One of my parents' neighbours was raising rabbits in their horse stall. Ever since Little Bit was a very small Bit indeed, we've taken him in to go watch the bunnies. Especially when he was very small, taking him into the warm semi-darkness of the bunny stall, with quiet noises and the smell of hay calmed him almost immediately. He could be a very upset Little One, only a few months old, and yet almost as soon as we unlatched the door, he would quieten.
I have liked rabbit meat for years (which has no bearing on enjoying petting them) and had meant to get a bunny from the neighbour, and then he mentioned that a lot more people said they liked the idea than actually followed through and bought bunnies from him, so he was going to stop raising them. Aside from it being a shame for Little One, suddenly my chance was slipping away, so I asked for one.
It was a while before I was organised enough to actually follow up, but he dropped off a freshly butchered rabbit for us last weekend. With a friend coming to visit during the course of the week, I decided to cook the rabbit for dinner. Previously, on the few occasions that I've cooked or eaten rabbit at home, it's been buried in ratatouille and slow-cooked.
It now being winter and not the season for courgettes, fresh tomatoes and aubergines, I decided to try a similar strategy but with winter veg: butternut, pumpkin and carrots. For the flavouring, for some reason I decided to go with a mulled wine profile, using red wine, an orange and warmer spices for the sauce. I wasn't sure how everything was going to go, but the proof is in the eating they say and we all had seconds, so I think that is a rather good sign of things going well!
1 rabbit, in pieces
4 red onions, in eighths
3 big carrots, roughly chopped
1/4 of a small pumpkin, chopped
1/2 butternut, roughly chopped
1 apple, chopped
2 c red cooking wine
2 - 3 c (ish) chicken stock
1 orange, halved
2 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp orange peel
1 - 1 1/2 tbsp thyme
1/2 tsp rosemary
2 - 2 1/2 tbsp honey
3 tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper
1) Salt the rabbit and leave it for about an hour. After that time, rinse off the excess salt. Heat a cast-iron skillet to medium-high with the olive oil and when it is hot, place pieces of rabbit in the skillet. Glaze with honey, and sprinkle thyme over the top. Brown about 5 minutes on each side, then remove to the oven-proof dish you will be using for the stew (I used my biggest one and was a little stuck for space...) Brown the meat in batches, ensuring that each piece has sufficient space in the pan, and when you're done, tip the juices and glaze run off into the stew pot. I deglazed the pan with half an orange, too.
2) Add all other ingredients to the pot and mix well. Squeeze the orange and drop in the halves. Place in the oven at about 160°C and leave for the next 3-4 hours, stirring occasionally to ensure everything has equal juice bathing time.
3) Remove and serve over rice, polenta or bread. We opted for polenta ( for a recipe, see here).
We all really enjoyed this. It would also work very well with chicken, but the gamier taste of the rabbit stood up nicely to the red wine. The salting was an attempt to apply principles from some of the food science reading I've been doing, and from Salt Fat Acid Heat for example. Salt apparently helps jellify the muscle tissue, trapping more moisture and making for more tender, moister meat. Longer salting is better, but my Little Bit wrangling skills and time management didn't allow for longer, so I was limited to about an hour as I dealt with other bits.
We had lots of extra juice, so a good bread didn't go amiss to mop up. All in all very successful, but I must say, rabbit has a lot of bones! The stew has also stood up well to multiple leftover meals (we had rather a lot left over from that first meal). I plan on using some of the leftover juice to make risotto, so stay tuned for that!
Book Pairing: Making this, as Little Bit napped, I was listening to A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. It is a long while since I read it and I enjoyed revisiting it. Being shorter, too, I find that Dickens' wordiness bothered me less than it did in, for example, Great Expectations. Knowing the about-face that Scrooge was about to undergo, it was interesting hearing him be so entrenched in his grumpy misery and delightful to watch him turn. It was in keeping with the season, too, which is always a big favourite. Digesting our stew that evening, we lit the candles on our Christmas tree for the second time this year and watched them quietly glow as I caught up with an old friend. Candles, friends and good food (with some good books thrown in) do really make life - and Christmas-time more especially - delightful!