

i marinated it in sherry, then browned it in a ceramic dish.

i then cooked it with the sherry marinate and chicken stock (also with pears and garlic).

tough as boots and incredibly dry.

what's the secret? just cooking it longer? better browning?

Figs, Olives, Wine said...

Hi Che Tibby,
Thanks so much for the question! This is absolutely not your fault! Rabbit really does dry out more easily than chicken, as it hasn't got skin to keep in moisture. However, rabbits should be able to handle a good braise. Elizabeth David herself braises one for 3 whole hours in her "French Provincial Cooking."

So, with the hopes that any or all may be of some use to you, my thoughts are this:

1. First, make sure you're using a rabbit of about 3 lbs. If the animal is older, that might explain toughness. The solution would be to braise for 3 hours rather than 1 a la Elizabeth.

2. Be sure you're dredging in flour before browning. The crust that forms can help to seal in moisture. Also, if the rabbits you get seem to go tough too quickly, try browning on low heat.

3. Be sure that your braise is on the lowest heat possible. Sometimes cast iron braise pots hold heat so effectively (which is, after all, why we love them so) that they need to be slid half-off the burner to maintain a very gentle bubble.

4. If none of the above work, try cooking the rabbit the night before and putting the whole pot in the fridge over night. Soups and stews are usually better the next day anyway. Flavors will be much more pronounced, and the rabbit will have a chance to sop up the cooking juices.

If none of this works, please don't hesitate to ask me again. I'll keep on pondering the matter in the meantime...
Thanks again and
Happy Eating,

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