Sorry, Velveteen, Peter, and Thumper—I’ve loved you on the page, but boy do I adore you on the plate. Especially in winter, when your earthy depth chases the chill and subdues the damp. I’ll soften you up in wine and rosemary, then braise you with more wine and pancetta. Maybe swaddle you in bacon for moistness and pan-roast you with apples and sage. Whether milder loin or richer legs, you can do whatever chicken does, but with a bit more brio. And you’re so lean and healthy, a binge of protein and vitamin B. You can be a stealthy rascal, but I can always find you online or in stores from D’Artagnan, at Hemlock Hill Farm’s daily market (500 Croton Ave, Cortlandt Manor 914-737-2810; hemlockhillfarm.com, call first to order), and occasionally at the Cowberry Crossing Farm stand at the Hastings and Briarcliff Manor farmers’ markets. And I’m not the only one on your trail. Chef March Walker is after you, too. At Birdsall House (970 Main St, Peekskill 914-930-1880; birdsallhouse.net), his stewpots are brimming with wine, stock, sausage, and vegetables burbling in anticipation. “I love rabbit’s earthiness,” he says. “It has more depth than chicken.” And so he’ll roast the meat, take it off the bone, then cook it in stock, curry powder, onions, and apples for a curried stew. Or he’ll go the Provençal route, braising it in white wine, tomatoes, olives, and pork sausage. As long as the lean meat is kept moist, he notes, and punched up with an acidic preparation, you’re a star. Yes, and on these bleak January nights, how brightly you shine!
Braised Rabbit Provençal
(Courtesy of March Walker, Birdsall House)
2 large rabbits, each cut into 6 pieces
canola oil, as needed
1 Tbsp minced garlic
1 cup coarsely chopped onion
3 red bell peppers, seeded and sliced into ½ -inch strips
2 large fennel bulbs, sliced into ½-inch strips
¼ tsp red pepper flakes
2 dried bay leaves
16 fresh thyme sprigs
1 cup dry white wine
2 cups chicken stock
1 lemon, zested, juice reserved
½ cup small black olives, preferabl oil-cured
½ cup good-quality dry salami, cut into small cubes (slab bacon may be substituted), optional
½ cup flat-leaf parsley leaves, more for garnish if desired
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Preheat oven to 375°F. Wash, dry, and season rabbit pieces with salt and pepper. Add enough canola oil to cover bottom of a large, heavy-bottomed pan. Over medium-high heat, sear rabbit until browned on all sides. Remove onto plate and set aside. Remove any burnt bits from pan. Over low flame, add onion and garlic and cook until soft and aromatic. Add peppers and cook for one minute, then add fennel, red pepper flakes, bay leaves, and thyme. Stir one minute, then add wine and stock and bring to a simmer. Add lemon zest, olives, and salami (if using); turn off heat. Season sauce to taste.
Place rabbit back into pan with any accumulated juices, cover pan and place in oven for 30 minutes, or until rabbit is fork-tender. Remove rabbit from pan and transfer to a platter. Discard thyme sprigs and bay leaves. Stir parsley leaves into pan and add lemon juice, salt, and pepper to taste. Pour sauce and vegetables over rabbit. Serve with wild rice, mashed or roasted potatoes, or parsnip purée.