M. Andrew Gordon

Rabbit ragout

In Dinner Party, Main Dish, Uncategorized on October 29, 2010 at 12:41 pm

I’m not sure the first time I ate rabbit.  I can remember the first time I cooked it, three or four years and two apartments ago.  My roommate and I braised the rabbit in a mustard-cranberry lambic mixture and for some reason, even though I can not recall the specifics of that meal, I just flat-out fell in love with the flavor of rabbit.  Since then, I seek it out anytime I see rabbit on a menu, which thankfully is becoming more common.

This particular course for the dinner party was partly inspired by reading chef Peter Davis’s Fresh and Honest.  Davis is the chef at Henrietta’s Table in Cambridge and one recipe in the book had caught my eye (well, many have, but in particular): a grit cake topped with a mushroom ragout.  There is something I love about the idea of grits that are allowed to cool and harden enough to be served as a cake and the mushroom ragout sounded absolutely delicious.  But when planning my menu I realized that I wanted to have meat in one dish (there was going to be octopus in one course but no terrestrial meats elsewhere).  Ox tails seemed like a good item for this, as they could be braised until tender, cooking down and making its own stock around it.  Surprisingly, I had a little trouble finding ox tails, which I hadn’t been planning on.  I thought about using duck but, again, was thwarted by availability as finding just legs of duck was not easy.  I wasn’t sure the breast would make the best ragout anyway.

And then, like so much of my cooking, where one idea leads to another and to another, I realized that rabbit would be perfect for a ragout.  It’s a tough meat to eat unless the chef behind the scenes removes all of the bones so it really seemed like the perfect candidate.  And it would fit quite well with the culinary theme of the dinner party: a hybrid New England and Italian cuisines.

The next change I was going to make was to substitute the grit cake for a polenta cake, a subtle shift driven by the theme.  And here was the one major snafu of the entire dinner: the polenta never set after being refrigerated over night.  It was a jiggling, messy blob of polenta.  This exemplifies one of my culinary characteristics: a foolhardy belief I can just cook something that I have no experience with even when preparing a dinner for ten.  Considering I had never made polenta before it would certainly have been more prudent to plan the meal around dishes that I had experience with.  But I can be a little foolhardy about cooking.  So, when the realization of not being able to proceed as planned with the polenta due its lack of setting, I fell back to making a rustic corn bread.  It’s not a perfect replacement but at the eleventh hour it served its role just fine.  On the side I served a salad of watercress dressed in an apple cider vinegar-maple syrup dressing.

We paired this dish with Smuttynose Brewing’s Really Old Brown Dog, one of their Big Beer Series.  Smutty is one of my favorite breweries and the Really Old Brown Dog, is an old ale, also known as a stock ale.  These beers are characterized by a dark brown color with deep fruit flavors from the malts, not unlike a port in terms of the fruity sweetness.  They generally are higher in alcohol in the 8 – 12% range.

The brown ale, tomato, and carrots in the ragout provide some sweet flavors while the spices, mushrooms, and bacon gives the ragout a smoky earthiness.  We ate some leftovers the following night with gnocchi which was very good.  I can also see this being very good over fresh pasta or as a filling in a really unique lasagna if the idea of polenta doesn’t suit your fancy.

Rabbit Ragout

Serves 12

  • 1 teaspoon anise seeds
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1 teaspoon coriander seeds
  • 6 ounces bacon, diced
  • 3 rabbits, cut into pieces
  • 2 carrots, peeled and diced
  • 2 celery stalks, strings removed and diced
  • 8 shallots, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 4 cloves garlic, diced
  • 12 ounces brown ale
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • 2 15-ounce cans of roasted tomatoes, juice strained and reserved
  • 8 ounces chanterelle mushrooms, sliced thin
  • 1 cup parsley, chopped
  1. Heat small skillet over medium-high heat.  Add anise, cumin, and coriander seeds and toast for several minutes.  Let cool and grind in spice grinder or mortar and pestle.
  2. In large cast iron dutch oven, cook bacon over medium heat until browned and fat is rendered.  With slotted spoon, remove bacon and reserve on a plate.
  3. Season rabbit pieces with salt and pepper.  Cook in batches until all rabbit is browned and remove to a platter.
  4. Add carrots, celery, and shallots.  Cook for 5-6 minutes until shallots are translucent.  Add tomato paste and cook for two minutes.  Pour in brown ale and scrape up any brown bits.  Let cook until reduced two only several ounces.  Add bay leaves, chicken stock and tomatoes.
  5. Place rabbit pieces and bacon into pot, covering rabbit with liquid.  If more liquid is needed, add reserved tomato juice.  Cook, partially covered, for 1-½ hours or until rabbit is tender.  Let cool.
  6. Add mushrooms and continue cooking, until the liquid reduces and the mushrooms are cooked.  Pull meat from bones and chop roughly.  Add back to pot and stir in.
  7. Serve over polenta, gnocchi, or fresh pasta and garnish with parsley.
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  1. This sounds like the name of a popular Updike book! Love that this recipe calls for “3 rabbits, cut into pieces.” Also, this sounds great with gnocchi.

  2. I actually thought about working in some reference to Updike in my write up. Maybe when LettersRepublic gets around to it I can invent some rabbit dish. And yeah, this was pretty spectacular with gnocchi.

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