Sunday, February 01, 2015

Rabbit (or making meat while the sun shines)

We've had a couple of storms and some wet weather come through since the holidays, welcome moisture that, with luck, will get a chance to soak in some rather than just sublimating away. With snow on the ground and a chilly, still, and sunny morning, the conditions said  "rabbit hunting" on a recent weekend. Snow to see the rabbits against, cold, but sunny and without a breeze so they'll be out sunning. A couple of our trips to find quail had revealed quite a few cottontails, so A and I loaded up the dogs and shotguns (just in case we had to defend ourselves against a covey of quail) and a couple of .22 rifles and headed out early the other morning.

Sure enough, we'd only spotted and missed one bunny when we had to defend ourselves against some quail, then hit a second covey on the way to another rabbit-y spot, taking up more valuable early morning rabbit hunting time. I hate when that happens.

Those are quail tracks in the foreground. No time for photos when they're running and flushing.

 Fortunately, the day stayed cold enough that a fair number of cottontails remained out soaking up the rays and we collected a half dozen in relatively short order.

When A asked about getting more, I opted out as we had all the cottontails that I really wanted to deal with, enough for a generous couple of dinners. Given the conditions, we could have taken twice as many without a lot more time and effort. Plenty of game and the right weather made for a fun hunt.

 As for these rabbits, a couple of the saddles are slated for frying alongside the quail, but the others went into one of my favorite rabbit preparations, Paul Prudhomme's "Smothered Rabbit" from his "Louisiana Kitchen" cookbook.  This recipe is adapted a bit, using all three of the holy trinity in the roux and changing the spice mix some. You could use chicken or domestic rabbit, cutting the latter into smaller pieces, but this is awfully good with wild rabbit and, with such, makes for a dish that strikes me as very classically Louisiana in terms of flavors (and ingredients).

You start off with very Prudhomme-esque spice blend, in our version consisting of:
 2 1/4 t salt                      1 1/2 t sweet paprika                1/2 t white pepper
1/2 t black pepper            1 1/2 t dried shallots (ground to a powder)    3/4 t garlic powder
1/2 t cayenne pepper        1/2 t dried basil                  1 t dried marjoram

You combine all of these in a small bowl, then sprinkle 2 teaspoons onto on 3-4 cottontails, cut up into legs and saddles.
Put another 2 teaspoons of the spice mix into a plastic bag or a large dish along with a cup of all purpose flour to flour the rabbit in. While the rabbit is sitting out and seasoning up, and before you dredge it, get together:
1 c finely chopped onion        
1/2 c finely chopped celery  
1/2 c finely chopped bell pepper

and have ready 6 c of rabbit or chicken stock.

Heat 1/4 inch of oil in a large, heavy skillet over fairly high heat. You don't want the oil to smoke or burn the flour that falls to the bottom, but you do want it pretty hot. Shake or dredge the rabbit pieces in the seasoned flour and then brown in batches.

Once the rabbit is brown, pour off all but 1/2 c of the oil, leaving the sediment in the pan. Add the flour from the bag and whisk over medium heat (medium high if you're brave) until you get a red/brown roux. Turn off the heat and add the veg, stirring until the roux stops darkening. This last step is a bit unusual, in my experience, but it works pretty well.

Once the roux is done, heat the stock to boiling in a heavy dutch oven (or, get it heating while you're browning the rabbit in the step above). Stir the roux into the boiling stock by the spoonful, stirring or whisking each spoonful until it is incorporated.

Once the roux is incorporated, lower the heat a bit, add the browned rabbit pieces, then reduce to a simmer. You can add any remaining seasoning mix at this time.

Simmer partially covered until the rabbit is tender. Depending upon whether you have any tough old critters in there, it'll be a couple of hours before it is ready.
Serve over rice. As the dish sits it gets better, so if you can make it a day ahead of time and gently re-heat, you'll be glad. A nice rosé works well with the spice and the delicate meat.

If you have more than three rabbits, you might consider doubling the spice mix. You won't use it all, quite, but the extra will help you get to the right spice level and ensure that the rabbit pieces get well seasoned in that first step.  Enjoy!