Ask Peter: Rabbit stew and recipes
I live in the rural far north and thanks to my gun-slinging husband I have a freezer full of rabbit. I have a large group of people coming for New Year celebrations and I would like to serve it but would like to move beyond my usual rabbit stew. Any suggestions on how else I could cook it or how I could make the usual rabbit stew a little more exotic/festive perhaps? Thanks, Ailsa.
I really enjoy eating rabbit, and it’s a very common meat in Italy and France. Years ago we launched our (no longer producing) vineyard Waitaki Braids down on the Waitaki River just out of Duntroon. In the evenings as I drove home between accommodation and kitchens, there were zillions (really!) of rabbits on the roads — a real pest in the area. Because of this the locals were horrified that I’d want to serve these cute little critters to guests. I guess it would be the same as serving Trafalgar Square pigeons to Londoners. Vermin!
However, I worked with one of the local chefs and between us we created mini rabbit pies — which the non-locals really enjoyed. I guess rabbit is, to many, the equivalent of a mammalian chicken, both in flavour and texture. If you have a lot of rabbit, and can afford to be generous with them, then serve the loins as a salad for first course.
- Eviscerate and skin them, then remove the four legs and head, which leaves you the saddle. The day before you want to eat them, rub the saddles with olive oil, fresh thyme and sliced garlic — if you have some kawakawa or horopito growing up there then shred some of that as well (go easy, they’re fairly strong) and mix that in as well. Don’t season at this point.
- Cover and rest in the fridge. Next day, heat up the barbecue or a heavy based pan or skillet, and brown the saddles all over, using a little extra oil if you need to.
- Season generously with flaky salt and fresh, coarsely ground black pepper and then either roast in the oven or finish on the barbecue, until cooked pink. To test, insert a thin knife into the thickest part of the loin.
- Take off the heat and rest for 10 minutes in a warm place, covered with a cloth and foil as I described last week.
- Depending on your guests you could either serve the saddles whole and get them to deal with the bones, or you could be kind and remove the loins from the carcass using a thin sharp knife. If you feel kind, then simply slice them on an angle just less than 1cm thick and sit the rabbit slices on a fresh leafy salad.
- Toss some rocket or watercress with sliced seedless grapes and cherry tomatoes, caramelised red onions, steamed diced kumara and avocado wedges.
- Make a dressing from Dijon and grain mustard mixed with oil, honey and lemon juice and zest so that it’s good and tangy and pungent. Scatter with toasted almonds or macadamia nuts and you’ll have impressed your friends. Portion wise — I’m not sure how large your Northland bunnies are but I’d suggest themeat from 1 saddle for each person — so 2 loins. It’ll also mean you’re clearing the land of more of them, which has to be good.
If you cook the saddles this way, then you might want to think of something else to do with the legs. The fore-legs are not particularly meaty and to be honest are best used to make stock or feed the cat! The rear legs are much meatier – although, again, I’m not sure how big your rabbits are. If you can get your hands on duck fat, or even pork fat, (and at a stretch sunflower oil) you can confit the hind legs (you could also confit the whole rabbit, cut into large chunks).
- For 1kg legs, rub them with 6 cloves of chopped garlic, a generous handful of fresh thyme, oregano or rosemary roughly chopped, 1 star anise (smashed) and 40g coarse rock salt or flaky sea salt (or use 30g fine salt).
- Place in the fridge for 24 hours, then discard any liquid that comes off. Place the legs in a deep roasting dish and pour on enough melted fat to cover by 1 cm. The fat needs to be fairly warm — around 120C.
- Lay baking paper on top of the fat, seal with foil (or place a lid on the dish if it has one) then cook in an oven set to 130C for 2 hours. Check it at this point and it should be tender — if not, keep cooking it a little longer. It’s ready to eat straight away, but you can cook the rabbit up to 4 days in advance.
- To serve it, remove from the fat and brown in a pan then roast in a hot oven (200C) until golden.
Read Peter Gordon's advice on how to chop up a rabbit plus a few more recipe suggestions here.
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