At my local farmers’ market, there’s a vendor that arrives every Saturday with a cooler full of meat from an upstate New York farm, including bison, lamb, elk, and rabbit. I’ve been visiting his stall regularly this fall, and taking advantage of the opportunity to expand our dinner repertoire. On my most recent visit, I scanned the list he had scribbled on his chalkboard and decided on rabbit. I hadn’t cooked rabbit before, and it’s not something that either my husband or I get to eat very often, so I figured this would definitely qualify as a “new” dish, whatever we decided to do with it.
My first experience with rabbit dates back to my very early years, when my grandmother would serve roasted rabbit for Easter dinner. Needless to say, once my sister and I managed to connect the rabbit on the table with our beloved Easter Bunny, we were no longer willing participants in the holiday meal that lay before us. Eventually, she gave up and revised the Easter menu to include dishes that my sister and I would eat, and I didn’t encounter it again for a long time.
Now that those days are a distant memory, I was curious to give rabbit another try. When I got home from the market, I turned to my copy of The Silver Spoon for some inspiration. It’s my go-to reference whenever I bring home some kind of meat, fish or vegetable that I haven’t cooked before. I browsed through the rabbit recipes and settled on a braise with hard cider, mushrooms, pancetta, and lemon – lots of our favorite things. The result was tender, with a great depth of flavor – not really gamey, but definitely more interesting than your average chicken. We served it with roast potatoes – good for soaking up the braising liquid – and wilted kale – to round out the meal. While it still might not belong on the Easter menu, we agreed this dish is a keeper for the chilly autumn & winter months.
Rabbit braised in cider with pancetta and mushrooms
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp olive oil
1 rabbit, cut into pieces
1 onion, sliced
½ cup pancetta, diced (about 2-3 oz.)
1 tbsp all-purpose flour
2 ½ cups hard cider
¾ cup chicken stock
1 ½ cups mushrooms, sliced (about 4 oz.)
1 fresh thyme sprig
strip of thinly pared lemon rind
salt and pepper
- Heat the butter and oil in a pan, add the rabbit and cook over medium heat until browned on all sides. Transfer the rabbit to a plate and keep warm.
- Add the onion and pancetta to the pan and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes.
- Add the flour to the pot and stir well, incorporating the flour. Then gradually stir in the cider, followed by the stock. When all the liquid has been incorporated, bring the mixture up to a boil, stirring constantly.
- Return the rabbit to the pan, add the mushrooms, thyme and lemon rind and season with salt and pepper. Cover the pot and reduce the heat to low; cook for 1 hour until the rabbit is tender.
- Remove the thyme sprig and lemon rind before serving. Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper if needed.