Braised Rabbit, Italian Grandmother Style

by Terry B on March 23, 2011

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

4-pound rabbit
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.

Kitchen Notes

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.


{ 30 comments… read them below or add one }

The Rowdy Chowgirl March 23, 2011 at 2:47 pm

…”bland protein ice pop”…love it! I have yet to see rabbit for sale at the farmer’s market, although I would like to try a recipe like this one at home. Maybe it’s a spring thing–I’ll keep my eyes open!

Marion March 23, 2011 at 11:27 pm

Chowgirl, it might be more of a special order thing – sometimes all it takes to find a source is to ask. Also, your kimchi recipe looks AWESOME.

John Hobson March 24, 2011 at 2:19 pm

One thing about rabbit is that it is very lean, so it needs liquid to cook in.

I tried serving rabbit to my middle son, then aged about ten, and he refused to eat a “cute little bunny”. I told him that it was an evil, vicious rabbit, condemned to death for unspeakable crimes, but he wouldn’t buy it.

Here is the way my mother (an Austrian) taught me to make rabbit:

Take one rabbit, and cut it into serving sized pieces. Brown the
rabbit in olive oil.

Put 3 or 4 carrots into a blender, and add a cup or so of white wine
or rose. Puree the carrots, and add to the rabbit. Add half a cup or
so of sugar, a couple of tablespoons of red currant jelly, salt, pepper, and thyme.

If there is not enough liquid to cover the rabbit, add white wine, chicken stock, or (in articulo mortis) water.

Simmer, stirring occasionally, until the rabbit is tender — depends on the size of the rabbit, but figure at least 45 minute and more likely an hour. Meanwhile, make some dumplings or spatzel.

When the rabbit is done, remove it and keep it warm. Reduce the
carrot sauce until it is quite thick. Throw in a tablespoon of butter. Correct the seasonings.

Serve the rabbit and the carrot sauce over the dumplings. Peas go well with this.

John Hobson March 24, 2011 at 2:21 pm

I forgot to add 1/2 cup of white wine vinegar to the rabbit in my last post.

Marion March 24, 2011 at 9:20 pm

Wow, thank you, John. We will try this and report back. The sweet/sour combo sounds delicious.

Shauna March 25, 2011 at 1:53 am

All sounds great! Wish I lived in the country so I could make this right now!!!
YUM!!!! Think I can actually smell this dish cooking all the way here to Texas!

Courtney March 25, 2011 at 2:15 am

Hi Terry,

This looks absolutely amazing! In fact, it had my husband drooling and in near tremors just reading it! We can’t wait to try it out on Sunday night. That said, we are hoping you might have a tip as to where we might find rabbit here in Chicago? Are there any specialty shops that might carry it? Additionally- while I’m asking- wondering if you have a great suggestion for a butcher shop here in the windy city, as well. Thanks much! We are so glad we’ve found your blog!

Terry B March 25, 2011 at 2:45 am

Even though Marion cooked this meal and wrote the post, I’m chiming in. Shauna, I can say without bragging (since I didn’t make the dish) that it was delicious! And living in Texas, I would think you could get a jackrabbit and make a huge feast.

Hi, Courtney. Welcome to Blue Kitchen! I can answer both your questions with a single answer: Marion got our rabbit at the Butcher & Larder, Chicago’s first locally sourced, whole animal butcher shop, recently opened by former chef Rob Levitt. You may be out of luck for Sunday, I fear. Rob generally has to order rabbit ahead. But if you call this week, he should be able to get something for you by next weekend. And please stop by the shop anyway. He always has some wonderful things to choose from; interesting cuts of meat as well as house made pâtés and charcuterie.

Paige at The Spice House March 25, 2011 at 3:08 pm

I’ve loved rabbit since I lived in rural Kansas as a child and raised rabbits for 4-H. I still refer to my friend’s pet rabbits as “the noisy foods”. Your braising recipe sounds awesome – I think I’ll try it with polenta cakes.
Courtney, while the Butcher and Larder is fantastic, if you want rabbit without ordering ahead you should go to some of the Halal butchers on Devon Street. Sometimes you can find fresh rabbit, but even their frozen bunnies are fresh enough to not taste like bland protien ice pops. Gepperths’ Meat Market on Halsted by Armitage sometimes has rabbit too. And of course once summer hits you should head up to the Madison Farmers Market, which always have a few rabbit vendors!
And since you ask about butcher shops in general, I recommend Paulina Meat Market, Gepperths, Gene’s Sausage Shop (they also sell fresh butter in the deli case!) and Romanian, if you can figure out when they’re open. Best roasting hens in the city.

Shauna March 26, 2011 at 4:43 am

Terry, I think you mean jack-a-lope in Texas! It would make a huge feast!

Marion March 26, 2011 at 10:21 pm

Thank you for all the great information, Paige.

Terry B March 27, 2011 at 5:00 am

Yeah, Shauna, but last I heard, jack-a-lopes are protected.

annbb March 28, 2011 at 3:36 pm

I grew up on Hasenpfeffer (German recipe) but haven’t had it for years. Both this recipe and John’s sound very similar to Hasenpfeffer. I’ve never cook rabbit but order it whenever it’s on the menu. Yum!

altadenahiker March 29, 2011 at 10:43 pm

I’m coming for my weekly dinner tonight. You’re not cooking bunnies again, are you?

Marion March 30, 2011 at 3:17 am

Annbb, yum is right! And we are seeing rabbit on menus all over town these days.

Altadenahiker, one of our friends will not eat anything that in life was fluffy and cute. Lamb – no; cow – ok.

Babs April 5, 2011 at 3:12 am

Always looking to try new recipes for my home grown rabbits. I tried this one tonight and the flavors were fabulous. Perfectly paired with polenta
too. Next time I’ll save all the liver. Thanks for sharing.

Marion April 5, 2011 at 3:40 am

Babs, I am so glad you tried it. Oh, man, polenta is a great idea with this.

And now I want to have this again, despite having just had a dinner that was delicious in a whole other direction.

Alta April 7, 2011 at 9:03 pm

Oh, to be able to find good rabbit! The only rabbit I can find it seems is freezer case rabbit. Boo. This sounds SO delicious.

Marion April 8, 2011 at 3:17 am

Alta, you could also try this recipe with chicken. It will be quite mmmmmmm

Sarah February 13, 2012 at 8:01 pm

What kind of olives should I use?

Marion February 14, 2012 at 3:23 am

Sarah, for this recipe I used a mix of picholine and kalamata. An assortment of traditionally cured olives (without pits!) is OK and so is just going with one variety. You could also use a really good quality bottled kind, like Trader Joe’s Colossal Olives. I would avoid the canned black ones, bleah.

Beth April 15, 2012 at 9:43 pm

I know this is over a year old, but I had to chime in. In Texas, you can sometimes get fresh rabbit at the various Mexican grocery stores. The larger stores may have rabbit in the butcher cases.

Kevin January 15, 2013 at 11:24 pm

Good recipe, but desparately needs salt. Need to salt the veggies during the saute process and salt the rabbit meat.

Kevin January 15, 2013 at 11:25 pm

adding a couple bay leaves along with salt takes this to the top.

Dick Bobb February 1, 2013 at 1:56 am

The 3 brands of Rabbit that are fairly easy to find are Seelys Arc out of
Dunnellon FL, Pel Freeze out of Rogers, Arkansas and D’Artagnan out of NYC. Here in my area of St. Simons Island, GA, Publix stocks the Seeley Ark ($12/lb) & Harris Teeter carries Pel Freeze ($8/lb). You can also buy direct from Pel Freeze on the internet
D’Artagnan you have to buy on the internet. They also are the only ones who offer skinless, boneless loins, which are much more desireable, but are also much more expensive.(about $20/lb plus shipping). However, they are also the best, as the have just about every variety of gourmet food you would ever need!
We’re doing a rabbit & pasta recipe from the Italian Wine Merchants in New York tomorrow night and using cut up rabbit from Pel Freeze.
I’ll braise it, remove the meat from the bones and add to the Tagliatelle pasta at the end, just before serving. It will take twice as much rabbit from the bone-in pieces as it would from boneless loins so by the time you figure in your weight loss the D’Artagnan is fairly competitive in cost….and probably better, will let you know next week.
bon Appetit

Nancy R March 30, 2013 at 9:56 pm

Even though we love olives I chose not to add them. Served it with asparagus and gourmet rice blend(white and brown basmati, red and wild rice purchased at COSTCO)
This recipe is easy, delicious and presents beautifully. Also, as it was just hubby and I, the rabbit we used was just over 2 pounds so I simply cut the recipe in half. I would definitely serve this at a dinner party. Thank you for a fantastic recipe!

Marion April 4, 2013 at 2:14 am

Nancy, that makes me so happy! Thank you for letting us know!

Lynda April 18, 2014 at 12:47 am

Alot of the flavor depends on the type, and diet of the rabbit you want to eat.

Lynda April 18, 2014 at 12:52 am

I think that some sort of blue cheese sauce, with a fried onion crust!

Lynda April 18, 2014 at 12:58 am

So Tired of the same ole wine recipes. Rabbit could be the new , better, meat.

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