Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Rabbit with Creamy Mustard Sauce

I've been wanting to cook rabbit for some time now and finally took advantage of a dreary winter's day to make it with a creamy mustard sauce. This is actually a classic French country dish called Lapin a la Moutarde, which has endless variations. It's a shame that rabbit has fallen out of favor on American dinner tables, as it's wonderfully moist, flavorful, and as simple to cook as chicken. Maybe its popularity has waned because we can't help but see a fluffy bunny hopping through the forest. Or maybe it conjures up a certain scene from the movie Fatal Attraction... 

With meat shortages in full swing during World War II, British and American governments began ad campaigns to encourage the consumption of rabbit as an alternative protein to chicken or beef. Many of our grandparents still remember eating rabbit during the war, as it was off the ration list. If you live in the New York area and were lucky enough to check out MoMa's past exhibition, Counter Space: Design & The Modern Kitchen, it featured a collection of WW II era ration posters, like the one shown below (I was quickly left behind in this exhibit, as my fellow museum goers were bored out of their minds. For the life of me, I can't figure out why).

Poster designed by Frederick H. K. Henrion (British, 1914–1990), c. 1941 (Source) 

If you have difficulties finding rabbit at your local butcher, ask them to order it for you. Farmed and wild rabbit are available year round, the latter being more appropriate for stews and slow cooking as the meat tends to be a little tougher. I think the most difficult part about preparing rabbit is breaking it down into edible pieces, but it can be an enjoyable process and it helps acquaint yourself with the rabbit's anatomy (I found this tutorial particularly helpful). If you're feeling less adventurous than I was, tell your butcher how you plan to prepare it and have them cut it into eight serving pieces. I think this is a great recipe to use for those new to rabbit as it's straightforward and utterly delicious. You might think 1/2 cup of mustard sounds like a lot, but it mellows after cooking and becomes wonderfully mild. Served along side roasted carrots, mashed potatoes, and some crusty bread, I don't think I could have been any more cozy! 

Adapted from Saveur, Issue #5

1- 3 lb. rabbit, cut into 8 serving pieces (have your butcher do this or see here)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 sprig fresh flat leaf parsley (plus 2 tbsp. chopped parsley for garnish)
3 sprigs fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
4 to 5 tbsp. unsalted butter
1 large shallot or medium size yellow onion, finely diced
1/2 cup white wine
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup Dijon mustard (grainy or smooth or a combination of both)
1/3 cup heavy cream or creme fraiche

Thoroughly dry the rabbit pieces with paper towels and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Allow to come to room temperature, about 30 to 40 minutes. 

Using butcher's twine, tie the parsley, thyme, and bay leaf together to create a bouquet garni (herb bundle) and set aside.

Heat 2 tbsp. of butter over medium heat in a large Dutch oven or saute pan with a lid. Add the rabbit pieces (do not overcrowd- do in batches if necessary, adding more butter as needed) and brown for a couple of minutes on each side. Transfer the browned pieces to a large plate. Once all of the rabbit is browned, add the remaining butter and saute the shallots or onions. Add a pinch of salt and continue cooking until nicely browned, stirring often, about 3 minutes. 

Pour in the wine and allow to cook out for a minute. Use a wooden spoon to scrape up any browned bits off the bottom of the pan. Add the water, mustard, and bouquet garni, and bring to a boil. Taste the sauce to adjust seasonings, adding more salt if necessary. 

Return the rabbit pieces and any juices that may have accumulated to the pot. Use a wooden spoon to coat them in the sauce. Reduce the heat to low, cover the pot, and lightly simmer for 45 to 50 minutes, until the rabbit is very tender when pierced with a fork. 

When the meat is properly cooked, remove it to a platter. Increase the heat to high and bring the sauce to a boil for a minute or two until thickened, stirring often. Turn off the heat and stir in the cream or creme fraiche. Plate the rabbit and spoon on the sauce. Garnish with chopped parsley and serve immediately. 

Yield: 4 servings 

  • This recipe is wonderful with chicken too!
  • Be sure to save the rabbit liver and fry it in butter and olive oil with herbs and garlic and maybe a little cognac. It's great in a warm salad or spread on toast. You can also add the liver to stews.

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