Slow cooked with carrots, onions, tomatoes, olives, fresh herbs, wine and brandy, braised rabbit makes an impressive rustic company dinner. Recipe below, including substitutions for rabbit.
Rarely seen in American kitchens, rabbit shows up on dinner tables all over Europe. I’m turning the kitchen over to Marion this week, as she gets in touch with her inner Italian grandmother.
Years back, when I lived in the country, a lady up the road raised rabbits for meat, and it got so pretty much no month went by without some rabbit dish making it to my table. I would walk down to her place, about a mile away (sometimes getting the chance to see the local pheasants, owls and the wacky, kind of scary neighborhood flock of turned-feral guinea hens), make a purchase, then walk back home and cook it. It was inexpensive, delicious, low in fat and versatile. I was crazy about it.
Then I moved away and it became a lot more difficult to obtain rabbit. By difficult, I mean impossible. And when I could get it, it usually had been deep-frozen for so long that it tasted like maybe 10 percent of a rabbit. Freezer case was its dominant taste. It was a bland protein ice pop, with only a faint echo of rabbit.
Nowadays, rabbit is turning up on menus all over the place. It almost seems to be this year’s it food. It finally is—well, maybe not easy to find really good fresh, tasty rabbit—but certainly it is easier.
This recipe is based on a simple Italian country dish. It comes together quickly, cooks in under an hour, and serves four or five in a very satisfying way. You can cook it the night before, and the flavors will be even better. For a simple early-spring dinner with friends, it’s ideal. If you can’t—or won’t—get a rabbit, this recipe is also terrific with chicken or with chunks of veal (see Kitchen Notes).
Braised Rabbit, Italian Grandmother Style
Serves 4 to 5
the rabbit’s liver (finely chopped—see Kitchen Notes)
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 small onions, each cut into 8 pieces longitudinally
1 tablespoon fresh sage
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary
1 cup dry red wine (I used Merlot)
1/4 cup brandy (see Kitchen Notes)
4 carrots, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 shallot, sliced
1 can tomatoes (with juices), chopped into pieces
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2/3 cups olives (no pits!)
Have the rabbit cut up like a chicken—the saddle should be cut into three or four pieces. (The saddle is the rounded portion of the back between the shoulder and loin.)
Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Put a couple of tablespoons of flour into a paper bag. Put the rabbit pieces in the bag, roll the top shut, then shake the bag to evenly coat the rabbit with the flour.
Heat the oil in a large, lidded skillet over a medium flame. Add the onions, shallot and carrots and sauté them for a couple of minutes. Remove to a bowl. Put the rabbit pieces in the skillet and brown them all around. Return the vegetables to the pan. Pour in the red wine and the brandy, then add the tomato paste and the can of tomatoes, with the juice. Stir to dissolve the paste into the liquid. Then scatter the herbs around and give everything a good grinding of black pepper.
Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cover and put into the oven.
After about 20 minutes, take the pan out of the oven and remove the lid. Stir in the chopped up liver and the olives. Put the lid back, then return the pan to the oven.
The rabbit should be done in another 20 minutes. This is terrific with pretty much any carb that you like—rice, mashed potatoes, a tubular pasta. We had it with kasha, and that was really wonderful.
Tastes like chicken? No, it tastes like rabbit. But almost every dish that works with chicken will work with rabbit.
Can you live without the liver? If you don’t get the liver with your rabbit, you can use a chicken liver, or just omit the liver entirely. But including it doesn’t leave a liver taste, it just deepens the flavor of the whole.
Cheap brandy is dandy. Save the good stuff for drinking. We cook with E&J Brandy, a modestly priced brandy generally found in supermarkets and liquor stores.