Potted Rabbit

This is one of my favourite rabbit recipes, and I think a great way to kick off Easter dinner.  This is essentially a rabbit confit, made into a rillette.  First I break up my rabbit.  Then I take all the meaty bits and marinate them for twenty four hours in the following, adapted from Ruhlman’s Charcuterie.  Rub every kilo of rabbit with:

  • 20 g kosher salt
  • 1 star anise
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1 green onion, minced
  • 5 g crushed fresh ginger
  • zest of 1/2 orange
  • 2 crushed black peppercorns

The pulled rabbit meat

After a day the meat is rinsed and patted dry, then covered with lard and gently cooked in a 180°F oven overnight.  The cooked meat is cooled slightly and pulled from the bones.

Mix the shredded rabbit with a bit of the fat in which it was cooked.  Taste and adjust the salt content as necessary.  Finally press the mixture into ramekins and seal them with a bit of the lard.

The most important thing to know about potted rabbit is that it must not be served cold!  First of all the flavour will be muted when the meat and fat are cold.  Second, the congealed fat will ruin the mouthfeel and appearance.  Leave the ramekins on the counter for a few hours before you serve them.  Once the fat has softened the potted rabbit will be yielding to the knife, and it will glisten very slightly, but not so much as to remind the diner of grease.

Eat with toast or crackers.

Sealing up the pots of pulled rabbit

A tasting board: potted rabbit, dried fruit crackers, Smoky Valley Valencay with honey and black pepper, and Sylvan Star mild gouda

Rabbit Pie

‘Now, my dears,’ said old Mrs. Rabbit one morning, ‘you may go into the fields or down the lane, but don’t go into Mr. McGregor’s garden: your Father had an accident there; he was put in a pie by Mrs. McGregor.’

-from The Tale of Peter Rabbit

 

Rabbit pie, fresh from the ovenAfter stewing the choice legs and loins of a Trowlesworthy Farms rabbit, I found myself with a lot of trim. Most notable were the forelegs, the belly-flaps from the saddle, and the kidneys. Besides this there was miscellaneous trim pulled from the carcass. I decided that this would become a rabbit pie.

 

Making the Recipe

A classical rabbit pie (and yes, rabbit pie is a classical preparation…), would use lean rabbit meat and pork fatback, not rabbit fat. In fact, most non-pork charcuterie preparations call for lean meat in conjunction with pork fat. For instance, a sausage made of chicken or duck would be three parts lean poultry meat, trimmed of all fat, and one part pork fat. This is because pork fat has a creamy, pleasing texture, and a fairly neutral flavour.When cleaning the rabbit carcass, I was left with a surprising amount of beautiful, white fat, especially around the kidneys. I decided for the sake of experimentation and frugality to use this fat in a rabbit forcemeat.  Separating the lean flesh from the white fat, I found I had:

  • 575 g lean rabbit meat
  • 325 g rabbit fat

This is roughly a ratio of 5:3 meat to fat. Most sausages have a ratio of 3:1, but several rich sausages like weisswurst use a higher percentage of fat. I found a rich bratwurst recipe that uses a 5:3 ratio, with milk and eggs for further luxury. I based my rabbit pie forcemeat on this recipe. 

The Process

With the meat, cream, and egg in the bratwurst recipe, my forcemeat is very much like a mousseline. For a smooth texture and good emulsification of meat and fat, mousselines are usually mixed in a food processor. I don’t own a food processor (and a recent trip to Sears to look at prices confirmed that I will not own one any time soon…) Instead of processing, I used progressive grinding, then a thorough mixing to distribute the cream and egg and develop the meat protein. 

The Results

When I fried a quenelle to test the seasoning, the forcemeat tasted great and had a pleasant, light, mouthfeel, though the texture was not perfectly smooth. Every so often there were tiny flecks with a gristly feel. They didn’t ruin the meat for me: in fact, once the onions, prunes, and pie crust came into the picture, I didn’t even notice them. But if the forcemeat were to be served as a simple boudin blanc, these gristle-bits might draw attention.

I’ve racked my brain to figure out where exactly these bits came from. There was definitely some skin in the meat trim that I didn’t remove, but the bits had an almost fibrous quality that I don’t think skin would have. Ultimately I must have missed some sinews in the meat, but I can’t imagine where they would have been.

My trim problem will have to be solved, but the recipe itself was a success. The delicate meat, the fruit, the four spice (I call quatre épices “four spice”…) and the buttery, flaky pie crust all married happily. I’ll definitely be making this again. The (almost) complete recipe and process are below. 

Rabbit Pie

The Forcemeat:

  • 500 g lean rabbit meat
  • 300 g rabbit (or pork) fat
  • 15 g kosher salt
  • 100 mL heavy cream
  • 1 egg
  • 1.5 tsp four spice (recipe below)
  • 60 g onion, brunoise
  • 60 g prunes, chopped

The Pie Crust (makes enough for two rounds, top and bottom):

  • 360 g all-purpose flour, sifted
  • 240 g unsalted butter
  • 120 mL cold water
  • pinch of kosher alt

Four Spice:

  • 2 parts black pepper
  • 1 part cinnamon
  • 1 part nutmeg
  • 1 part clove

Procedure

  1. Combine meat, fat, salt, and four spice. Keep mixture very well chilled while flavours combine.
  2. Gently sweat onions and cool very well.
  3. Prepare the pie crust.
  4. Taking all usual precautions to keep meat and equipment cold, grind meat mixture through medium plate.
  5. Grind meat mixture through small plate.
  6. Mix with paddle attachment on lowest setting for one minute. Beat egg into cream. Slowly add to forcemeat. Increase speed to Level 2 and mix another minute.
  7. Fold in chilled onions and chopped prunes.
  8. Saute a small portion of the forcemeat to test seasoning.
  9. Spread forcemeat into pie crust. Top with second crust.
  10. Bake in 350°F oven until meat reaches 180°F and pie shell has browned.

Serving suggestion: with apple slices. A little aicidity to cut the fat. Plus apples and four spice are good buddies.

A slice of rabbit pie with apples

Rabbit Stew

Rabbit and prune stewAs I mention on the Button Soup rabbit page, my first taste of rabbit was in Greece.  Rabbit plays a fairly important role in traditional Greek cooking. A meat stew called stifadho, which is practically the national dish of Hellas, was until recently most often made with rabbit and pearl onions. Rabbit meat appears in several other dishes, often paired with fruit, especially dried currants and prunes.

One of our favourite restaurants in Greece was Portes, in Hania, Crete. “Portes” means “doors”, and the stone walk approaching the taverna is lined with brightly painted wooden doors, leaning against an adjacent fence. After our meal, the bill came with a recipe for rabbit with prunes printed on a souvenir bookmark. Lisa and I have been talking about cooking rabbit ever since then, and this week, with Greek food on the brain, we finally did it.

Rabbit with Prunes
adapted from a recipe by Susanna Koutoulaki of Portes restaurant, Hania, Crete

 Ingredients

  • 1 rabbit, cut in pieces
  • 1/2 large onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 400mL white wine
  • 1 bowl prunes
  • 2 tbsp of brandy (Metaxa would be appropriate…)
  • 1 tbsp paprika
  • salt and pepper

Procedure

  1. Soak the prunes in water.
  2. Brown the rabbit pieces in oil. Remove from pan.
  3. Sweat onions, garlic, and paprika in the same pan.
  4. Deglaze with brandy and wine. Cook off alcohol.
  5. Return rabbit to pan. Add bay leaves and prunes, with their soaking water.
  6. Cover and simmer until rabbit is tender, at least an hour.
  7. Serve on rice.

 

Cutting Rabbit

…a “break” from tradition…

Rabbits are not traditionally butchered by neatly separating the joints, as you would a chicken.  They are broken into forequarters (shoulder-foreleg), hindquarters (hip-hindleg), and a saddle (backbone, with surrounding loins, tenderloins, and belly) by cleaving right through the bones.  In a rustic preparation, all these parts, with bones, would be thrown into a stew.

Chefs often bitch about the tedium of cutting rabbit, “especially since there’s practically no meat on them.”  Their words.  Not mine.

The problem with cleaving is that you’re bound to splinter the bones.  I’ve bitten down on a fragment of rabbit bone in restaurants more than once.  Taking the time to properly butcher the rabbit by cutting through the joints and not breaking the bones minimizes the chances of choking someone.  It also shows that you care about your ingredients and take your job seriously.

Anyways…Below, from top left: hindlegs, suet, kidney, heart, liver, tenderloins, forelegs with shoulder attached, and finally loin with belly attached.

 

A fully separated rabbit carcass