The biggest hurdle? Peter Rabbit, that wily, lovable blue-jacketed character created by naturalist and author Beatrix Potter. Who couldn’t love him? Who could eat his relatives?
Most recipes for rabbit come from the farm – hearty yet delicate, simple and laden with flavor.
As it happens, the French can eat his relatives and do, all the time. This is because on every farm in the land, rabbits have always been raised in the farmyard, their hutches in protected places where it was easy to stuff lettuce leaves and other vegetable trimmings through the grillwork, so they could nibble to their hearts’ content. And as we know, the French are artists at coming up with delicious things to eat. Why wouldn’t rabbit be included in that pantheon?
I make sure to have a rabbit dish included in every multi-day class I teach, because I like to introduce the unexpected, but also because I want to show how delicate and delicious it is. And, I believe it’s one of the best meats we can eat, from a culinary right up to an environmental standpoint. Think about it. Rabbit is tender and lean, it lends itself to myriad preparations from grilling to roasting, it’s delicious with or without sauce. It breeds like… a rabbit, quickly, it’s a herbivore, and it contributes practically nothing to greenhouse gases.
As for the hurdles, I won’t deny that rabbits have personalities. We had pet rabbits, one from the market in Le Neubourg. He began life as an adorable brown fur ball. That turned into Godzilla. We couldn’t have known he was intended for the table and not as a pet. A friend thought we needed a second rabbit, and Blackie showed up. The two couldn’t have been more different. As Godzilla continued to grow, he became aggressive; Blackie scampered in the garden, munched, and spent his time being adorable. We had to separate them. One day, Blackie disappeared. Part of our garden we share with the parish and people walk through it; I’m sure someone just picked up Blackie, recognizing his profound cuteness. As for Godzilla, for reasons unknown a friend fell in love and we gave him to her.
As long as we had pet rabbits, I’d taken rabbit off cooking class menus; once they were gone, I put them back center stage. I continue to introduce rabbit hoping that class participants, like disciples, will go out and convince others that while we can love Peter Rabbit, he lives in a book and we’re here on planet earth. So far, I think that is working. Rabbit often ends up being a favorite dish for everyone.
I offer you a recipe for rabbit that comes from FRENCH GRILL, knowing that many of you are year-round grill chefs. If you’re not up for grilling at this time of year, simply follow the recipe then roast the rabbit in the oven at 435F, turning it regularly until it becomes golden, in the marinade. This should take 35 to 45 minutes. You’ll love it, your friends and family will love it, and you’ll have a whole new culinary repertoire to explore. (You can find rabbit in the freezer section of most upscale grocery stores. Or, you can call a favorite chef and see if she or he can order one for you.)
Grilled Rabbit with Mustard and Crisp Bacon
Rabbit is easily found in most places in the U.S., though it will often be in the frozen food department. Try to find it. It's beautiful meat - lean, subtle, tender, and it cooks so well, wrapped in bacon, over the coals. The by-word is slow, even cooking. Just be patient, turn it regularly and you'll have a feast on your hands. And if you cannot find rabbit, use chicken....!
10 to 12bout 1 ounce (30g) eachslices slab baconrind removed
- - for garnish
Blend all of the ingredients for the mustard sauce in a small bowl. Place the rabbit in a non-reactive baking dish and rub it all over with the sauce. Cover and let sit at room temperature for at least 2 hours. You may also do this the night before you plan to cook the rabbit, and refrigerate it, covered. Remove it from the refrigerator at least 2 hours before you plan to grill it.
Build a medium size fire in the barbecue or light the gas grill using the 2 outside burners. When the coals are red and dusted with ash, divide them in the barbecue, putting half the coals on either side. Set a grill pan in the center of the barbecue to catch any drippings. Set the rotisserie motor in place or, if not using, set the grill over the coals.
Season the marinated rabbit all over with salt and pepper, then wrap it with the bacon strips and tie them into place. This is a bit of an athletic endeavor: be calm and go slowly. (I lay the bacon strips on the cutting board, slightly overlapping at the ends. I place the rabbit atop them, then slide the string under the bacon and bring it up – and the bacon with it – and around the rabbit, tying firmly to hold the bacon in place.) Use as many pieces of string as you need. If some of the bacon refuses to get caught in the string, simply skewer them into the rabbit using trussing skewers.
If using the rotisserie, fit the rabbit firmly on the rotisserie bar.
When the fire is hot, put the rotisserie bar in place; if not using, set the grill over the coals and when it is hot, place the rabbit directly on the grill over the drip pan. You don’t really need to check the rabbit if you’re using the rotisserie; if you’re grilling it, you need to turn it every 15 minutes, or as often as necessary to keep it golden without it getting too dark, until it is cooked through which, either way you cook it will take 1 hour. Half way through the cooking time, brush the rabbit with any of the leftover mustard sauce.
When the rabbit is cooked, transfer it to a cutting board and let it rest for 10 minutes before cutting off the string, and cutting the rabbit into serving pieces. Cut the bacon into large bite-sized pieces.
If you have the rabbit liver, rub it all over with oil and place it on the grill until it is golden on all sides and slightly rosy inside, 6 to 7 minutes. Remove from the grill and season with salt and pepper.
To serve, place the rabbit pieces and the bacon on a platter. Cut the liver into several pieces and arrange it on the platter with the rabbit. Garnish with the bay leaves, or other herbs, and serve immediately.
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RABBIT WITH DRIED PLUMS - LAPIN AUX PRUNEAUX
If you cannot find rabbit, use chicken in this succulent recipe!
13 lb;15kgmedium sized rabbitcut in serving pieces (Or one 3-/12 to 4(1kg750g-2 kg) chicken, cut into serving pieces), about 3 lbs; 1.5kg
Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
20sprigs fresh thyme
44 oz (120g) eachmedium-sized onionscut in half and very thinly sliced,
1cup (250ml)dry white wine such as Sauvignon Blanc
8ounces (250g)dried plumspitted,
Several sprigs freshflat-leaf parsley,for garnish
Heat the oil in a large stockpot over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, brown the rabbit on both sides, seasoning each side with salt and pepper. This should take about 8 minutes total.
Tie the bay leaf and the thyme together with kitchen string.
Remove the rabbit from the pan and add the onions. Stir, season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring and scraping the bottom of the pan to release the browned cooking juices on the bottom of the pan as the onions begin to give up their liquid, until the onions are translucent and tender, 10 to 12 minutes. Return the rabbit and any juices it has given up to the pan, stir, then pour in all the wine and the water. Scrape up any remaining juices from the bottom of the pan. Add the herbs and the plums, pushing them down into the liquid,. Bring the liquid to boil, reduce the heat so the liquid is at a lively simmer and cook, covered,, until the rabbit is cooked through, about 35 minutes, turning the pieces at least twice during the cooking time.
Remove the rabbit from the pan. Increase the heat under the pan so the cooking juices are boiling, and reduce the cooking juices until they are quite thick, which will take 8 to 10 minutes. Return the rabbit to the sauce with any juices it has given up. Turn each piece of rabbit so it is coated with sauce and warm through, which will just take a matter of minutes.
To serve, remove the herbs from the pan, adjust the seasoning, and transfer the rabbit and the sauce to a shallow serving dish. Spoon the sauce over all, and garnish with the fresh herbs. Serve immediately.