I cooked my first wabbit last night. No, not a wild one. I don’t own a gun…yet, but soon, my pretties, soon—which is a story for another time. This one was store-bought and cooked with porcini mushrooms from two of my stashes (frozen and dried), hence the foraging connection.
Rabbit cookery has been on my mind a while now, ever since I started ordering them at restaurants in the last few years. Like a lot of folks, I was kinda squeamish about summoning Bugs to the table on a platter, but when I finally got up the gumption at the Palace Kitchen a while back, what greeted me was not a carrot-chomping wascal but a tender and delicious meal that registered high on the comfort-o-meter. Mr. Fudd would have been in heaven.
Maybe that was the problem. My Palace rabbit and equally yummy ones that followed were the products of professionals. Truth be told, I was a little disappointed with what emerged from my own amateur-but-trying-hard oven last night, although I’ve learned a few lessons. For one thing, I need to try to refrain from my usual headlong dive into new waters; you know, do a tad more research on the literature and expertise so abundant online. For another, expectations should be set accordingly. Who did I think I was? Daniel Boulud?
In retrospect it occurs to me that all my restau-rabbits have been boneless—and here is a key to quality rabbit-eating: they’re bony critters, with meat similar to chicken but bonier bodies, including a bunch of sneaky little bones to boot. Even though the finished product turned out to be quite flavorful, next time I plan to de-bone the bunny first, or see if my butcher offers alternatives to the whole rabbit. The other tricky issue is that rabbit meat is very lean and subject to drying out. You would think that de-boning would raise the risk of a too-dry rodent. Obviously there’s a skill to be learned about cooking rabbit so that it is both tender and moist.
At 7 clams per pound, as Bugs would say, this experiment wasn’t cheap either. I present the recipe below (in French, no less) in any event because the sauce was so good and it’s a simple preparation that would work just as well with fowl. And to all you Bunny Experts out there: Please weigh in with your own tips and travails.
Le Lapin avec Cèpes Deux Fois
Cèpes are porcini in French, aka boletus mushrooms. I used two types of boletes: frozen “spring king” buttons, of which the exact species name is up for grabs although some call them Boletus pinophilus, others Boletus rex-veris, and still others believe them to be part of the Boletus edulis complex. These are a spring and early summer variety found on the east slope of the Cascade and Sierra Nevada mountains, and they’re known to be less pungent than their fall cousins though still firm and delectable. The second variety was a handful of dried Leccinum mushrooms from this fall’s harvest, probably Leccinum aurantiacum. Also from the Bolete family, Leccinums are generally better dried and pulverized to extract their earthy flavor.
1 3 1/2 lb rabbit, cut up
4 tbsp (1/2 stick) butter
1 large onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 cup white wine
1 1/2 cups beef stock
1/2 pound fresh (or thawed) boletus mushrooms, sliced
1-3 oz dried boletus mushrooms, pulverized
1 large can whole tomatoes, chopped, minus extra liquid in can
1/2 tsp dried tarragon
1 tbsp parsley, chopped
parsley for garnish
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Add warm water to dried pulverized mushrooms to cover.
2. Melt butter in large pan and brown rabbit pieces; set aside. Saute onions and garlic in same pan. If using fresh mushrooms, add to saute and cook 5 minutes; if using previously frozen mushrooms, saute in smaller pan with an extra tbsp of butter until slightly browned, then add to larger pan.
3. Deglaze with wine, stirring until mostly evaporated. Add tomatoes, stock, reconstituted mushrooms with their water, and herbs, stirring. Cook over moderate heat until reduced and thickened, several minutes.
4. Arrange rabbit pieces in buttered casserole dish, then cover with sauce. Bake at 350 degrees for 30-35 minutes. Serve over polenta with a garnish of chopped parsley.
This recipe was inspired by James Villas’s Braised Rabbit, Mushrooms, and Tomatoes, from Crazy for Casseroles. Bugs Bunny photo by Gabrielle.