Answers!

From M., 8 August 2011, rabbit – ways to liven up a bland meat?/

Q: There is a chance I will be able to go bunny shooting soon (they are a ferral pest here).

I quite like rabbit but find it is a fairly bland meat on its own. Could you suggest an interesting variation – a friend here has suggested a Thai red curry.

A: Thanks for your question. Rabbit is a curious meat – I often order it if I see it on menus, and I’ve prepared it numerous times, but although I like it, I don’t really love it. I think I order it repeatedly to see whether this time will be the one that makes me a fan. It hasn’t happened yet, and for the reason you state. It’s a delicate meat, and dry, without the dark meatiness of game birds like quail and pigeon, or the fatty crisp skin of chicken and duck. With care, the delicacy comes through, but in many cases, it fades to blandness – particularly the loin, which can be dry.

Red curry certainly is a possibility – the coconut milk will provide much-needed richness and moisture, and the red curry spices – chiles, ginger, coriander, lemongrass – complement many proteins, including rabbit. But for me, the delicate and distinct taste of rabbit is the main reason to choose it over, say, chicken. Why hide it in a rich, spicy sauce?

The two recipes below use rabbit leg, not the dry, lean loin. The loin should be cooked rapidly, to just about medium doneness, like pork tenderloin.

Rabbit leg confit

You need enough oil or duck fat to cover the legs completely. Unlike duck legs, which are sheathed in fat and will sort of self-confit, rabbit legs, especially from wild rabbit, are lean and you must submerge them in oil from the start. Don’t try to confit the loin – it lacks the collagen necessary to make a tender confit and just turns chalky.

Delicious with gnocchi or spaetzle and tender young vegetables like peas, carrots, asparagus, or with braised savoy cabbage.

4 rabbit hind leg quarters, about 2 lbs
2 tbsp salt
2 juniper berries
1/4 c parsley leaves
leaves from about 12 sprigs thyme
duck fat (if you have it) or olive oil and vegetable oil 50/50
8 sprigs thyme
2 bay leaves

Combine the salt, parsley, juniper, and the thyme leaves in a small spice grinder or in a mortar. Grind until the salt is green and loose. Rub evenly over the rabbit legs, place in a single, tightly packed layer in the smallest possible vessel, and cover with clingfilm. Refrigerate overnight or up to two days.

Oven 200F/93C.

Rinse the green cure off the rabbit and pat dry. Return to the vessel on top of the bay and thyme. Cover in enough oil to submerge completely. Cover with a layer of foil and load into the oven.

Cook until fork tender, about 4 1/2 hours. If not tender, continue to cook, covered, until tender. You can store the finished confit, covered in oil, for up to two weeks under refrigeration, or use immediately.

Rabbit ragout, olives

This ragoût is prepared in the manner of a blanquette – the meat is not browned, and neither is the browning fat.

4 rabbit leg quarters, cut into two pieces each
butter
one medium onion, small dice
one leek, white and light green only, small dice
2 carrots, peeled and diced
1 celery stalk, peeled and diced
2 tbsp flour
2 1/2 c dry white wine
2 1/2 c rabbit or chicken stock, plus up to 2 c additional
2 bay leaves
1 small sprig rosemary (about 3″)
6-8 sprigs thyme, tied together
2 tbsp Dijon mustard
2 dozen picholine olives (or other green olives), halved and pitted
2 tbsp unsalted butter
1/2 c shelled pistachios
2 tbsp stock

Season the rabbit with salt on both sides. Place a deep (at least 4″), heavy pan over medium heat. Add 1 tbsp butter and, when just bubbly (and not brown), add the rabbit pieces. Reduce the heat slightly and, as the rabbit surface becomes white and opaque, turn the pieces over and repeat. Remove from the pan. Add another tbsp of butter and add the onions. Sweat until translucent. Add the carrots and celery and sweat until translucent. Add another tbsp butter and melt. Whisk in the flour and increase the heat, whisking until bubbly. Cook for several minutes to assure no floury taste.

Add half the wine and whisk as the mixture comes to a simmer. Reduce by 2/3 and add the rest of the wine. Whisk well, bringing again to a simmer. Reduce again by half. Add the stock, whisking well. Return the meat to the pan and add the herbs and olives. Cover and reduce the heat to the lowest possible setting. Cook for about 2 hours, testing for tenderness. The meat should be fork tender. Remove the bay, thyme branches, and the rosemary stalk; stir in the mustard.

Place a small skillet over medium heat. Add the 2 tbsp butter and, when foamy and beginning to brown, add the pistachios. Cook until golden, stir, and add the stock. Cover and reduce heat. Shake the pan as the pistachios braise. After a few minutes, remove the lid. Garnish the ragoût with the pistachios.

Excellent on buttered spaetzle or egg noodles.

5 thoughts on “Answers!

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    • Hi there. No, but they’re related. Aspic is gellified consommé. I’ll post a consommé recipe sometime in the future because I love making consommé, but basically, meat stock gellifies (sets) when cold because of the gelatin from the bones. You clarify the meat stock using a raft – a mixture of ground lean meat, which lends additional flavor, and egg white, which traps impurities as it sets. The remaining consommé still contains gelatin, and when chilled, will produce a sparkling, clear gel called aspic.

      The principle behind meat jelly is more or less the same, but the product is different. Meat jelly forms when the collagen in connective tissue within a tough cut of meat – say short ribs, pork belly, pork shoulder, beef shank – breaks down over long, slow, cooking. Collagen breaks down to gelatin with exposure to heat. So to the extent the meat yields any juices during the slow cooking process, they would contain this gelatin, and will set when cold. It’s not the same as aspic, though – for one thing, it’s not clear, and it generally has a much stronger flavor than aspic.

      [A word about stock clarification to make consommé for anyone out there with kitchen wizard leanings – ice-clarified stock doesn’t gel unless you re-introduce gelatin, by leaf or powder, into the clarified stock.]

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