Roasting a Rabbit Is Easier Than You Think
The hard part is finding a rabbit to roast. I am lucky to live in an area where we have a farmer’s market, and Eric who runs Stoltzfus Fresh Poultry at the Ardmore Farmer’s Market not only sells fresh farm chickens, eggs, ducks and turkeys, but he also has rabbit. They are sold frozen, but that’s fine with me.
I purchased one to prepare Rustic Rabbit with Sage and Pancetta from Marc Vetri’s cookbook Il Viaggio di Vetri, but never got around to it and left it in the freezer for another time. But when I heard my friend David B. from Utah was visiting, I pulled it out of the deep freeze to thaw.
David B. is one of the first people I met when I lived in Park City, Utah. He owned a local business that supplied local restaurants with high-end produce, mushrooms and cheeses. His business expanded to become the best local gourmet store in Park City. A few years later, David opened a restaurant on Main Street and is now designing high-end kitchens for local residents.
David knows a lot about food and is also a wonderful cook, so when I told him we were having rabbit, he rummaged around my refrigerator and pantry and together we made this incredible dinner for two. (My wife is out of town for business.)
We didn’t measure anything, so I’m guesstimating the amounts. With this dish, though, I really think it is more about the technique (see my web page on pan roasting) than an actual recipe. You can look through your cookbooks or go online for exact measurements, but I do recommend you experiment with ingredients you like and have on hand or are seasonal.
About Eating Rabbit
You may be a little “reluctant” about eating rabbit, but remember, it is one of the more popular meats eaten in countries like France, Spain, Italy and Germany. Years ago, before the advent of industrialized meat production, rabbit was an important food source here in the United States.
Rabbit compares to dark meat turkey when it comes to calories and fat, and it is a good source of protein. It costs about $4 to $6 per pound, so it’s not nearly as expensive as red meat.
You’ll typically find it labeled “Fryer” or “Young” rabbit and “Roaster” or “Mature.” The young rabbit usually weighs in between 1 and 1/2 pounds and 3 pounds while the mature rabbit weighs in over 4 pounds and is over 8 months of age.
The difference between young and mature rabbit can be found in the meat’s grain and color. The young rabbit has a fine grain that is much more tender than the older, coarse grained, darker mature rabbit. The younger rabbit can be grilled, sauteed or roasted whereas the older rabbit is better braised or stewed.
What Does Rabbit Taste Like?
To me, rabbit tasted like a cross between chicken breast and turkey breast, but my friend David thought it was more like a cross between the white meat and dark meat of chicken. It is mild in flavor making it a perfect conduit for a flavorful sauce like the pomegranate reduction sauce we made. The texture is very similar to eating chicken or turkey.
3 Parts to Our Recipe
Like I mentioned earlier, we were just winging this recipe with whatever we could find in the refrigerator. There is the rabbit that we pan roasted, the sauce made from a reduction of game stock, and a sort of ratatouille that we used as a bed to serve the rabbit on top of. Below is how we prepared each part.
Before you start this recipe, combine the Craisins, Pomegranate Port Reduction Sauce and Port wine in a bowl.
By the way, the bacon that is used in this recipe was made by friend Barbecue Bob who purchases a whole pork belly, cures it and then smokes it with hickory. He has made it three or four times now, and this is his best batch yet.
Pan Roasted Rabbit Recipe
For the Rabbit
1 Fryer rabbit, processed and internal organs removed
Flour seasoned with salt, pepper, fresh thyme, a chicken dry rub and a little garam masala. (This is how we seasoned our flour, but use what you have to create a flavor profile you enjoy. Here's where you can really have fun by experimenting with various seasonings)
1/4 cup olive oil
For the Ratatouille (the onion, carrot, and celery are chopped into bite sized pieces)
1 small onion, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 stalk of celery, chopped
3 slices of bacon
1 small piece of ginger, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
A little cognac
1 Fuji apple, cored and cut up into bite sized pieces
3 sprigs fresh thyme, de-stemmed and minced finely butter and oil to saute with
Salt & Pepper, to taste
How To Prepare At Home
Start by prepping the rabbit. Using my biggest and heaviest knife and wishing I owned a meat cleaver, I started by cutting the two back legs (thigh and leg) off, then the top third of the rabbit consisting of the front legs and chest cavity which left me with the middle section, also called the saddle.
I then split the chest cavity in half and cut the saddle into two pieces. This gave me a total of 6 pieces, just enough for two hungry people with no leftovers.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, F.
Next, I dredged each piece in the seasoned flour making sure to shake off any excess flour. You don't want clumps of flour on the meat. It should be a thin coating. While I was cutting up the rabbit, I heated up a saute pan big enough to hold three of the pieces but could have used a larger pan to hold all the pieces.
When the pan was hot, I added the oil and sauteed the rabbit pieces until they were golden brown. When all the pieces were done, I removed them to a Baker's Half Sheet Pan (Jelly Roll Pan) with a rack in so the rabbit would not touch the bottom of the pan. (You can use a roaster broiler pan too)
I put the rabbit into the preheated oven and roasted for about 30 minutes until the internal temperature was about 140 to 145 degrees, F. Remember, the meat will continue to cook while it is resting, and the internal temperature will reach the desired temperature of about 150 degrees, F. If you like your meat medium-rare, you will want just a hint of pink. If you like it medium, there should be no pinkness.
Making the Ratatouille
While I was working on the rabbit, David was prepping and preparing the vegetables. After he cut up the veggies and supervised my youngest daughter stripping the thyme off the stems and peeling the ginger, he starting by sautéing the onion, carrot and celery in some butter and oil. He then added the bacon and let them all cook together.
Next he added the ginger, garlic, cognac, apple and fresh thyme and continued cooking until the vegetables were crisp-tender and most of the cognac had cooked off. (You don't want to over cook the veggies). Of course, David generously seasoned the dish with salt and pepper.
David prepared this dish on our new induction burner and Le Creuset Saucier Pan. He has worked with induction burners before and explained to me the need to be very careful not to burn the bottom of my pans because the induction burners cook much hotter than traditional gas stovetops. You have to lower the heat a little and make sure you have enough cooking fat in the pan.
Making the Sauce
I started making the sauce by pouring out all but 1 tablespoon of the fat left in the pan I browned the rabbit in. I then deglazed it with the 1/ 8 cup of Port wine off the stove away from the flame. While I went to get my kids ready for bed, David finished the sauce by adding the Craisins along with the liquids they were soaking in and the game stock reduction. He let this reduce to a nice, syrupy consistency, tasted and seasoned with salt and pepper.
I'm surprised he didn't add a couple tabs of butter like they often do in restaurants to boost the flavor and give the sauce shine. Maybe he did when I was upstairs with the kids.
David plated the food by spooning some of the vegetable mixture onto the center of the plates and stacking 3 pieces of rabbit on top of the vegetables. He then spooned some of the CranRaisin Pomegranate Sauce over top and served. The dish looked delicious but tasted even better. We served a wonderful 2005 Magia Nera Estate wine from Koehler made from 65% Sangiovese and 35% Cabernet Sauvignon. Delightful.
There are lots of places in this recipe you could us alternative ingredients and I highly recommend you experiment at home and come up with your own combinations based on personal tastes. Also, we made this dish with rabbit, but you could just as easily try it with chicken, turkey, pork or even duck or goose.
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