There is a certain nostalgia that surrounds eating rabbit. In Maggie’s Harvest, Maggie Beer recalls the Australian campaign to “eat a rabbit, save the land” and the delicious pleasure that came with eating for a cause. Stephanie Alexander describes her mother’s rabbit pie as a family heirloom; served at all family occasions and made with “any rabbit caught by my grandpa …”
Recipes for rabbit range from the extravagant to the everyday and are found in cookbooks from countries all across Europe: the Italians like their rabbit cooked slowly with olives and tomatoes, the Spanish couple rabbit with smoky paprika and chorizo in paella, the French opt for terrines and rillettes with a crunchy baguette and piquant cornichons.
The good news for Australians is that rabbit is staging a comeback. Throwing off the shackles of their “underground mutton” reputation, rabbits are featured on the best restaurant menus around the country.
There is no reason rabbit shouldn’t be on the dinner table in your home.
The tender, white meat has a flavour somewhere between chicken and veal, is still relatively inexpensive and is at its peak in winter. With the farmed rabbit industry picking up, there is a consistent supply of the lean and tasty meat (farmed rabbits do not need to be soaked overnight as is traditional practice with their wild counterparts). A full grown rabbit will weigh between 1.5 and 1.7kg and will feed four to six people, depending on the way you cook it.
Rabbits are sold almost in their entirety (the head is removed). They often come with the kidney and liver still in place: tasty treats that you should not be scared of. If making a stew you can leave the kidney to cook where it is nestled in the fat of the saddle. The liver can be simply added to the stew where it will add an intense flavour, alternatively it can be seared and served squashed on toast as a simple pate.
How to joint a rabbit
Remove the fore- and hind-legs by getting your knife in around the joint of the bone, much as you would with a chicken. The saddle has a coating of sinew that you will need to remove as it toughens and shrinks during cooking. Carefully slide a boning knife along the underside of the saddle and then pull the sinew away.
Keeping rabbit moist
To ensure the rabbit is not dry you must treat the individual cuts differently. The back legs will take the longest to cook, the saddle and forelegs are naturally more tender, and thus will take less time. To help prevent the saddle drying out you can wrap it in prosciutto, bacon or caul fat, alternatively you can marinate the jointed rabbit in olive oil, herbs and aromats for half an hour before cooking.
Rabbit with verjuice
This recipe is ideal for a young rabbit - Brown the jointed rabbit in duck fat. Add two chopped cloves of garlic, being careful not to let them brown. Moisten with half a cup of chicken stock and half a cup of verjuice. At this point add a small handful of chopped parsley and the liver of the rabbit if you have it, you could also add a little cream if you wanted. Cook over a medium-high heat, with the lid off, until you are left with a thick syrupy sauce and the rabbit is cooked through. Serve with bread to mop up the juices and a green salad.
Soak the rabbit pieces in buttermilk for a few hours, or overnight if possible (this will create a super-moist interior that will contrast with the crunch of the exterior. This works a treat for chicken too). Drain rabbit on paper towel. Lightly dust the rabbit in seasoned flour and deep fry in vegetable oil.
Marinate your jointed rabbit in some olive oil, lemon, thyme and rosemary for an hour. Place the hind-legs on the heated bbq. Meanwhile wrap the saddle with prosciutto. Add saddle to bbq and then fore-legs. Be careful to turn regularly to ensure the rabbit is browned all over but not over-cooked.
rosemary, sage, bay leaves, fennel, thyme, white vinegar, verjuice, bacon, brandy, mushrooms, mustard, olives, pine nuts, prunes, wine, onions, garlic, almonds, figs, pancetta, lemon, pancetta, tomato.