I planted my first plant ever this year-a squash. Well, I should say that I anger planted squash by scattering them around late in the season after I killed my skirret by planting it on the side of an old road, and not keeping a close enough eye on it. Either way, I think I can say I’m officially a gardener.
There was a problem though. As my little squash grew, I wasn’t the only one watching it. The squash was just one in a 1/4 acre or so garden filled with other cucurbits, of all colors, sizes and shapes, but it seemed the bunnies from the warren under the hill were only interested in one-mine.
I made sure to check the squash a few times a week to ensure it was getting everything it needed, but every week, leaves would be eaten, and eventually a few baby musque became rabbit fodder. After losing a few squash, rabbit and pumpkin curry was sounding more delicious by the day.
I lucked out one night at dusk, and caught mr. cottontail nibbling leaves. After missing at least 5 times with my adult bb gun (.177 pellet rifle) I scored, and meat was back on the menu.
Unfortunately, I’d planted the squash too late in the season, and they would never mature to their full size (a healthy 30 lbs or roughly the size of a small baby carriage) so cottontail and pumpkin curry would have to wait. Next year, musque.
There was the trail end of mushroom season though, and I grabbed some of the few cold-hardy species that usher in the end of the season: blewits and shaggy manes.
A perfect autumn quad would’ve been some shaggy parasols and black trumpets too, but all of my shaggy spots have been empty for 2 years now. Either way, I knew a great recipe would be rabbit and wild mushrooms in a semi-classic lapin chasseur.
Chasseur is the famous French hunter sauce. After the hunt, (typically for small game from what I remember) the hunters would pick mushrooms to cook with the day’s harvest, or so romantic stories go. It’s a solid one-pot dish, and the type of old-school recipe like coq au vin that’s almost better made at home than ordered in a restaurant nowadays.
A lot of chefs would probably say that you need to use demi to call something sauce chasseur, but I disagree. And honestly a lot of them probably just use Knorr pre-made demi, a sort of syrupy, bouillon abomination.
True demi-glace, or strong stock reduced to half it’s volume (not the to be confused with glace de viande, or “fully” reduced glace) will make a great sauce, sure, but I really like the idea of you can make a great braised rabbit in one pan, for dinner, the same day it’s harvested.
Small game stews like this, with bones and variable parts, I think of as a sort of gentleman hunter dish, the kind of thing Brillat Savarin would make for a hunting party at his cabin with friends, and I don’t know any hunters who bring demi-glace along to a rabbit hunt.
I can just about see the cabin in the countryside: a pack of hunting dogs, old men with cigars and spirits, a roaring wood fire, and a black iron pot scenting the room with rabbit, tomatoes, mushrooms and herbs.
Rabbit Chasseur with Wild Mushrooms
- 1 large or medium-sized rabbit with kidneys heart and liver, legs separated, loin/saddle/breast cut into 3-4 two inch pieces
- All purpose flour or equivalent, for dredging
- Kosher salt
- Fresh ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon fresh chopped thyme
- 1 cup dry white wine
- 2 Tablespoons brandy
- 1 cup tomato juice or puree
- 1 cup chicken stock rabbit stock, or water
- 2 tablespoons bacon drippings or lard
- 2 ounces good slab bacon cut into ½ inch pieces, or an equivalent smoked meat product
- ½ cup or ½ a medium-sized onion small diced
- 8-16 ounces fresh wild mushrooms left whole if small, quartered or halved if large (I used blewits and shaggy manes here)
- 1 Tablespoon finely sliced garlic
- 1 Tablespoon unsalted butter
- Finely chop the rabbit offal and reserve. Season the rabbit pieces liberally with salt and pepper, then dredge in flour and brown deeply in lard on medium-high heat in a large, 12 inch cast iron skillet. Halfway through, pour the fat off the pan and add the bacon to the pan, then render crisp. Move the rabbit and bacon to one side of the pan, then add the sliced garlic to the pan and cook, adding a little lard or fat as needed, until the garlic is lightly browned, toasty, and aromatic.
- Add the onion, rabbit offal, and mushrooms to the pan and cook for another 10 minutes, stirring occasionally until lightly browned, then add the brandy and tilt the pan to the side to ignite (optional). Next add the wine, tomatoes, and stock to the pan, then transfer to the oven and cook at 325 for 45 minutes, covered, or until the meat just moves from the bone, but is not falling apart.
- Remove the rabbit from the pan, keep warm, and finish the sauce by reducing until it's thickened lightly (there will be some evaporation from baking, and you may not need to) finally whisking in the tablespoon of butter and correcting the seasoning for salt.
- Alternately, just serve the rabbit from the pan and let people ladle sauce over their plates. Traditionally you'd probably have this with rice or pasta, but I opted for a simple quick slaw of shaved brussels with lemon and oil.