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Sunday, July 5, 2009

Baked Lapin (Uh, yeah... Rabbit)

As far as meat goes, rabbit gets a bum rap. Actually, I suppose the rabbits think they have a good gig going; that whole "cute" thing keeps a bunch of folks from considering them as fair game (no pun intended... OK, so it was) for dinner. Rabbit is a fine meat. It is extremely low fat (although less so for the farm raised varieties). In fact, it is so low in fat that if you are ever lost in the wilderness, your body cannot physically survive on wild rabbit alone because there is not enough fat in their meat. Good to know, right? When lost in the wilderness, supplement with fish. Check.

Besides the low-fat thing, they do happen to be darn tasty. And they are fairly easy to find in specialty markets these days. I actually bought mine from a local grower. I used to raise and butcher my own, but the whole suburban life thing has made that a little challenging now.

Although rabbit meat raised for butcher is not tough like wild rabbit, I still think it benefits from a low/slow cooking method. Enter the cast iron Dutch oven. I tell ya, I use that thing all the time. It is indispensable. If you don't have one, I strongly urge you to consider getting one. Despite the long cooking time, this recipe is actually quite easy.

Now, about that whole "gamey" thing. Most people don't understand what "gamey" really means. Yes, different animals have different flavored meat and some people don't care for the flavor of some animals, but those flavor differences are not because they are "gamey." Gamey means that there is an off flavor in the meat due to specific circumstances of the animal's life or death. Perhaps it is an off flavor due to testosterone in a male specimen or the animal ate something that gave their meat an odd flavor. It can also be the result of how the animal was killed or how the meat was handled after butcher. Rabbit, especially farm raised, is not gamey, but it does have its own unique flavor.

Here's a raw, parted rabbit. If you can find rabbit just like this at the store, that's great. Usually, however, you will find them whole. I part out the rabbit and then save the rib cage for stock. This dish is fall off the bone tender when done and you don't want all those little bones floating around waiting to choke someone. I find one small rabbit is enough for two if they aren't huge eaters. Otherwise count on 0.75 to 1 rabbit per person.

The first step is to brown the rabbit and vegetables on the stove top. Then stick it in the oven, covered, for 3 hours on low heat. Here's how mine looked right before I stuck it in the oven.

When the three hours are up, remove the rabbit and hold to keep warm while making a gravy from the drippings. I like to serve my rabbit with mashed potatoes. I mean, you can't serve gravy without potatoes, can you?

Baked Rabbit
Yield: serves 2-4

1 TBS butter
1 TBS olive oil
1/2 cup chopped onions
1/4 cup chopped celery (with leaves)
1/8 cup chopped garlic
2 bay leaves
2 parted rabbits, discard rib cage
salt and pepper to taste

For the gravy:
1 cup milk
2 1/2 TBS flour

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. In a heavy Dutch oven with a tight fitting lid, brown the rabbit and vegetables in the butter and oil on the stove top. When the rabbit and vegetables have a nice color to them, put on the lid and place in the oven. Bake covered for 3 hours. Do not add any liquid to the pan.

After 3 hours, remove pan from oven. Remove rabbit pieces and transfer to a heat proof bowl. Cover with foil and hold. On the stove top, place the Dutch oven on a burner over medium heat. Stir the juices in the pan until the vegetable pieces are broken down.

Mix the milk and flour together in a small bowl. If you really want a smooth gravy, pour this mixture through a sieve before adding to the pot. Stir constantly until gravy thickens. Reduce heat if necessary to prevent scorching. Adjust salt and pepper, if needed.

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