Here at Bay Area Bites, we believe in equal-opportunity coverage. So, while yesterday's post gave you tips on finding vegan marshmallow chicks and dairy-free chocolate bunnies, today we're going to tell you how get those rabbits out of the Easter basket and onto the table!
Yes, rabbits are cute. However, if you choose to eat meat, you should know that they're also lean, tasty, and take limited time & resources to reach market size, making them a practical and sustainable meat source.
When I was a restaurant critic, I always ordered rabbit when I found it on local menus. Why? First, because I liked it, and secondly, because it was very nice to have something different to write about for a change; there's only so many ways you can describe a steak, a chicken breast, or a piece of halibut. But, oh, the looks of pleading I got if I dared urge any of my dining companions to order it instead! Those Easter-bunny associations are strong.
There's no real reason to be squeamish about rabbit. Unlike, say, kidneys, brains, or blood sausage, there's nothing dramatic, weirdly textured, pungent or funky about rabbit. Yes, it does have a slight resemblance to chicken, but with a silky, meatier texture that's all its own.
In Italy, its mild flavor makes it a popular baby food; little jars of coniglio line the shelves at the supermercado and the farmacia. Rabbits were counted among the domesticated courtyard animals, like chickens and guinea fowl, that were one step closer to the house than livestock like cows, sheep, and goats.
A small but growing number of local gardeners are adding a few rabbits to their backyard mix of chickens and bees. However, if you're not quite up to raising (and dispatching) your own rabbit, you can still find local, humanely-raised rabbits in the Bay Area.
In the East Bay, you can find 3-lb Jones Farm rabbits from Santa Rosa for $10/lb at the Marin Sun Farms butcher shop in Rockridge Market Hall. At Avedano's Holly Park Market in San Francisco, rabbits from Devil's Gulch Ranch in West Marin arrive every Friday, where the 3-to-4 lb rabbits are $30 apiece. (They are also sold at the Marin Civic Center Farmers Market on Sundays from 9am-1pm)
Being a lean meat, rabbit benefits from a little enrichment during the cooking process. You can go the Italian way, browning it in olive oil and then braising it with tomatoes and herbs, perhaps a splash of balsamic vinegar. The French prefer it lavished with mustard and cream, baked to a fragrant golden brown, and it's this version that I'm sharing with you today, adapted from a recipe in former Chez Panisse chef David Tanis's first book, A Platter of Figs and Other Recipes. It's rich but simple, a luscious amalgam of mustard, thyme, and cream, with bacon on top to add crispness and smoky depth.
Unless you have a sharp cleaver and a steady hand, it's wise to ask your butcher to divide your rabbit into serving pieces for you. At Marin Sun, the butcher tells me there are many, many ways to divvy up a bunny; we settle for separating out the legs (the meaty haunches and back legs, and the narrower front legs and shoulders), then chopping the rest of the body (the saddle) into 6 even pieces. Like a chicken, the more muscular legs take longer to cook; he advises putting the back legs in first, followed by the front legs 15 minutes later, and the saddle pieces 15 minutes after that. He also suggests, for my next rabbit, that I get the saddle boned out in one piece. Spread out, rubbed with fresh herbs and garlic, rolled and tied, then grilled or roasted, it becomes a kind of rabbit porchetta, easy to serve and eat.
What to accompany them? Why, carrots, of course. Tanis suggests simmering equal parts peeled potatoes and carrots in salted water, then draining and mashing them with a lump of butter, a generous pinch of saffron, and enough milk or creme fraiche to make it smooth and creamy.
Prep time: 2 hrs 20 min
Cook time: 1 hr
Total time: 3 hrs 20 min
Yield: 4 servings
- 1 rabbit, approximately 3 lbs, cut into 8 pieces
- salt to taste
- freshly ground pepper to taste
- 1/2 cup Dijon-style mustard
- 1/4 cup grainy mustard or 2 tbsp whole mustard seeds, roughly crushed
- 1 cup crème fraîche
- 6 cloves garlic, minced
- grated rind and juice of 1 lemon
- several sprigs fresh thyme, leaves stripped from stems
- 1/4 lb bacon (approximately 4-5 strips) or pancetta
- 1/3 cup white wine or chicken broth
- Pat rabbit dry, then rub with salt and pepper. In a large, shallow bowl, mix mustards, crème fraîche, lemon rind and juice, garlic, and thyme. Put rabbit pieces into the bowl and turn to coat. Let marinate for a couple of hours at room temperature, or refrigerate overnight.
- If rabbit's been chilled, let it come back to room temperature. Preheat oven to 400F. Put back legs into a shallow earthenware or ceramic baking dish. Drape a piece of bacon over legs. Pour in wine or broth.
- Bake for 15 minutes, then add forelegs, draping another piece of bacon over them. Bake for an additional 15 minutes, then add saddle pieces. Drape the remaining pieces of bacon over the pieces. Bake for approximately 30 minutes, turning occasionally as they brown, until juices are reduced and rabbit pieces are golden brown.