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Some of the action in book #3 of the ‘Moss Reid’ mystery series (sorry, not due out until November ’14) will be taking place in the south of France. It’s a good excuse for lots of rustic food and French bistro classics, starting with rabbit.

I’ve narrowed it down to two recipes (see further below) and would love some feedback on which one you’d love to see. 

Rabbit can be slightly more pricey than chicken or similar poultry meat, but is incredibly lean, with hardly a pinch of fat on it. So the usual advice is to take extra care in how you cook rabbit: wrapped in a protective cocoon of Parma ham, perhaps, or slow cooked on a low heat.

But I’m going for two simple and fairly foolproof recipes. Cast your vote at the bottom of the page. Talking of which, that reminds me of the old joke. “Watership Down: you’ve seen the film, now eat the cast…”

The rabbit itself

But first take a rabbit.

Rabbit is very versatile, and works well in everything from stews to bunny burgers, or in peanut sauce (in Chile) or with coconut and peppers (Colombia). Yet you rarely come across rabbit in Irish shops.

(A quick aside: fortunately FX Buckleys (FXB) the butchers in Moore Street in Dublin usually have a good supply. Some of their farmed ones are so large that one rabbit is enough to feed four people. FXB have had the shop in Moore Street since 1930, and in recent years have expanded to steakhouses, a gastropub/restaurant/gallery in Monkstown and a pub beside Christ Church Cathedral.)

Cue video with latest update on the meat shortages (FXB appears near start)…

(And, of course, FXB own Ryans on Parkgate Street (aka Bongos), the fabulous Victorian pub (and restaurant upstairs) that featured in both my first two ‘Moss Reid’ novels. If you don’t know the pub or haven’t read the book, check out some great photos on Lucy Coniglio’s blog Pubs ‘n Snugs of Ireland.)

In the south of France, by contrast, rabbits are in plentiful supply almost everywhere, from tiny boucheries to big supermarkets.

In both of the following recipes the rabbit needs to be jointed. If you can’t get your butcher to do this, there’s no big deal – chop off all four legs, then cut the body in two. Because the little rib bones are a bit pernickety I went one stage further this time, removing all the meat from the bone apart from the smaller front legs, which simply weren’t worth the hassle.

The other rabbit bits

If buying a whole rabbit, it will probably come with its liver, heart and kidneys (the FXB ones do). This is an added bonus.

The liver is unusually large and delicious – full-flavoured but milder than other kinds of liver – and has lots of possibilities:

  • It makes an excellent pâté – lightly fried in butter with chopped garlic; while the inside of the liver is still pink, deglaze the pan with Cognac or Calvados, add cream if feeling naughty, season, liquidise everything; if using the heart too, slice it thinly and fry it first, with a slightly longer frying time because it can be quite chewy
  • Or make a stroganoff with the liver, heart and kidneys and some mushrooms
  • Or a liver salad – lightly sauté the liver with mushrooms and serve with a zingy salad of greens

Old ad for Dijon mustard

Recipe #1: Rabbit in Mustard

Rabbit in mustard isn’t a bad place to start if you’ve never cooked rabbit before. It’s also known as Lapin à la moutarde, a classic French bistro dish, or Lapin à la Dijonnaise.

Either you start with a sort of marinade, and slather lots of mustard onto your chopped up rabbit then roast it.

Or – as I do – fry it in a pan then cook it in a stock, adding the mustard (and possibly cream) at the last minute.

Some recipes also involve baking the rabbit in the oven. But let’s stick with the easier way, with a frying pan on the hob.

The ingredients are:

  • 1 rabbit, jointed
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil (ordinary, not extra virgin)
  • A few lardons or a slice of chopped streaky bacon
  • 1 onion, peeled, roughly chopped
  • 2 large cloves of garlic, peeled, thinly sliced
  • Two sprigs of fresh thyme or tarragon if you have it (or 1/2 a teaspoon of dried thyme or tarragon)
  • 1 glass of dry white wine – a Chablis is fine – or a dry cider; I used Amstel beer
  • 2 glasses of chicken stock
  • About 4 teaspoons of mustard
  • 2 tablespoons crème fraiche (optional) or cream – I used plain natural yoghurt instead
  • 2 tablespoons of chopped fresh parsley
  • Salt and pepper

In some recipes the mustard is only Dijon. I prefer to restrain the heat and add a little more texture by using one teaspoon of Dijon with three teaspoons of old-fashioned wholegrain mustard.

  1. Heat the olive oil in a deep casserole. Fry the lardons/bacon until they start to brown. Remove them from the pan to a dish on the side.
  2. Brown the rabbit pieces briefly, then remove them from the pan. Turn the heat down low.
  3. Fry the onion gently until “transparent” and soft. Stir in the garlic.
  4. Add the white wine/cider/beer, deglaze, let the liquid bubble away until half has evaporated. Add the chicken stock and thyme/tarragon, return the rabbit to the pan.
  5. Put a lid on, cook slowly for 90 minutes to two hours until lovely and tender. If, like me, you’ve taken the meat off the bone, the cooking time can be as little as an hour. Top up the stock with water if it looks like it’s drying out.
  6. When almost ready to serve, stir in the mustard to taste, take the pan off the heat and add the crème fraiche or cream (or in my case yoghurt), and sprinkle with the parsley.

Even with the parsley garnish this dish won’t win any beauty prizes. But looks aren’t everything: the mustard sauce is highly addictive. You could serve the rabbit with mashed or roast potatoes, though in France you’re more likely to come across it with pasta.

Here’s another French rabbit recipe, though this one I haven’t tried yet (it’s next on the agenda)…

Rabbit with chocolate

It’s an Elizabeth David recipe that takes a mere two days: “Sauce au vin du Médoc” (rabbit, beef and pork or hare stewed in red wine).

This is essentially a peasant dish, ‘la grosse cuisine de la campagne’, and it should therefore be as rich and vulgarly hearty a savoury stew as possible when finished. It will be spoilt if the meat is cut into too delicate pieces or the carrots carefully sliced.

– Elizabeth David, French Provincial Cooking

Unlike a straightforward rabbit stew, she suggests adding hare or pork, and about the same amount of stewing beef. But the gist of it is that:

  1. Basically it’s a stew to which you add a square of plain chocolate and a teaspoon of sugar – stop sniggering because chocolate is also quite common in Italian, Spanish and South American rabbit/hare dishes.
  2. Simmer the stew at “just a murmur”, for about three hours, then allow it to get quite cold.
  3. Then reheat on day two (yes, day two), simmer very gently again for about two hours
  4. Serve with large chunks of lovely fresh bread

An extract from the Elizabeth David book

Ms David warns that “it needs an act of faith to try it, but when you read the recipe carefully you see that it is not really so strange and wild as it seems at first glance.” And as usual, she’s probably absobloodylutely right.

So which dish would you prefer? Either to cook or to eat? Tell me in the comments box below…