It’s nearly Easter and as regular readers will know, I like to make a rabbit recipe round about now. After last year’s laughably scary bunny-shaped terrine, I needed to redeem myself and fortuitously, someone gave me a rabbit the other day.
I’d been working with chef Stephen David and forager Jon Tyler for a chapter in a new book on Suffolk chefs and their favourite producers. I’ll tell you more about the book closer to publication date, but Stephen was cooking wild rabbit on an open fire (and under it, baked in a fire pit) and he had an oven-ready bunny going begging.
Inspired both by the day and by a conversation I had with Jon, I decided to cook it alla cacciatora, supposedly the way Italian hunters traditionally cooked up their game. Presumably they would have built a campfire, too. My outdoor skills being limited, I used my stove.
There are almost as many different versions of this as there are Italian cooks, so this is my interpretation. Jon had foraged a bagful of Jelly Ear fungus but they all went in Stephen’s stew, so I chucked a few chestnut mushrooms into mine.
If you have them, black olives and sun dried tomatoes give it a bit extra umami oomph. And if you don’t have wild rabbit, use chicken thighs and adjust the cooking times downwards.
I served this with polenta, with a good dollop of butter and Parmesan stirred in to placate my husband, who is lukewarm about the stuff. He doesn’t like pasta either (although he has many redeeming features) but it would also be good with tagliatelle.
1 large rabbit, jointed
1 onion, peeled and chopped
2 sticks of celery, trimmed and sliced
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
6-8 chestnut mushrooms, sliced
Thick slice of guanciale or pancetta, or 2-3 rashers of streaky bacon, diced
1 tin of tomatoes, chopped
1 large glass of white wine
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 sprigs of rosemary
2 bay leaves, fresh or dried
2-3 sprigs of fresh thyme or 1/2 tsp dried
2-3 sprigs of fresh oregano, or 1/2 tsp dried
Heat a deep frying pan and fry the guanciale, pancetta or bacon until the fat runs and it’s lightly browned. Scoop out and set aside.
Add more oil to the pan if necessary and brown the rabbit portions on all sides. Set aside with the bacon.
Fry the onions and celery until soft and golden, then add the mushrooms and garlic and fry for a few minutes more. Pour in the white wine, let it bubble up for a couple of minutes, then stir in the tomatoes. Add the meat back to the pan, along with the herbs, and season with plenty of black pepper and a pinch of salt.
Put on a lid and cook at a gentle simmer (or in a low oven – about 140C/285F/Gas mark 1) until the rabbit is tender and the meat pulls away from the bones, turning the meat halfway through to make sure it’s evenly cooked. It’s hard to give timing guidelines as it depends on the age of your rabbit. Expect anything upwards of an hour, maybe two or even three. Mine took around an hour and a half. Add a little water if the stew is drying out, but you are looking for a thick, intense sauce. Check the seasoning before dishing up.
You can either serve the rabbits joints as they are or allow the stew to cool and then remove the meat from the bones, cut into bite-sized pieces and re-heat in the sauce. Like most casseroles, this tastes even better next day.
“Someone gave me a rabbit the other day”. Come clean woman; you nabbed it from Vandal.
Ha, chance would be a fine thing. All I get are the nasty bits to clear up and the stains to remove from the carpet. Stephen, on the other hand, presented me with a ready-skinned rabbit. I wonder if I can fit a chef through the cat flap?
lucky you if u managed to get hold of a good rabbit. I have given up: the last wild ones were really tough even after hrs of simmering and the expensive farmed one from Borough… pretty pappy… maybe it is me. I used to love rabbit in Italy…anyway, it looks good. polenta: 🙂 … my English partners took years to appreciate it (and yes, lots of butter and cheese…which somehow clashes with my Italian taste that likes plain polenta, with only a little butter…)(mytwopennyworth: most recipes are wrong about polenta: especially if it is the coarse one, it takes a good hour at least, more likely 1.15-30 minutes, to fully cook)
on cacciatora: I also like the southern Italy style version, using vinegar and agrodolce (sour sweet)
Well, living in the country it’s much easier (and cheaper, or free) to get hold of rabbits and game. I tend to agree with you about the farmed rabbit, but that may be because I’m used to the flavour of wild ones. I’m no expert on polenta as I rarely cook it because of the husband’s antipathy, although he enjoyed this. I have to confess I used the instant stuff on this occasion. Don’t think I’ll be doing that again, although it was okay when it was cold, set and fried. 🙁
Here in MidWest rabbit meat seems impossible to find… too bad because my mom’s “coniglio alla cacciatora” recipe is the best ever and I would gladly share it with you all! Your recipe, by the way, sounds scrumptious!
I would love to see your mother’s recipe, Stefano, please do share! Thank you for the thumbs-up on this one. What a shame you can’t get wild rabbit. Can you substitute another meat or would that miss the point? Lx
I think it wouldn’t be the same with another kind of meat!
I fear you are right.
Oh, this sounds wonderful! They hunt snowshoe hares here on Beaver Island, and I’ve seen the guys out near my aunt’s property lately. I’m not much on cooking wild game of any kind…but I might just have to give it a try!
Thanks, Cindy. Let me know if you give it a go! Have a good weekend. Lx
Oh, you have just taken me to foodie heaven and my lunch but minutes away suddenly seems very dull! Australia is overrun with wild rabbits creating havoc, but, naturally we are presented with ‘safe’ farmed ones grown under atrocious conditions! But this dish will go on my Easter menus AND with polenta I love making and eating . . .I am afraid, like Stefano, I find just a tad of butter sufficient when dealing with such a flavourful dish as the rabbit one I have not made for months . . .
Thank you, Eha, I hope you enjoy your rabbit if you make it! I would normally agree on the butter/cheese/polenta front but it was the only way I could talk my husband into eating it (and he said there wasn’t enough cheese in it). 🙂
Mr. McGregor would be so proud. Delicious!
Haha! This is why our vegetable garden has rabbit fencing around it. I had to scare a deer off my primroses yesterday as well. And don’t get me started on the pigeons, pheasants and squirrels. 😀
I’m a big fan of rabbit, and “alla cacciatora” is one of the most delicious ways to make it, I think. But I hardly ever get a chance to eat it, as it’s “controversial” in our household. And in America generally… especially around Easter time. 😉
Yes, I have friends who feel the same way about guinea pigs. 🙂 Is my Italian at fault? I thought cacciatore was the plural but my linguistic skills are decidedly ropy.
Somehow “alla cacciatora” Cacciatore (masculine singular for “hunter”) in English. No idea how…
Ah, thanks, will change. xx
I like rabbit, though I’ve no idea where I would buy one. Anyway, ‘im indoors wouldn’t eat it, especially dished up with polenta *sigh*.
Honestly, we should just make ‘Im Indoors and ‘Im Outdoors live together. 🙂