It’s a shame we don’t eat more rabbit in Ireland, especially as doing so might help reduce the millions of euro worth of damage they do to farms every year. Unfortunately, people seem to have become very sentimental about what are essentially vermin and now a far better source of cheap protein than, say, battery raised chicken goes unexploited. I’ve no such qualms and when I bought a fabulous shoulder of wild boar (of which more here) from the brilliant online butcher John’s Meat I also got a full rabbit. They’re not selling much game this year but I’m sure if you ring up they’ll look after you as they’ve always gone out of their way for me and quality has consistently been excellent.
Of course, buying intact means you have to joint it yourself and surprisingly there’s not a huge amount of information online on how to do it but it’s actually very intuitive and when I get my next one I’ll take some pictures of the process and post the steps. The easiest bit is removing the four legs and the only tricky part is finding the right place to cut through the spine when extracting the saddle. Another benefit of getting the whole carcass is there are lots of bones and trimmings for making stock and also there’s all the lovely offal comprising the liver, kidneys and heart.
The legs of a wild rabbit (do not bother with farmed, not only does it taste of nothing the conditions the animals are raised in are generally horrific) do so work that they must be braised and the older they are the longer they’ll need in the pot; it’s quite hard to specify precise cooking times and really the only way to approach it is to watch and wait until the meat starts falling from the bone. The reason why I’ve used the pressure cooker for the stock but not the main dish is precisely because it requires this attention.
The saddle has to be treated completely differently, more like a breast of chicken than anything else and if you try to stew it you will just end up with tough, dry and barely edible meat. I remove the two loins from the bone and use in a different meal by frying them in a very hot pan for about 2-3 minutes: they need to be cooked, at most, medium rare, because, like nearly all game, they’re so lean.
I toyed with the idea of thickening the stew with xanthan gum mainly because I’ve never used it before but I decided to go down the old fashioned route instead and use a roux; however, cornflour or any similar thickener would be fine as well. I’ve also browned the rabbit in lard which for me is a much underrated cooking fat and something I’ve found myself using more and more lately but any mild flavoured oil will do. I think this would make a great filling for a pie made with a lard pastry too.
For the rabbit stock:
Ribs and saddle bones, belly, head and any trimmings of 1 jointed rabbit
25g carrot, diced
25g celery, diced
50g onions, diced
1 small clove garlic
1 bay leaf
2 sprigs thyme
2 sage leaves
5 parsley stems
For the stew:
30g white flour
Front and back legs of 1 rabbit
250g mushrooms, sliced
125g onions, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
100ml white wine
300ml rabbit stock
2 sprigs thyme
2 sprigs rosemary
Worcestershire sauce, splash
2.5ml cider vinegar
- For the stock, over a high heat fry the meat in a small amount of oil until browned all over.
- Add the bones, head and browned meat to a pressure cooker along with all the other ingredients.
- Fill the pot with cold water (around 1.5l) until the contents are covered.
- Put on the lid, bring to pressure and cook for one hour.
- When done, allow the pressure to come down naturally (do not use the quick release) and strain through a sieve.
- For the stew, make a roux by melting 30g of butter in a pan over a low heat and adding the flour.
- Cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring always and when done reserve in the fridge until needed because roux must be cold when added to a hot liquid.
- Over a high heat, melt 20g of lard in a pan and fry the rabbit pieces until golden brown.
- When done, remove and reserve and lower the heat to medium.
- Add the pancetta and fry until golden brown and reserve also.
- In the same pan, cook the mushrooms until they’ve released their moisture. (You may need to add some water to the pan to stop the fond burning.)
- After the liquid has evaporated, add the rest of the lard and cook the mushrooms until browned.
- When cooked, reserve and set aside with the rabbit and pancetta.
- Still using the same pan, bring the heat to low and melt the remaining butter.
- Add the onions and cook until translucent (around ten minutes).
- Add the garlic and fry for 2-3 minutes.
- Deglaze the pan with the white wine.
- When the alcohol has boiled off add the stock, thyme, rosemary, Worcestershire sauce, mushrooms, pancetta and rabbit.
- Simmer the rabbit for an hour (it could take longer depending on the age of the rabbit) until it is tender enough to easily strip from the bones. Stir occasionally and top up with more stock if most of the meat is not covered by liquid.
- Remove the rabbit from the pan and strip the meat from the bones and reserve.
- Add the roux to the pan and stir until it is completely dissolved.
- Put the rabbit back in and simmer for around fifteen minutes.
- Stir in the cider vinegar and remove the thyme and rosemary stalks.
- Divide between two plates and serve with mashed potatoes.