Rabbit has been a European staple for certainly the last 3000 years and was introduced into Britain by the Romans in the first century AD under the Emperor Claudius. Its popularity throughout Europe has remained strong but in the latter half of the last century became much less common in Britain. This is a real shame as it is an excellent protein source and a reasonably versatile meat. On the whole it should be cooked either very quickly or very slowly – when it can be fantastic – cooked somewhere between these extremes and it tends to be tough, dry, or both!
The way we have cooked it here is a slight variation on Jackie’s classic rabbit with prunes recipe which we have enjoyed together for the last 40 years or so! This particular recipe is cooked with ‘boozy apricots’ simply as we had dried apricots in the cupboard but no prunes! Last night I had been on a butchery course run by the excellent trio from Charlotte’s Butchery, including Charlotte herself – Charlotte is delightful and full of advice and information. She is also one of only a half handful of female butchers in the UK – (see here). The subject for the evening was ‘Butchery for Slow Cookery’ and the team were joined by the Chef Peter Breckon from the Nomad’s Table for even more advice! One of the areas we covered was rabbit where we worked with both wild (local) and farmed (French) rabbit allowing us to compare and contrast. As you might expect the farmed were a little more ‘floppy’ but larger than the local wild rabbit. This recipe uses one of each giving hopefully the best of both worlds!
This recipe is really very straightforward. The farmed rabbit was jointed – removing fore and hind limbs and then cutting the loin into 2 big chunks at 90 degrees to the backbone. The ribcage/thorax and the sacral area were reserved for the stockpot and the excess belly meat, after tidying the loin pieces, were reserved to be minced later for some game sausages. We also added the legs from the wild rabbit, saving the loins for a different dish.
The apricots were first quartered and popped into a dish and bathed in a sweet fortified wine – though some sweetened brandy or other spirit would also work well. This was then set to one side. In a separate dish some dried mushrooms were rehydrated and the fresh mushrooms were quartered. The rabbit pieces were dusted with seasoned flour and then browned off and set to one side. Whilst adding some colour to the quartered mushrooms in this rabbit pan, the pancetta was fried in a little olive oil in a Dutch oven until they had taken on some colour. To this was added two coarsely chopped onions and sautéd till translucent. The chopped celery and carrot were then added along with the finely chopped garlic cloves. The partially cooked rabbit was then added to this and the pan frying the rabbit deglazed with around a large glass of wine. This was then added to the Dutch oven along with the herbs, on this occasion in the form of a bouquet garni, and half a litre of double concentrated stock. This could be cooked perfectly well on a stove top or in a domestic oven (though you may need a little more liquid) but we also wanted to add a very gentle woody flavour to the cook and so whilst this was being prepared the Big Green Egg was set up for indirect cooking with the platesetter in place and the temperature brought up to 120C. Just before placing the Dutch oven on the Big Green Egg the mushrooms and the apricots were stirred into the mix.
The dish was cooked for around 4hrs or so over a little maple wood for a gentle smoky taste and stirred occasionally just to give all the meat a chance to be under the liquid. We checked the final seasoning after a couple of hours cooking. As it looks as though the sauce was a little too liquid we added a little cornflour to some cold water to make a paste, then added some of the pan liquid keeping this well stirred and then this was stirred through the sauce and allowed to cook for 30 mins more. If we had had some fresh parsley we would have scattered this on the dish when serving – but on this occasion we just served with some wild rice.
If you are unsure about trying rabbit or have friends who profess not to like rabbit – then this is the recipe to change that! This is perhaps the most accessible way I know of getting to know and enjoy rabbit – rich, sweet and just a little earthy – but most of all
Footnote: there were left overs! These were served the following evening, ‘Tuscan style’ in a bowl with a little stale bread, rubbed with garlic, in the bottom and the rich sauce and meat poured over the top
Slow cooked rabbit with boozy apricots
Slow cooked rabbit in a sweet earthy sauce
- 150g apricots
- 50ml brandy or a sweet fortified wine
- 50g soft brown sugar
- 2 rabbits, jointed into 6 pieces each
- Seasoned plain flour
- 1 tbsp vegetable oil and some butter
- 200 g of pancetta or 3 rashers bacon, sliced into thin strips
- 2 carrots
- 2 onion
- 2 celery sticks
- 4 garlic cloves
- Small handful of dried forest mushrooms
- 150g button mushrooms
- Bouquet Garni of thyme rosemary, bay leaf and a leek leaf
- 150ml red wine
- 250ml of light (chicken) stock
- Salt and pepper
- Step 1 Quarter the apricots and add them and the brandy or sweet wine to a bowl. Add enough sugar to sweeten, set aside
- Step 2 In a separate dish rehydrate the dried mushrooms, set aside
- Step 3 Dust the rabbit with the seasoned flour then brown off in a mix of butter and oil and set aside. Quarter the mushrooms if large, or leave whole if small, and in the same pan lightly fry to add some colour. Set aside
- Step 4 In a Dutch Oven fry off the Pancetta to release some fat and add colour. Add the onions and sauté till translucent. Add the chopped celery and carrot along with the finely chopped garlic cloves and cook for a further 2 minutes. Add the partially cooked rabbit to the Dutch oven along with the apricots and the Bouquet Garni. Deglaze the frying pan with the red wine and add this and the stock to the dutch oven. Finally add the mushrooms
- Step 5 Previously set up the Big Green Egg (if cooking on that) for indirect cooking and set to 120C (alternatively set your oven to 120C). Add the Dutch oven to the Big Green Egg and cook without the lid over a wood of your choice for around 4 hours, stiring occasionally. After about 2-3 hours check the seasoning and adjust as needed. If necessary thicken the sauce slightly (see above)
- Step 6 Serve with wild rice, or Tuscan style in a bowl over stale bread rubbed with garlic.