Is it me, or are dishes with rabbits multiplying like.. well, rabbits? I am seeing more of it on menus and in the specialist meat shops, but have never cooked one. They seem only to be sold whole. Can you tell me how to chop one up into serving pieces and how best to cook them? Theo
Rabbits. I fear they get a bad rap in New Zealand in some culinary circles as they are such massive pests. In 2006 I was catering an event on the Waitaki River in North Otago and had decided to use as much local food as I could get my hands on. From what I gathered, there were plenty of rabbits in the area, and as I really enjoy eating them I thought they’d be a great ingredient to use. I pictured serving small rabbit pies with a relish or chutney, and I enlisted the help of a local chef to get them made.
What I hadn’t even considered was the huge theological (for want of a better word) divide between the locals and the visitors from Auckland and Wellington who would be coming down. At first I couldn’t understand the locals’ reluctance in using them. Until one night a few days before the events when I was driven home after sunset. The driver stopped the car, turned the car lights off and we chatted. After 20 minutes, she turned the lights back on and there were literally thousands of the furry critters everywhere, through paddocks and on the road. I suddenly understood why the locals might feel like they were eating the equivalent of city rats. However, undaunted, I proceeded with the pie plan and they were delicious. According to the out-of-towners!
It’s often said, and it’s true, that rabbit tastes just like chicken.
Considering a wild rabbit will have the most amazing free range life eating crops and wild herbs, it’s amazing they don’t have more flavour. I’m not sure if the ones you’ve seen are wild or farmed, but don’t expect buckets of flavour.
Confit rabbit legs
The legs are great when cooked like confit duck legs.
- Mix some coarse salt (12g per kg of rabbit legs) with fresh herbs and spices (thyme, marjoram, a little cinnamon and star anise) and rub this over the legs (bone in). Marinate 24 hours.
- Gently rub the salt in once more and turn them over.
- Next day, wipe the excess salt off the legs (don't get them wet) and place in a deep roasting dish with a few bay leaves and some more thyme sprigs.
- Heat to 100C enough duck fat to cover them all and pour over. Cover the legs with baking paper and then seal the dish with foil. Bake on the middle shelf of an oven set to 130C (fan, or 150C with no fan) and cook for 1½ -2 hours — depending on the size of the legs.
- They are ready when you can easily prise the meat from the bones. Leave them to cool in the fat and then remove.
- To serve, heat a pan up, place the legs in and crisp on both sides then bake at 180C for 8 minutes.
Using the saddle and loins
The saddle of a rabbit is fairly small and it might be that you need to serve an entire saddle per person depending on the size of the rabbit. You can also remove the loins, the fillet shaped meat that runs along both sides of the spine. The loins are lean, and must not be overcooked or they’ll be really dry.
You can marinate the saddle or the boned loins in a variety of things, but don’t use anything so strong you don’t taste the meat — so if you’re thinking of making a curry, tone the flavours back. I’ve had a great tandoor-cooked rabbit, marinated in yoghurt, turmeric, cumin, cardamom and a little chilli and it was fabulous, but it was obvious that the spicing had been pared back from say a lamb dish.
If you fancy some butchery...
... you’d be wise to go online and get some guidance.
However, what you want to do is remove the two rear legs at the equivalent of the hip bones. Cut through the flesh towards the hip then wiggle bones and cut through the ball and socket – you won’t need to actually cut any bone. Remove the front legs (these have no use other than to be roasted and thrown in your stock pot. This will leave you with the saddle — assuming the head was already removed. Using kitchen shears cut the rib cage from the saddle — at the point where the skinny ribs touch the fleshy loins. These ribs are destined for the stock pot also.
You’ll now have two legs and one saddle. You can remove the loin from the saddle, but it’s best cooked on it to keep it moist. If you want to casserole it, then cut the legs at the knee joint to give you four pieces. Using a kitchen mallet, cut the saddle crossways into four or more pieces. From this point on, just treat it like a jointed chicken if making a stew.
If you want more advice and meal suggestions with rabbit, read this Ask Peter article on rabbit stews and recipes.
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