Six local chefs share the how-to on cooking hare
| If you've seen the B-movie classic, Night of the Lepus, then you'll think twice before cooking your cottontail.
Editors note: Recipes from this story can be found at the end of the article.
"You are very bad to cook bunny rabbit at Easter," laughs Crumpets chef François Maeder. "I put it on the menu a few years back and it didn't sell. I couldn't give it away. We had to eat it ourselves. They say, Oh no, I don't want to eat the Easter Bunny!"
Nearly every chef we called for recipes told a similar tale; San Antonio may eat rabbit with gusto all the rest of the year, but it shies away at Easter. Yet, how many of us delight in eating the beloved Easter Bunny's chocolate effigy? Nibbling off an ear, or even the hollow head, whole.
How did our long-eared friends come to be associated with Easter? Ancient Anglo-Saxons celebrated the festival of Eostre, a goddess associated with springtime and fertility. Her earthly symbol was the rabbit, for obvious reasons a representation of new life. We can't find any historic precedence for eating rabbit in honor of Eostre, but its abundant availability and celebrated power of multiplication has contributed to its popularity at the table.
"In Europe, rabbit is much more common," says Biga's English chef, Bruce Auden. "There's just so much of it; if you live in the country you keep rabbits or you hunt them. And, in the cities, it's an inexpensive meat."
In San Antonio, a frozen rabbit at Central Market or Whole Foods costs around $6 a pound. The best are young, and weigh between 2 and 2 1/2 pounds - the older or bigger the bunny, the tougher and drier the meat. Recipes for rabbit run the gamut from rarefied to rustic; what follows are suggestions from some of San Antonio's finest chefs. For the full recipes, please see sacurrent.com.
As an appetizer, "rabbit's liver is a delicacy," says L' Etoile chef Thierry Burkle, who suggests sauteeing it with a small amount of shallots and butter. Similarly, he says, the loin "is very tender" and may be served in two-inch cubes: dust the rabbit with flour and sear lightly in butter, salt, and pepper, and then put in an oven heated to 350 degrees for 45-60 seconds. "People associate rabbit with a strong flavor and tough dry meat," says Burkle, "but it can be as juicy as the the finest quality beef tenderloin, and still have the full flavor of the rabbit." (See the recipes at the end of this article)
"The way I like rabbit, and remember it best, is the way my mother used to make it." says Bruce Auden. "Basically, in the morning she'd put the rabbit, leeks, mushrooms, and heavy cream to simmer in a crock pot, and by the time everybody got home in the evening, the meat would be falling off the bone. She still will make it whenever I get back home, which is not too often now."
Auden says he'd throw in some chicken stock, thyme, and bay leaf, but otherwise keep it simple, so you don't overwhelm the flavor of the rabbit. For this recipe, he adds, "you can use a bigger rabbit because there is no danger of it getting dry."
On the more complex side, Chef Damien Watel of Bistro Vatel favors "Selle de Lapin a L'estragon," rabbit saddle - considered the most tender part of the lapin - stuffed with rabbit meat, bacon, and shallots, and served on a bed of lettuce and new potatoes with a tarragon cream sauce. The most difficult part of the recipe? "Finding boneless rabbit saddles," says Vatel. "Everything else is pretty simple. Professionals do those dishes hundreds of times and always perfect it with the repeated experience. You may want to try `the` recipe several times before `giving up in` frustration."
Like Elmer Fudd, one must never give up on the wascally wabbit. Maeder recommends this simple recipe: Dredge the rabbit pieces in flour, salt, and pepper, and sauté it with butter in an oven-safe pan until golden brown. Remove the rabbit. In the same pan, sauté shallot, garlic, and mushrooms. When the vegetables are soft, add thyme, chicken stock, and wine, either red or white will do. Then, bake at 350 degrees for about 1 1/2 hours. "The meat should fall off the loin when the rabbit is done," notes Maeder. Juices from the pan can be whisked with a roux, to make a simple sauce. In general, rabbit should be served over rice or pasta, but not potato. "Too much starch," says Maeder.
Chef Jason Dady of the Lodge, agrees. He prepares rabbit in a hearty Italian ragù, braising it with fennel, porcini mushrooms, and red wine and serving it over a parsley pappardelle pasta, with a healthy sprinkling of Parmigiano-Reggiano. "The rabbit's hindquarters work very well in this recipe," Dady suggests.
Those of you who prefer to let ol' Peter keep his cottontail until after the holiday may want to tuck these recipes away for another season; those of us with fewer scruples will bunny hop our way to the market. •
By Susan Pagani
There goes Peter Cottontail
Here are a few of the recipes mentioned above presented, to the extent possible, in the idiosyncratic fashion they were told or sent to the Current.
Fricassee of Rabbit with Mustard Sauce
Chef Thierry Burkle graciously dictated this recipe to us from his cell phone. He recommends buying the rabbit fresh: "Like all white meat, it doesn't have much fat," he says, "so do not buy it frozen. And buy the whole rabbit." He says home cooks should note that these times are only suggestions, watch the food carefully, and not be afraid to touch and taste the meat to see if it is done. "It is a simple recipe, but simplicity on it's own is actually very difficult."
When you buy the rabbit, ask the butcher to remove the loin, and cut the rabbit into eight small pieces. Use a heavy-bottomed brassier pot, which should be large enough to accomodate all of the rabbit pieces laying flat rather than piled on top of one another. Dust the rabbit with flour, put a touch of olive oil on the bottom of the pot, heat until the olive oil is sizzling, and sauté your eight pieces until golden brown. By doing this, you protect the meat by searing it, which seals the moisture inside. When it is golden brown, add to the meuniére:
4 garlic cloves
3 celery stalks
3 carrots, sliced
3 medium tomatoes
2 bay leaves
3 sprigs fresh thyme
3 tablespoons of mustard.
Cook with the meuniére for 5 minutes. Pour a dry chardonnay into the brassier, 1/2 a bottle or about 2 inches. Reduce by half to get rid of the acidity. Pour in enough chicken stock to cover the rabbit.
Turn down the heat and simmer slowly, or put in teh oven at 250 degrees, so that you let the rabbit cook very slowly. If you cook it too fast, you will make the rabbit dry. In an hour, your rabbit should be ready. In the meantime, cut some shiitake mushrooms.
Take the rabbit out of the oven and let it cool, so that the flavors can meld. When it has cooled, add the mushrooms and heavy whipping cream (to taste), and adjust the salt and pepper.
Slow cooked rabbit with leeks and mushrooms
Chef Bruce Auden sent us this recipe, which he thinks might have originated with his grandmother. Will the recipe pass to his children? He didn't say, but he did mention that his family keeps rabbits. "And we raise them as pets not food," he says, "so the children don't get to eat rabbit very much."
1 whole rabbit cut in 6 pieces
2 leeks green part removed, the rest washed and cut in 1-inch pieces
4 oz mushrooms quartered ( Chanterelles would be great, but my mother never had them available)
1/2 cup white wine
1 sprig thyme
2 whole fresh bay leaves
2 cups chicken stock (Swansons is the best store-bought)
1 cup heavy cream
S & P to taste
Lightly flour rabbit and brown in a skillet with a little olive oil. Transfer to crock pot or Dutch oven. In the same skillet, adding olive oil if needed, sauté the mushrooms lightly and add to pot, then do the same with the leeks. Now, add the wine to the skillet, cook until reduced by half and add to pot. To the pot, also add bay leaves, thyme, chicken stock, cream, salt and pepper.
Cover and cook at low heat (325 degrees if using a Dutch oven) for about 2 hours or until meat falls of the bones.
When serving remove as many bones as possible, but be aware that rabbits contain many small bones. If sauce is too thin, strain some off and reduce until thicker.
Serve over pappardelle pasta, basmati rice, roasted fingerling potatoes, or a combination of mashed potatoes and rutabagas. Garnish with chopped chives mixed with extra virgin olive oil around the bowl.
Selle de Lapin a L'estragon
Chef Damien Watel says this recipe is a favorite he doesn't often have the opportunity to make in the restuarant: "It's a bit costly and not easy to make - and it's time-consuming, so you can't make it on the spot."
2 boneless rabbit saddles
2 boneless hind rabbit legs
4 slices smoked bacon
2 chopped shallots
2 1/2 cups cream
1 small bunch of fresh tarragon
1 tsp of dry tarragon leaves
1 cup white wine
1 cup of chicken bouillon
1 head of Boston lettuce
1 dozen steamed new potatoes
In food processor combine the hind legs, bacon, shallots, dry tarragon, salt and pepper and work for 1 minute. Add the 1/2 cup cream and process for another 30 seconds until in smooth. Stuff the saddles like a bundle or roll so that the "skirts" overlap and close nicely, then tie a knot around with kitchen twine.
Lightly flour and place in a hot roasting pan or sauté pan with high sides. Lightly brown on the meaty side and turn over to lay on the stuffing side. Let brown a few minutes and add the wine, and bouillon. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes, turning the pieces while cooking. Pull the rabbit out of the pan, reduce the jus until about 3/4 cup is left. Add the remaining cream and tarragon. Season to taste. Boil as you scrape the pan around and reserve in a dish seperately, still keep your roasting pan, and add the new potatoes to saute and the lettuce leaves to wilt with a piece of fresh butter, and salt & pepper, 3 or 4 minutes.
Directly place the cooked lettuce on your serving dish as a bed, place the rabbit over it, pour sauce over the rabbit and arrange the new potatoes around. Voila! Bon Apetit.
Braised Rabbit Ragu
"People love it, but the closer you get to Easter, the less you sell," says Chef Jason Dady of this recipe, "People don't want to consider eating it; it's a little sacred. It's fun to watch the trend."
2 pounds rabbit hind quarters
2 oz olive oil
2 fennel bulbs
1 jumbo yellow red onion
2 garlic cloves
8 oz red wine (merlot or cabernet sauvignon)
1 oz dried Porcini mushrooms (reconstituted in warm water)
24 oz chicken broth
1 oz grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Salt & pepper
1 1/2 cup flour
Pinch of salt
Tbsp olive oil
1/4 cup finely minced parsley
To make the pasta dough by hand, make a well in the flour on a clean, flat surface.
Break the eggs into the well and add the salt. Working with a fork, begin incorporating flour into the eggs at the center. You may need to shore up the flour walls as you work, pushing more flour toward the middle, and keeping the eggs from running out. When it becomes too difficult to keep mixing with the fork, start using your hands. Before long, you'll have a workable dough, which should be kneaded for several minutes. Because of variations in humidity and flour, you may need more or less flour, but the goal at the end of the kneading is to have a well-formed, elastic dough that is as smooth as a baby's skin. Fold parsley into dough.
Let rest. Roll pasta through pasta machine into flat sheets. Cut sheets into pappardelle with (about 1 inch). Cook pasta in salted, boiling water.
Brown the rabbit in olive oil in heavy-bottom pan. Add onions and fennel and cook until slightly browned. Deglaze pan with red wine and cook till au sec.
Add porcini mushrooms and porcini water, and reduce by 75 percent. Add chicken stock, salt, and pepper, and braise ragu in 325 degree oven for four hours.
Pull rabbit out of stock and pick the meat off the bone. Reduce liquid to desired consistency. Add rabbit to cooked pasta. •