20 March 2011

World’s Easiest Recipe for Rabbit Stew

I am confident that, if I ever served crowds in my charming little kitchen in the French countryside, my rabbit stew would be a crowd-pleaser. However, I most often make it when I am alone, and have to eat the leftovers for several days. There’s a great deal of meat on a rabbit, even before I add vegetables to the stew, and besides, most of the Americans I know (and a few French friends, too) are far, far too sentimental ever to eat bunny.

The advantage, however, is that my recipe is truly a secret — but I have decided to share it with you now, just in time for the spring holidays. It’s somewhat more complicated than my other recipes, but follow it step by step, and you can be sure to make a lasting impression around the family dinner table on Easter Sunday!


1. Familiarize yourself thoroughly with rabbits. If possible, visit a farm or petting zoo and observe them as they hop, sniff, nibble, and nap. (Mostly, they nap.) If you do not live near a farm, try watching Bambi, while paying particular attention to Thumper; or reread that immortal classic, Pat the Bunny.

2. Now you are ready to start cooking.

3. Visit the butcher shop and study the rabbits on display, whether they are in a case or hanging from a hook. Skinned, a rabbit no longer looks like the fluffy, cuddlesome creature you are now so familiar with. Its limbs are stiff and splayed, its eyes are bloodied, its ears and paws have been cut off, its digestive organs have been ripped out, and it now looks like a human child after a horrible accident.

4. Leave the butcher shop.

5. Remind yourself that cutting up a rabbit is really too much trouble. A rabbit has tough muscles and odd little bones where you don’t expect them, and besides, to cut up the rabbit, you have to touch it. A lot.

6. Also, you would have to chop off its head.

7. Wonder idly whether the French butcher uses a cleaver or some sort of specially designed Cuisinart Guillotine to chop off the rabbit’s head.

8. Next, visit the supermarket, where, long before you got there, the store’s butcher has already chopped up the rabbit, packed it in a Styrofoam tray, and wrapped it in Saran. It doesn’t look like a baby; it doesn’t even look like chicken. What could be more anodyne? You don’t have to talk to the butcher, much less watch him chop off the rabbit’s head.

9. Select a package. French supermarkets typically sell packages containing the parts of either an entire rabbit, or half a rabbit. It’s your call.

10. Also purchase any or all of the following vegetable ingredients: carrots, turnips, potatoes, parsnips, celery, celery root, mushrooms, green peas, and onions. A good rule is: anything else that a bunny might have liked to eat, while it was still alive, will taste good in your stew.

11. Optional: For Italian-style Rabbit Stew, purchase a head of garlic and any of the following: fresh tomatoes, canned tomatoes, or tomato paste.

12. Return home, humming “Here Comes Peter Cottontail.”

13. Chop or slice the vegetable ingredients into stew-sized pieces. If you have never eaten stew before, use your imagination.

14. Place the mushroom slices in a non-stick saucepan and place over a low flame. Mark Dennis says if you leave them long enough, they sweat out all their moisture and taste better.

15. Nervously check the mushrooms while continuing to chop your other ingredients. Who knew mushrooms contained that much moisture?

16. In your stewpot, sautée the onion slices in oil or butter until they are transparent.

17. Nervously check the mushrooms again. This can’t be right, can it? Add some dried herbs, to absorb excess moisture.

18. Unwrap the package of rabbit parts; remove the parts one by one, placing them carefully in the stewpot to brown lightly on all sides.

19. When you get to the last rabbit part, come to the sudden realization that it is in fact the head. The butcher always puts that in at the bottom of the tray.

20. Try to remember why anybody, even in France, would want to eat a rabbit’s head. Somebody told you it had something to do with making a sauce or pâté or something, but on the other hand, you once ate rabbit stew in a restaurant in Italy, and the head was served to you along with the rest. (The cheeks were rather tasty, actually, though you felt a bit like a periodontist.)

21. Wonder whether this was some kind of a symbolic Mafia thing: “Luca Brazzi hops with the bunnies.”

22. If you have purchased half a rabbit, observe that the butcher gave you half a rabbit’s head. Observe the cross-section of the brain. Observe the delicate cross-section of the tongue, which appears to be sticking out at you in posthumous derision. Observe the graceful curve of the humongous incisors. Yep, you can’t deny it: a rabbit’s a rodent, all right.

23. Remember that a great chef is a thrifty chef, and that it would be terrible to waste that head (or half-head).

24. Throw it out anyway. I mean, come on. I recommend using an old newspaper or non-transparent sack, so you don’t have to look at it. Be sure to wrap it securely, or every cat in the neighborhood will be gnawing on it tomorrow, and you’ll probably find the skull (or half-skull) in your garden before the end of the week.

25. Next, remove the other rabbit parts from the pot, quick, before they overcook. Set them aside.

26. Add the other vegetables and some liquid, such as water, vegetable or chicken broth, wine (red or white), or beer. When I make my classic Non-Italian Rabbit Stew, I prefer sparkling cider, because I think the bunny would like it.

27. Add herbs. Thyme goes especially well with rabbit stew, and some farmers even feed thyme to their rabbits, so that the flavor permeates the meat from within, prior to slaughter.

28. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

29. Remember the mushrooms. They have given off all their moisture by now and are burnt and stuck to the bottom of the non-stick pan.

30. Remember — too late — that Mark Dennis uses fat when he’s preparing his mushrooms. Which of course you did not do. Stare at the burnt mushrooms, decide you don’t need them, throw them out.

31. Stir the stew, while wondering how you are going to explain this to Mark Dennis.

32. Let simmer until the vegetables start to soften; add liquid if needed. Add the rabbit parts gradually: some parts (especially the hind legs) require more cooking time. The saddle is tricky, because the core (around the spine) is very thick and dense, while the wings (the ribs and other meat that extend like flaps from both sides of the core) are very thin and lean.

33. Accept the fact that you will never cook the saddle properly, any time you make rabbit stew, ever.*

34. Stir some more, while the fragrant aroma of rodent flesh fills your kitchen.

35. Let simmer until the meat is thoroughly cooked, but not too much, because otherwise it will be dry and tough.

36. If you did not include potatoes in your stew, prepare spätzle or pasta. The French prefer tiny elbow pasta called coquillettes, or “little shells.” Now you are ready to eat Thumper and the chorus of The Little Mermaid!

37. Serve in a soup plate. You may want to serve wine, beer, or cider to accompany the stew, if you didn’t already use it up while making the stew, or if you didn’t drink it all while trying to forget what you were doing to a fluffy, innocent creature.

38. At the end of the meal, lean back in your chair, lift up your shirt, and pat the bunny.

*BONUS RECIPE: Rabbit saddle is sometimes sold separately (usually three pieces to a package, in a French supermarket) and can be cooked perfectly if you follow this foolproof recipe: wrap each saddle piece in a slice of poitrine fumée (or bacon strips, if you’re in the U.S.). Use toothpicks if you’re worried about them coming unwrapped. Place the pieces in a pan. You don’t need to grease the pan first, because the saddle and the pork are fatty enough. If you are using my oven, bake at thermostat 6 for about 15 minutes. (If you’re using your own oven, you’d better check from time to time.)

BUTCHER’S BUNNY BONUS: Lest we forget (not that that would ever happen), when you purchase parts of a whole or half rabbit, you will also get all or some of the liver, sometimes with a couple of other organs that are perfectly edible. (This may include the bunny’s tiny loving heart.) The catch is that there won’t be enough to make a normal-size pâté; if you’ve bought a half rabbit, there won’t be enough for two people to share. So don’t tell anyone; just sautée the liver (etc.), pretty much as you would sautée chicken livers, then surreptitiously enjoy the treat by yourself.


TGaskins said...

I think we will resort to eating rabbit as they have completely over-run my area of town. I spent all winter spraying repellant to keep them from nesting at my house...which they tend to do if they don't detect the smell of a predator. I almost bought a dog, but opted for spray as it's much less trouble.

Also, I really don't like parsnips. I'd rather eat a rabbit than parsnip.

Does the head also have cute little bunny ears attached? Just wondering.

William V. Madison said...

Wild rabbit -- very free-range -- will tend to be tougher than the farm-raised rabbit one buys at the market. Any rabbit that you purchase will have the ears and paws removed, and will be skinned and gutted. Good luck, and tell us how you fare!

Buck said...

EXCELLENT post! Loved it. Yes, we are far, far removed from the actual, cute, furry creatures we masticate with relish.

Kris said...

All I can think of while reading this is my sweet little house bunny, Pepper, who lived with us for 13 years. Then I ponder the name we gave her in the context of this post. I also am pretty sure that Pepper would have had some very fatty meat based on how much she loved to eat and sleep. I am pretty happy that we never tested that theory.