Rabbit is not an indigenous British species, it’s thought that they were brought here by the Romans or Normans, to farm for meat and fur. Over the last millennium, rabbits have become a real pest – they can have 3 – 12 babies every 2 or 3 months. It’s estimated that the population of rabbits in the the UK alone, is in excess of 40 million.
Vegetable farmers have to do a considerable amount of shooting and trapping in order to protect their crops (our food). Rabbits are classified as vermin, so there’s no closed hunting season. As rabbit tastes good, it seems to me that we should be eating the wild ones that breed here, rather than importing farmed rabbits that taste inferior (due to their diet of grain). Rabbit meat is far leaner than most other meats – you won’t get fat on it! So when Mr. McGregor hands you a rabbit, do cook it slowly with some fine herbs and spices, instead of feeding it to your dog.
One of the most popular European rabbit recipes is rabbit with mustard (there are many variations throughout the continent). I can’t find any mention of it’s origins, but since the Romans loved eating rabbit and mustard was one of their favorite condiments, the dish must be more than two thousand years old.
Rabbit and Mustard recipe (feeds 2):
1 wild rabbit
3 slices of smoked streaky bacon (chopped)
1 large onion (chopped)
6 pieces of garlic (finely chopped)
6 heaped teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 heaped teaspoon tarragon (finely chopped)
3 heaped dessertspoons plain four
100ml crème fraîche
2/3 pint game stock (or chicken stock)
1 glass of dry white wine
extra virgin oil olive oil for frying
sea salt and cracked black pepper to taste
Finley chop some fresh tarragon, so that you have about a teaspoonful
and mix it with 5 heaped teaspoons of Dijon mustard (hold the sixth spoonful back for later).
Cut the rabbit up into small pieces (a good butcher will do this for you), pat it dry with some kitchen towel and smother it with the mustard and tarragon mixture. Discard the ribs or use them for stock – there’s not much meat on them. Cover the meat and refrigerate for a few hours (ideally overnight).
If wild rabbit smells too gamey for you, soak it in salted water for 3 hours – the meat will be tenderised and smell less fragrant. It’s not something I do though and 90 minutes in the oven should make it nice and tender regardless.
When you are ready to cook, dredge the rabbit pieces in seasoned flour (keep any leftover flour for later in the recipe) and fry in olive oil over a medium heat for about 4 or 5 minuted on either side. Ideally, use a large cast iron casserole for the whole cooking process. When browned, remove all the rabbit to a plate. Don’t overcrowd the frying, it’s best to do it in two or three batches.
When the rabbit is done, turn the heat down and fry the chopped onion in the same casserole. If necessary pour in a little more olive oil. When the onion goes translucent, stir in the bacon and garlic. Don’t worry about any stuck flour, mustard or juices in the pan, this will become unstuck while cooking the onion. It looks a bit messy, but it will dissolve and add amazing flavour.
When the bacon, onions and garlic have taken a little colour, stir in a tablespoonful of the reserved flour. Pour in a glass of dry white wine (a Burgundy to match the Dijon mustard is good). Mix in half the stock and all the rabbit. Top up the casserole dish, so that the rabbit pieces poke out, just above the surface, like sleeping crocodiles.
Turn the heat up and let the liquid bubble for a minute or two, then cover with the lid and put the cooking pot into a preheated oven at 150º C. Taste the dish half an hour later to check the seasoning. After an hour, stir in 100ml crème fraîche – if the sauce is a bit runny sprinkle on a teaspoon or two of the leftover seasoned flour, when mixed in and heated it will smooth out and thicken things up nicely. Cook for a further 30 minutes in the oven (90 minutes oven cooking time in total).
To finish, stir in the remaining teaspoonful of Dijon mustard and a splash of white wine, just before serving. Sprinkle on a little chopped tarragon for decoration. Serve with mashed potato and seasonal vegetables.
…and finally, I came across a very funny quote from American food writer James Andrew Beard, who said, “I believe that if ever I had to practice cannibalism, I might manage if there were enough tarragon around.”