April 26th, 2011
I’m not sure when we decided to make a yearly tradition out of stewing the Easter Bunny, but it’s been a few years at least. My husband has a wonderful sense of humor, and we both love the light, slightly fragrant taste of simmered rabbit. This year, I beat the lines at Ottomanelli’s (which later ran down the block) by stopping by early on Saturday morning to purchase my rabbit. For regular use, we buy frozen rabbits in Chinatown for a few dollars. But for the holiday, I like to splurge on a fresh kill.
There’s a long history of eating rabbit, and you’ll find many receipts for rabbit stews, fricassees, etc. As far as I can tell, rabbit was, and is still, a popular dish in France and some parts of Italy. Here, in her 1847 Lady’s Receipt-book, Philadelphia author Eliza Leslie offers directions for French Stew of Rabbits.
That sounds delicious, but I made no attempt to be historical while cooking Easter dinner. At least not technically so. Instead, I tossed together an informal spring stew, based on years of cooking rabbit — the same way many women in the 19th century cooked by instinct and experience. (My mother used to take me to a rabbit farm, where you could pet your dinner before taking it home in a bloody bag.) Here, with illustrations is my “receipt” for rabbit stew.
1 rabbit, whole or cut up
4 small potatoes, diced
2 turnips, peeled and diced
2 parsnips, peeled and diced
4 carrots, peeled and diced
2 stalks celery, diced
2 or 3 onions, chopped
a few cloves of garlic, minced
herbs to taste
1 or 2 cans of crushed tomatoes
Splash of wine
I began by chopping up the vegetables. I put everything EXCEPT the onion and garlic into my crock pot, and tossed them with some rosemary and thyme. I also threw in a large bay leaf.
Then I melted a hunk of butter (about 2 tablespoons) into a pan and sauteed the onions and garlic until they began to caramelize. I added the rabbit, and let it sizzle for a few minutes, turning it so that it would brown nicely on all sides.
Finally, I turned the rabbit, onions, and garlic into the crock pot, scooping some of the diced vegetables to cover them. I poured in a large can of tomatoes, and would have added a nice splash of wine if I’d had an open bottle; I prefer a Bordeaux for rabbit stew. If your tomatoes don’t provide enough liquid (you need at least a few cups) and you don’t use wine, you can also add a little water.
Set your crock pot on low to cook for 6 to 8 hours, or high if you want it to be done sooner, 4 to 6 hours. Of course, you can also cook it over the stove, simmering in a covered pan for about 2 hours. The slower you cook it, the tastier it will be. It also gets better the next day. Reheat over the stove.
Once it’s cooked, you can scoop out the rabbit and flaked the flesh off the bones to be added back into the stew. Or you could be lazy, like me, and just leave the rabbit in tact, pulling off hunks of meat as you serve.