Rabbit Stew with Mushrooms

Rabbit Stew with Mushrooms

Rabbit are often available at specialty markets, fresh or frozen, or can be ordered by your local butcher. If you can find fresh rabbit, have your butcher piece it out for you. Otherwise, otherwise look below on how to cut up a rabbit.

Alternatively, you can simply brown the whole rabbit, and put it into the stew whole. Then remove it later and pick off the meat.

There is an optional step to making this stew taken from classic French cooking (Antonin Careme) that transforms a good dish into a great one. Mash the rabbit or chicken’s liver, mix it with crème fraiche or sour cream, then push it through a fine sieve.

The result is a pink slurry that will thicken and enrich your sauce. If you choose to take this step, do not let your stew boil once the liver-crème fraiche mixture is in it or it will curdle. If you want to go halfway with this final step, mix in a large dollop of crème fraiche or sour cream in at the end.

  • Prep time: 45 minutes
  • Cook time: 1 hour, 45 minutes
  • Yield: Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 1 ounce of dried porcini mushrooms
  • 2 heads of garlic
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 1/2 pounds mixed mushrooms
  • 4 Tbsp butter
  • 1 rabbit
  • 3 large shallots, chopped
  • 1 cup sherry or white wine
  • 1-2 cups mushroom soaking water
  • 3 cups chicken stock
  • 1 Tbsp fresh thyme, or 2 teaspoons dried
  • 1 large parsnip, peeled and chopped into large pieces
  • Salt
  • 2 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley

Method

1 Soak the dried porcini in water: Soak the dried porcini mushrooms in 2 cups hot water.

2 Cut rabbit into pieces and sprinkle with salt: Cut the rabbit into serving pieces and salt well. Let sit at room temperature for 30 minutes. Use all of the rabbit in this dish – you can fish out the ribs and other parts that have little or no meat on them later; they will add vital flavor to your stew.

3 Optional Step with rabbit liver: If you are going to make the crème fraiche-liver thickener, mince the rabbit liver finely and move it to a small bowl. Vigorously mix in about 1 1/2 tablespoons crème fraiche or sour cream. Now put the mixture into a fine-meshed sieve over a bowl and push it through with a rubber spatula. Reserve in the fridge.

4 Roast garlic: Preheat the oven to 375°F. Slice the top third off the heads of garlic and drizzle the olive oil over them. Wrap the heads loosely in foil and bake for 45 minutes to an hour, or until cloves are soft and brown. Set aside to cool.

5 Prep fresh mushrooms, dice rehydrated porcini, save mushroom soaking liquid: Chop off the tough ends of the mushroom stems and either discard or save for stock. Roughly chop or slice the mushrooms and set aside. Dice the rehydrated porcini. Pour the porcini soaking water though a paper towel into another bowl. Reserve the liquid.

6 Dry sauté fresh mushrooms: Heat a thick-bottomed large pot on high heat for 1 minute. Add the mushrooms and shake the pot. Stirring continuously, dry sauté the mushrooms until they release their water.

Turn the heat down to medium-high. Use a wooden spoon to scrape up any mushroom bits off the bottom of the pan. Salt the mushrooms lightly. When the mushroom liquid is mostly gone, remove them to a bowl.

7 Brown rabbit in butter: Add the butter to the pot. When the butter melts, turn the heat down to medium. Pat the rabbit pieces dry and place in the pan.

Work in batches if you need to, do not crowd the pan. Brown the pieces well on all sides. Remove the rabbit pieces from the pot and set aside.

8 Sauté shallots: Increase the the heat to medium-high and add the shallots to the pot. Sauté until the shallots are nicely wilted, about 3 minutes. Stir from time to time. Sprinkle salt over everything.

9 Squeeze roasted garlic into mushroom soaking liquid: While the shallots are cooking, squeeze the roasted garlic into the mushroom soaking water you have strained, then whisk it together.

10 Deglaze shallots with sherry: Add the sherry or white wine to the shallots in the pot. Use a wooden spoon to scrape off any browned bits on the bottom of the pot. Let the sherry boil down by half. Add the mushroom-roasted garlic mixture and the stock and stir to combine.

11 Add thyme, mushrooms, rabbit, parsnips, bring to simmer and cook: Add the thyme, all the mushrooms, the rabbit and the parsnips and bring everything to a bare simmer.

Simmer gently for 90 minutes. You want the meat to be close to falling off the bone. If you want, you can fish out all the rabbit pieces and pull the meat off the bone – it makes the dish less attractive, but it will be easier to eat. Taste for salt right before you serve and add if needed. Stir in the parsley.

12 Add liver mixture if using: If you are using the crème fraiche-liver mixture to thicken your stew, turn off the heat. When the stew stops bubbling, add the mixture and let it heat through for a minute before serving.

Serve with a crusty loaf of bread, a green salad and either a hearty white wine, a dry rose or a light red wine.

How to Cut Up a Rabbit

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butchered rabbit
Photo by Holly A. Heyser

Butchering a rabbit is a bit harder than cutting up a chicken. In fact, that reason — along with a higher feed-to-meat ratio, is why America became a nation of chicken-eaters and not rabbit-eaters, a question actually in doubt  a century ago.

Most of the rabbits and hares Holly and I eat are wild cottontails or jackrabbits, although an occasional snowshoe hare or domestic rabbit finds its way to our table. And it’s a domestic I decided to work with for this tutorial. They are all built the same.

Why butcher your own rabbits? They’re cheaper, sometimes a full $1.50 a pound less than a pre-portioned bunny. Also, if you are raising your own or are a hunter, this is good information to know.

First you need a very sharp knife: I use a Global flexible boning knife, but a paring knife or a fillet knife would also work, as would a chef’s knife. I also use a Wusthof cleaver and a pair of kitchen shears. Have a clean towel handy to wipe your hands, and a bowl for trimmings.

Start by slicing off any silverskin and sinew from the outside of the carcass, mostly on the outside of the saddle.

how to cut up a rabbit
Photo by Holly A. Heyser

I always start cutting up a rabbit by removing the front legs, which are not attached to the body by bone. Slide your knife up from underneath, along the ribs, and slice through.

how to cut up a rabbit
Photo by Holly A. Heyser

Usually there is some schmutz (a technical term) attached to the front leg that does not look like good eats: fat, sinew, and general non-meaty stuff. All can go into pate if you are so inclined. Or you can toss it.

how to butcher a rabbit
Photo by Holly A. Heyser

Next comes the belly. A lot of people ignore this part, but if you think about it, it’s rabbit bacon! And who doesn’t like bacon? In practice, this belly flap becomes a lovely boneless bit in whatever dish you are making. Also good in pate or rillettes.

how to butcher a rabbit
Photo by Holly A. Heyser

Turn Mr. Bunny over and slice right along the line where the saddle (or loin) starts, then run the knife along that edge to the ribs. When you get to the ribcage, you fillet the meat off the ribs, as far as you can go, which is usually where the front leg used to be. Finish by trimming more schmutz off the edge; if you’re using this part for pate or rillettes, leave the schmutz on.

how to butcher a rabbit
Photo by Holly A. Heyser

Up next, the hind legs, which is the money cut in a rabbit. Hunters take note: Aim far forward on a rabbit, because even if you shoot up the loin, you really want the hind legs clean — they can be a full 40 percent of a gutted carcass’ weight.

Start on the underside and slice gently along the pelvis bones until you get to the ball-and-socket joint. When you do, grasp either end firmly and bend it back to pop the joint. Then slice around the back leg with your knife to free it from the carcass.

How to cut up a rabbit
Photo by Holly A. Heyser

Once you’ve done both legs, you are left with the loin. It’s really the rabbit loin vs. chicken breast thing that did it in for the bunny as a major meat animal — there’s a larger swath of boneless meat in a chicken than in a rabbit. Both have a tendency to dry out, but then there’s that delicious chicken skin…

Now is a good time to remove a little more silverskin. The back of the loin has several layers, and most need to be removed. The final layer is very tough to cut off, and I often leave it. On a large hare or jackrabbit, however, this layer needs to go, too. Again, this stuff can be ground and used in pate.

How to cut up a rabbit
Photo by Holly A. Heyser

You’re now ready to portion the saddle. Ever heard the expression “long in the saddle?” It is an animal husbandry term: A longer stretch of saddle or loin means more high-dollar cuts come slaughter time. And meat rabbits have been bred to have a very long saddle compared to wild cottontails.

Start by removing the pelvis, which is really best  in the stockpot. I do this by taking my cleaver severing the spine by banging the cleaver down with the meat of my palm. I then bend the whole shebang backwards and finish the cut with the boning knife. Or you could use stout kitchen shears.

How to cut up a rabbit
Photo by Holly A. Heyser

Now you grab your kitchen shears and snip off the ribs, right at the line where the meat of the loin starts. The ribs go into the stockpot, too.

Butchering a rabbit
Photo by Holly A. Heyser

Guess what? There’s more silverskin to slice off. Could you do it all in one fell swoop? You bet, but it is delicate work and I like to break it up to keep my mental edge: The reason for all this delicate work is because the loin is softer than the silverskin, and if you cook it with the skin on, it will contract and push the loin meat out either side. Ugly. And besides, if you are making Kentucky Fried Rabbit, who wants to eat sinew?

Butchering a rabbit
Photo by Holly A. Heyser

Your last step is to chop the loin into serving pieces. I do this by using my boning knife to slice a guide line through to the spine. Then I give the spine a whack with the cleaver or I snip it with kitchen shears.

Butchering a rabbit
Photo by Holly A. Heyser

And voila! A bunny cut into lots of delicious serving pieces.

rabbit cut into serving pieces
Photo by Holly A. Heyser

What about the offal, you say? I’ll do more on that later, but suffice to say rabbit livers and hearts are pretty much like those of a chicken. The kidneys are delicious, too. Remove the fat (rabbit fat tends to be foul-tasting) and peel the nearly-invisible membrane off the kidney before cooking.

 

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