Rabbit as meat evoke a number of different responses but my position is this, they are furry vermin and I have no qualms whatsoever about eating them. In fact, I looked forward to it.
The opportunity was number four (previously: Cassoulet de Castelnaudary; Bouillabaisse; Canard laqueau miel)of our reasonably regular French Dinner Party series on Saturday. I was to make the main again and Veronique would do entree and dessert. I chose a rabbit and tapenade recipe from Provence in the Culinaire Francais. The accompanying vegetables were left a little later being distracted and all by afternoon adventures with Robbie with a quick-cut saw and a sledgehammer. At the mercy of the half an hour til closing supermarket, working through budget shoppers, I had a rough idea and it obliged. Baby carrots, stuffed zucchini, and mushroom pouches.
Working with a whole rabbit, the challenge is to get it into four fillets and a sheet of thin torso meat to wrap them in. The remaining bones become stock. I can only advise what I did and that is to work under the meat in the parts closest to the bone, popping bones at the joint to work the meat out. You should eventually get four largish pieces of meat from the hind legs and the side (the saddle). The sheet of meat around the torso require care so it doesn’t tear or pierce. Trim at the front and back and slowly work it off. It became two sheets as I couldn’t detatch it cleanly from the spine. It slow and fiddly, the bones are tiny and the sinews are like parcel twine. Any meat left will flavour the stock and you can also add small pieces to the fillet roll.
Season the sheets with salt and pepper and spoon tapenade over them (I used a local Wyening Mission Farm kalamata olive tapenade). Place the fillets inside and roll it up and secure with string.
The rabbit stock is much like any stock with carrots, leeks, and celery as the aromatics and a bouquet garni of bay leaf, rosemary, thyme wrapped in the green part of a leek. In this a glass of white wine is added to the ingredients, reduced and then water is added to just cover. Cook for 20 minutes and then strain. Reduce to taste, this will become the sauce.
The stuffed zucchini were based on a recipe in the Cordon Bleu at Home and making an effort for visual presentation, they added a vertical element. Slice the zucchini into 5cm lengths and hollow out a tunnel that leaves about 7mm of wall. Keep the leftover bits for the stuffing and the ends to top. I made the stuffing by cooking finely chopped bacon, leek, parsely, chives and celery with the leftover zucchini and pumpkin seeds in butter and mixing it with fresh breadcrumbs and an egg. Parboil the zucchini in salted water for 5 minutes, rinse under cold water, and fill with the stuffing. Place vertically in a buttered bread pan and cover with foil.
The carrots were part elgiacally inspired by Keats’ Ode on a Grecian Urn:
Bold Lover, never, never canst thou kiss,
Though winning near the goal yet,
and part me being a vindictive bastard. Peeled with a few cm of the the greens left on. Traditionally cooked in Vichy water, I susbsituted with a suitably interesting Italian sparkling mineral water.
The mushrooms pouches are flash and easy. They would have to be considering the state I was in when I successfully made them at The Dinner Party that was a Complete Shambles about 12 years ago. Soak the dried porcini mushrooms in warm water and then mince with field/portobello mushrooms. Cook in butter with chopped chives and drain out the excess moisture. This will prevent the pouches from breaking. Cut filo/phylo/phyllo pastry into bread plate sized rounds. I used three sheets to get the required amount of strength. Fiddly stuff, my kitchen looked like writer’s block circa 1950. Place a spoonful of mix in the middle, gather the edges around, and tie with string. The string will be replaced with the green part of chives quickly softened in boiling water. Liberally brush with melted butter and place on a baking tray.
Bundle everything into the car with camera and tripod and off you go
The times all fit together nicely for minimal stress
-Bake the zucchini for 45 minutes, removing the foil to baste and finally brown.
-The rabbit is quickly seared on all sides in olive oil and then roasted for 15 minutes at 190c, basting regularly, and allowing to rest for 10 minutes.
– the mushroom pouches cook in the oven in 15 minutes
– the carrots take about 10 minutes to cook in the boiling mineral water.
Slice the rabbit into equal portions, place on the plate with the vegetables and pour the stock over.
Very civilised. Seemed to be a much shorter aperitif time so the poonk CDs stayed in their cases. I really enjoyed Veronique’s entree of pesto of flat leafed parsley and roasted garlic on toast. Should get the recipe. I was very proud of my mains. The vegetables rewarded me for the attention I paid them and after my misgivings about the doneness of the duck at the last dinner party, I was thrilled that the rabbit was cooked to juicy perfection. Given it takes about 30 minutes to get from bench to plate, it’s a good choice for a low stress dinner meat. Cheese followed, as is the custom I was told, then finally Veronique’s pear cooked in a vanilla sauce with double cream. My only regret was the Barwick Estates Pinot Noir, only made it as far as the entree. Light and tasty, it would have made for a great pairing with the rabbit. Ah well, I’ll just have to do it all over again.