… and other things rabbit.
When we’re in Sonoma County on a wine run, Della Santina’s has become a favorite spot for brunch. It’s a white tablecloth Italian place off the Square in Sonoma with good food and reasonably priced.
Driving home from Sonoma, I remarked on how good the Pappardelle with Rabbit Ragu was, “I could make that.” Back home I Googled “Pappardelle with Rabbit Ragu,” and was amazed to find a number of entries, but they all were made with tomatoes. I have nothing against tomatoes, but the ragu served at Della Santina’s did not have tomatoes. Well, there’s a big gap between the saying and the making. I guess I’ll have to make my own recipe, but I’ll need a go-by for cooking a rabbit, resulting in a nice sauce. Maybe I could adapt a braised pork recipe.
As luck would have it, a week or so later, the New York Times Magazine ran a story on Rabbit Legs with Peas, Collards and Country Ham by Sam Sifton. It was pretty simple and direct; brown your rabbit legs, lay them on a bed of sauteed onion, celery and carrots, add water and some wine to nearly cover the rabbit and braise in the oven for two hours. I can do that!
I bought a rabbit, had the Golden Gate Meat butcher cut it into six pieces, and was on my way. My go-by recipe called for eight rabbit legs to serve 4 to 6 people. I don’t know where he gets his rabbit legs, but around here, you can buy only a whole rabbit. On the other hand, a ragu doesn’t take much meat, so I figured I could easily serve two with two legs.
Oh, but in the story, Mr. Sifton addressed that subject:
“I asked Shook what he thought about braising a whole rabbit, which is easier to find in a supermarket than a passel of rabbit legs. He got a little squirrely about that. He politely declined. He said he thought it would lead to delicious legs and a tough saddle, to stringy tenderloin and a lame dinner. Vigorous testing of that theory bears out the warning.”
Regardless, I braised the whole rabbit. I’d figure out what to do with the rest when I found out what I had. The last time I cooked rabbit, I made Roasted Bacon Wrapped Rabbit. That was OK, but it seemed like the meat to bone ratio strongly favored the bone. But that only roasted for half-an-hour, and was eaten by gnawing the bones. Braised for two-hours, the meat will easily come off the bone, so I’ll likely salvage more.
Here’s how Sam Sifton described the process:
“Brown those legs off, as the chefs say. Sauté them until their meat goes dark and splotchy with heat, and then plop them into your braise for an hour and a half or so, until the flesh is soft and almost falling from the bone. Remove from the oven, reserve the legs, strain the braising liquid and put everything together again in the fridge, where the legs will set overnight into lovely, flavorful limbs. The liquid around them will go slightly wobbly with fat and makes a luxurious sauce.”
Now that is one fine dish, perfect for Sunday dinner: rabbit legs, browned, then cooked in a mirepoix braise for a long time, a ragu made with the broth, garnished with shaved parmesan. Rich and sweet with a mustard tang; a big red wine and a side of crisp roasted asparagus round out the meal. What could be finer? Yum. Although it takes two days to get it on the table, the preparation and cooking couldn’t be easier.
pappardelle with rabbit ragu
1 fresh rabbit, cut into six pieces, 3 to 4 pounds (I’m not using the whole rabbit for this dish, but a rabbit is not a chicken, you can’t just buy a leg or two.)
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 carrots, cut into ½-inch dice, approximately 1 cup
2 large white onions, cut into ½-inch dice, approximately 2 cups
2 ribs celery, cut into ½-inch dice, approximately 1 cup
1 bay leaf
1 1/2 tablespoons grainy mustard
1 tablespoon lemon juice
4 pats unsalted butter
Preheat oven to 250 degrees.
Season rabbit legs with salt. Place large braising pan or casserole over medium-high heat and add 2 tablespoons vegetable oil. When the oil is hot and shimmering, add the rabbit and brown it on all sides, approximately 10 minutes.
Transfer rabbit to a warm platter. Deglaze pan with wine, reduce to syrup, then add carrots, onions, celery and bay leaf to pan. Sauté until softened and lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Return rabbit to the pan on top of the vegetables, and add water almost to cover the rabbit pieces. Cover the pan and braise in the oven for 1½ to 2 hours.
Remove braising pan from oven. The meat should be soft, almost falling off the bone. Reserve the rabbit pieces, strain the braising liquid and put everything together again in the fridge, overnight or longer.
A day or two later, make and cut your pappardelle pasta (or open the box).
Out of the refrigerator, any fat will have hardened on top of the liquid. Take it off. The broth will be all gelatinous.
Put the rabbit and broth in a pot and warm. Remove the pieces to a platter. Ladel the braising liquid into a measuring cup (I had 4 cups). Pick the meat of the two legs off the bone and shred, discarding funky or gnarly parts (I had two cups shredded meat). Reserve the other four rabbit pieces for another use. (It will be soup, see below.)
Bring a pot of water to the boil for the pasta.
To cook the final dish, place a couple of cups of reserved braising liquid in the pot. Bring to a boil and whisk in first the grainy mustard, lemon juice and then the butter. Add the shredded meat, stir to mix everything up and turn off the heat.
Cook the pasta until al dente – 3 minutes for homemade – drain and divide into two warm bowls. Ladle the ragu into each bowl and toss. Garnish with shaved parmesan.
Note: My go-to braising recipe was written by Sam Sifton and published in the New York Times Magazine as “Rabbit Legs with Peas, Collards and Country Ham ” Mr. Sifton adapted his recipe from Vinny Dotolo and Jon Shook at Animal Restaurant in Los Angeles. I adapted the braising part for this fine ragu.
“And now…” as Paul Harvey famously said each week on his radio show, “the rest of the story.”
Dealing with the rabbit that remains.
Soup is always a good (read easy) use for leftover meat. I had no rabbit soup recipes, so I consulted my chicken soup files.
Back in ought-six, I recreated a soup that I bought at the big deli and greengrocer on 4th street in Berkeley. It has some pretty interesting ingredients that would seem to go well with rabbit.
Greengrocer Rabbit Soup
1 cup chopped onion
1 clove garlic, minced
1 1/2 cups diced potatoes (2 potatoes = 9 ounces)
1 1/2 cups diced celery
1/2 teaspoon dried tarragon
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
2 cups rabbit broth
2 Poblano chilies, roasted and chopped bite size (about 1 cup)
2 Anaheim chilies, roasted and chopped bite size (about 1 cup)
1 cup pea shoots, leaves picked and torn where necessary (or other green, such as chard)
2 cups shredded rabbit meat
3 cups chicken broth
Sauté onions and garlic in olive oil in a pot. Add potatoes and celery and stir for a minute or so. Add rabbit broth to cover well, salt, pepper, thyme, and tarragon. Bring to a boil and simmer for 10 minutes or so to cook the vegetables.
Add chicken broth, chicken, chilies and pea shoots, stir in, turn off the heat. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Yum. That’s good and I’ve got plenty for later.